Warren Buffett's surprise Burlington Northern acquisition is justifiably getting a lot of attention today, but there may also be a sliver of news on his reading of the current state of the economy.
As recently as mid-September, when asked about Berkshire's businesses, Buffett told us "we have not bounced -- but we've quit going down."
In his phone interview this morning on CNBC, (full transcript), we asked Buffett how Berkshire Hathaway's various businesses are doing right now, compared to six months ago.
There are the first faint glimmers of slight improvement in his answer. Instead of "no bounce," Buffett now says Berkshire's businesses haven't bounced "very much."
"Well, they might be doing just a tick better. Fortunately, our two big businesses, insurance and our utility business, aren't really affected that much by the recession. But most of our businesses are still feeling severe effects from the recession. They are not going down. It's stabilized. There's not this fear that was prevalent eight or ten months ago, but business has not bounced very much. It will. I don't know when, but it will. We wouldn't be putting out the equivalent of $34 billion unless I felt there's a lot of good years for America. America's best years lie ahead. There's no question about that."
The main headline, of course, remains that Buffett sees substantial economic improvement in the U.S. coming over a period of years, not months.