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Buffett: Planes, Trains and Investment Pains

OMAHA ( TheStreet) -- Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B - Get Report) isn't ready to invest in airlines, even after a wave of consolidation that's led to jockeying between UnitedContinental (UAL - Get Report), Delta Air Lines (DAL - Get Report)and the proposed merger of American Airlines (AAMRQ) and U.S. Airways (LCC) for the title as the top carrier in the U.S.

In fact, after most major airlines in the U.S. spent some part of the first century of aviation negotiating bankruptcy courts, Buffett predicts another 100 years of investment pain.

"Investors have poured their money into airlines and airline manufacturers for 100 years with terrible results," Buffett said at Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholder meeting.

"It's been a death trap for investors," Buffett added, of airlines when asked by Bill Miller of Legg Mason whether consolidation has changed Berkshire's outlook on the industry. Specifically, Miller asked Buffett whether Berkshire-owned NetJets would consider buying an airline, amid a seeming revival in the industry's financial condition.

"No," Buffett responded.

In 2012, Berkshire Hathaway ordered nearly $10 billion worth of planes from Textron (TXT)-owned Cessna and Bombardier (BBD.A) to update its NetJets fleet, a deal that followed multi-billion dollar orders from the likes of Embraer in recent years.

Buffett, the proud owner of insurer Geico, took a stance on airlines similar to that of Gordon Gekko in the 1987 classic Wall Street.

"Men as smart as myself have got their asses handed to them on a sling with the airlines, fuel could go up, unions are killers...," said Gekko, played in the film by Michael Douglas.

Gekko's comments in Wall Street came before a bankruptcy wave in the early 2000s that included the dissolution of Trans World Airlines, then a large investment of activist Carl Icahn, in addition to filings by US Airways, United Airlines, Air Canada, Northwest, Delta, Frontier, Japan Airlines and, most recently, American Airlines.

While consolidation has revived airline stocks over the past 12 months amid expectations of newfound pricing power, Buffett ultimately made a Gekko-esque refrain when pressed on his outlook for the industry.

"The airline industry has this specific issue where they have very low incremental profit per seat and high fixed costs," Buffett said at Berkshire's shareholder meeting. In the 1990s, Buffett did poorly on a preferred share investment in US Airways, then called USAir.

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SYM TRADE IT LAST %CHG
LCC $0.00 0.00%
BRK.A $217,950.00 -0.15%
BRK.B $145.11 -0.11%
DAL $43.27 -1.10%
UAL $53.71 -0.78%

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DOW 18,272.72 -13.02 -0.07%
S&P 500 2,130.50 -0.32 -0.02%
NASDAQ 5,099.2940 +8.50 0.17%

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