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1X book value


petec
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Amazing how quiet this section of the board goes when stocks are going up ;)

 

Meanwhile FFH slips lower, much to my delight.  I have it at about 1.1x book value now (not marked to market) and I have a question: does anyone think FFH should trade at or below 1x book value and if so why (e.g. maybe it should trade at 1x tangible book, etc.)?

 

My view is that is should trade at 1x book value as a base: they have built a great franchise and their investment returns are superb over time.  I'm happy to pay for the goodwill (largely capitalised on the acquisition of companies they knew well) and more.

 

But I am genuinely interested to hear from people who don't think 1x book value is a good proxy floor for intrinsic value.

 

Pete

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Pete,

 

I haven't done the mark to market for the portfolio or the derivatives either, but from a quick look at the Q2 report it looks like they're at 1.2 book not 1.1.

 

I think that 1x book is probably a good proxy. Possible reasons why it may not be are that the insurance operations still aren't very good. They're definitely doing fine now, but you'd need a longer record to be sure. Another are the hedges. Particularly the equity hedges.

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I have book value of $8.6B USD, shares of 22.265m, so book per share of $387 USD.  CAD/USD is about 1.32 so that's $511 per share.  So at current price it's 1.16x book value.

 

As far as valuation, it's a tough call.  I think if not for the hedges the market would be assigning a higher value and historically it has frequently traded at higher premium's to book.  I think that it is a bit over-valued unless their macro thesis plays out.

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You need to estimate what the likely growth rate of book value would be giving the equity hedges and portfolio positioning if we just muddle through with low economic growth, weak stock markets and low bond yields for a long time. In such a scenario, Fairfax would be growing book value at an unattractive rate.

 

If you believe in major deflation or an economic catastrophe, it look very attractive. Otherwise, not so much.

 

Vinod

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I should have been clearer - I give them credit for the unrealised gains that they report in their annuals.  It's clouded now by the fact that they have sold some of these investments but 'my' BV is still a little above quarterly reported BV.

 

I also tent to take the view that one should value it *without* taking a macro view.  I know that's going to be very unpopular but the fact is that a) their equity hedges still allow them to profit from outperformance, b) the deflation hedges are a very valuable option currently on the books for virtually nothing, and c) they could re-orient their portfolio very quickly if needed. 

 

I'd pay >1x bv for a) good underwriting, b) good investing over my multi-decade intended holding period, and c) sleep-safe-at-night option value which is almost unique.  But that's just me.

 

 

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and c) they could re-orient their portfolio very quickly if needed. 

 

I've struggled with what kind of multiple to apply in the past, but this thought always crossed my mind. It doesn't make sense for me to discount their future earnings streams by some massive percentage unless if I think they'll be equity-hedged with bonds yields at 2% into perpetuity. I have no idea where bonds yields go, but I bet they're higher in 10 years. Also, Fairfax has a history of hedging and then removing the hedges so we cant expect them to hedge into perpetuity.

 

So today they're worth x, but tomorrow they take equity hedges off and they're worth 1.3x because of the increase in earnings power? It'd be hard for me to get behind such a drastic change in valuation for something that is so easily changed and that they have a history of changing. I think it might be better to change your position sizing instead of multiple you buy at.

 

Maybe instead of a 10% position if they were fully unhedged, you do a 3-5% position so the opportunity cost doesn't kill if you they're wrong. If they remove the hedges, or appear to be right, you can rebuild your stake. It seems like this would be an easier way of controlling for the uncertainty than trying to come up with a different multiple of book for every change in interest rates, deflation hedges, and %-equity hedged status.

 

 

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and c) they could re-orient their portfolio very quickly if needed. 

 

I've struggled with what kind of multiple to apply in the past, but this thought always crossed my mind. It doesn't make sense for me to discount their future earnings streams by some massive percentage unless if I think they'll be equity-hedged with bonds yields at 2% into perpetuity. I have no idea where bonds yields go, but I bet they're higher in 10 years. Also, Fairfax has a history of hedging and then removing the hedges so we cant expect them to hedge into perpetuity.

 

So today they're worth x, but tomorrow they take equity hedges off and they're worth 1.3x because of the increase in earnings power? It'd be hard for me to get behind such a drastic change in valuation for something that is so easily changed and that they have a history of changing. I think it might be better to change your position sizing instead of multiple you buy at.

 

Maybe instead of a 10% position if they were fully unhedged, you do a 3-5% position so the opportunity cost doesn't kill if you they're wrong. If they remove the hedges, or appear to be right, you can rebuild your stake. It seems like this would be an easier way of controlling for the uncertainty than trying to come up with a different multiple of book for every change in interest rates, deflation hedges, and %-equity hedged status.

 

In theory I completely agree. 

 

My tweak would be that with these multiples and corporate margins, I actually don't see a lot of opportunity cost in a hedged portfolio.  As a result I have a far higher allocation to FFH than I did in 2010, for example.

 

What did excite me was the stock falling with the market recently. 

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What did excite me was the stock falling with the market recently.

 

Ditto. Have been looking to add around here myself. I've doubled my position this year at prices between $450 and $500 USD now that the deflationary thesis is really seeming to heat up and EM markets dive-bombing. 

 

The next 1-2 years will be interesting for Fairfax.

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and c) they could re-orient their portfolio very quickly if needed. 

 

I've struggled with what kind of multiple to apply in the past, but this thought always crossed my mind. It doesn't make sense for me to discount their future earnings streams by some massive percentage unless if I think they'll be equity-hedged with bonds yields at 2% into perpetuity. I have no idea where bonds yields go, but I bet they're higher in 10 years. Also, Fairfax has a history of hedging and then removing the hedges so we cant expect them to hedge into perpetuity.

 

So today they're worth x, but tomorrow they take equity hedges off and they're worth 1.3x because of the increase in earnings power? It'd be hard for me to get behind such a drastic change in valuation for something that is so easily changed and that they have a history of changing. I think it might be better to change your position sizing instead of multiple you buy at.

 

Maybe instead of a 10% position if they were fully unhedged, you do a 3-5% position so the opportunity cost doesn't kill if you they're wrong. If they remove the hedges, or appear to be right, you can rebuild your stake. It seems like this would be an easier way of controlling for the uncertainty than trying to come up with a different multiple of book for every change in interest rates, deflation hedges, and %-equity hedged status.

I'm sorry but I'll have to disagree with you here. It's not just that the hedges worked out badly that would hurt the valuation. It's a bit the fact that they did them. The equity hedges were put in place at a time when the market wasn't really overvalued. Maybe some people may have made the argument that it was somewhat overvalued, but I don't think anyone could have made the argument that it is grossly overvalued. So why go so short? Also as we've seen the markets go up over time so it is imperative that you get the timing right on such a big short bet. keep in mind that the shorts are total return swaps so it's not just index values but dividends as well. I'm not going to go an research the figures but we didn't have a lot of periods when total market return was negative over longish periods of time.

 

The deflation hedges don't matter as much but go toward the same point. The Fairfax guys are really smart, but they're bottom up stock pickers. They're not economists. They don't even have a bunch of brilliant economists on staff. So why are they making large macro bets. To me it looks like maybe they're operating a bit out of their circle of competence.

 

Now between the equity shorts and the deflation hedges they've booked losses equal to roughly half of the book value of the company. If those hedges weren't in place and the 4 billion was invested into earning streams wouldn't the company be way more profitable and robust? So why don't you think that their decision not to do that shouldn't impact the valuation multiple of the company?

 

By the way, if we were talking about Berkshire here rather than Fairfax we would be talking about Berkshire booking $120 billion in losses on one of Warren's bets. If that were the case I doubt we'd be so calm and nonchalant about it. On the other hand thinking that this would happen at Berkshire stretches credulity.

 

I also don't agree that because of the hedges they should maybe just get a smaller allocation in the portfolio. Intrinsic value is intrinsic value. But maybe that should be material for another post.

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and c) they could re-orient their portfolio very quickly if needed. 

 

I've struggled with what kind of multiple to apply in the past, but this thought always crossed my mind. It doesn't make sense for me to discount their future earnings streams by some massive percentage unless if I think they'll be equity-hedged with bonds yields at 2% into perpetuity. I have no idea where bonds yields go, but I bet they're higher in 10 years. Also, Fairfax has a history of hedging and then removing the hedges so we cant expect them to hedge into perpetuity.

 

So today they're worth x, but tomorrow they take equity hedges off and they're worth 1.3x because of the increase in earnings power? It'd be hard for me to get behind such a drastic change in valuation for something that is so easily changed and that they have a history of changing. I think it might be better to change your position sizing instead of multiple you buy at.

 

Maybe instead of a 10% position if they were fully unhedged, you do a 3-5% position so the opportunity cost doesn't kill if you they're wrong. If they remove the hedges, or appear to be right, you can rebuild your stake. It seems like this would be an easier way of controlling for the uncertainty than trying to come up with a different multiple of book for every change in interest rates, deflation hedges, and %-equity hedged status.

I'm sorry but I'll have to disagree with you here. It's not just that the hedges worked out badly that would hurt the valuation. It's a bit the fact that they did them. The equity hedges were put in place at a time when the market wasn't really overvalued. Maybe some people may have made the argument that it was somewhat overvalued, but I don't think anyone could have made the argument that it is grossly overvalued. So why go so short?

 

If you want to debate what they did 5 years ago, go ahead but you'll be wasting your breathe. I'm not here to argue that what the did in 2010 was correct. I'm suggesting what they're doing now is correct. I could give a damn if they were early/wrong 5 years ago. What's important is that I agree with the thesis NOW which is why I'm doubling my holdings NOW and not 5 years ago.

 

Also as we've seen the markets go up over time so it is imperative that you get the timing right on such a big short bet. keep in mind that the shorts are total return swaps so it's not just index values but dividends as well.

There is a difference between the two, but you've missed it. You owe the dividends when you short a stock too. The main difference is the regular cash settled nature of the TRS which is a boon to the contract winner and to the detriment of the contract loser.

 

I'm not going to go an research the figures but we didn't have a lot of periods when total market return was negative over longish periods of time.

 

Maybe you should. You'll see that there's been several times in history where 3, 5, and 10 years worth of returns have been wiped out in a single year and it's generally been at times when long-term P/E ratios were about where they're at now. If you think that collapeses like 2008 don't happen all that often, you only have to go back 7 years to 2000/2001. There have been mutliple 25, 30, 40, and 50% corrections in equity markets all over the world. The U.S. isn't immune to them. If you hedged in 2003 you looked pretty stupid until 2009 - and then you came out way, way, way on top.

 

I generally agree Fairfax hedged early. I didn't personally start hedging until the European banking crisis in 2011. I've had mostly long exposure since and the most I've been short was 30-40% of my notional going into the most recent correction. That worked pretty well, but now that it seems things are unraveling as expected, I'd rather have more of my portfolio in a position to benefit from potential turmoil. Options are expensive - I sold my puts and am buying Fairfax which has gotten a lot cheaper.

 

The deflation hedges don't matter as much but go toward the same point. The Fairfax guys are really smart, but they're bottom up stock pickers. They're not economists. They don't even have a bunch of brilliant economists on staff.

I'm glad for that. Most economists, including the "smartest" ones leading central banks missed 2008 and the ramifications of the market collapse. I'm glad that Fairfax hasn't hired such people to tell it how to invest. Show me a single economist that made a billion dollars in 2008. Oh, there's none! But there are a handful of asset managers who managed to do it and Fairfax is one of them.

 

So why are they making large macro bets. To me it looks like maybe they're operating a bit out of their circle of competence.

Maybe they are.  Maybe they aren't. They've proved somewhat adept at it in the past whether it be through equity hedging, derivative exposure, or betting on rates actions. They've been early at times, but I'd rather they be roughly right then to be precisely wrong like most were in 2008. Also, I don't think it's really up to me, or you, to determine what's in their circle of competence.

 

Now between the equity shorts and the deflation hedges they've booked losses equal to roughly half of the book value of the company. If those hedges weren't in place and the 4 billion was invested into earning streams wouldn't the company be way more profitable and robust? So why don't you think that their decision not to do that shouldn't impact the valuation multiple of the company?

 

Lost opportunity cost isn't quite the same thing as actual losses. They could have achieved the same thing by simply selling all of their equities, but then you probably wouldn't be tallying all of the billions "lost." Maybe you would - but it still wouldn't capital loss. Simply opportunity cost. If you tally up every bad investment Warren has made, and compound it at the rate that he's grown book value since, I'm sure his mistakes tally in the tens of billions too.

 

Secondly, of course it affects valuations in hindsight, but the question is going forward. They could remove the hedges tomorrow and then the stock is supposed to fly up a massive percentage on increased earnings power potential? The real value of the company would accommodate for the earnings power at all levels of hedging and probabilities of them occurring. Unfortunately, that requires several assumptions on what the probabilities are and what forward looking equity returns are. I'm pretty sure we're all likely to be wrong on both counts so it's easier to adjust the position size based on a range of multiples to book value than it is to be regularly buying/selling based on your new updated assumptions and the stock price action.

 

By the way, if we were talking about Berkshire here rather than Fairfax we would be talking about Berkshire booking $120 billion in losses on one of Warren's bets. If that were the case I doubt we'd be so calm and nonchalant about it. On the other hand thinking that this would happen at Berkshire stretches credulity.

 

I don't think you can compare the two. They have different structures, different leverage to publicly traded equities, and differences in terms of a diverse base of earnings. Fairfax will always need to hedge these risks more than Berkshire until it becomes similarly diversified. Berkshire has the opportunity cost of always holding $20B, or more, in cash. Do you consider that lost money every year the stock market goes up, or is that just business as usual for Warren?

 

I also don't agree that because of the hedges they should maybe just get a smaller allocation in the portfolio. Intrinsic value is intrinsic value. But maybe that should be material for another post.

 

Then enlighten us what intrinsic value is today and what multiple you'd pay for it and how that's evolved over the last 3 months and how it's likely to evolve in the future as stocks could go back up 10% or down another 10%. Keep in mind constant changes in inflation expectations and interest rates and make sure you include those in your economic model. I'm simply provided a much simpler framework that serves a similar function without the constant transaction costs, changing value targets, multiples etc. You don't have to like it, but it serves a similar purpose, is much easier to implement, and probably results in far fewer transaction costs for those who are willing to maintain exposure to Fairfax.

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Lost opportunity cost isn't quite the same thing as actual losses. They could have achieved the same thing by simply selling all of their equities, but then you probably wouldn't be tallying all of the billions "lost."

 

 

Great post TCC and this bit in particular.  I do think people forget Fairfax isn't an asset manager, they're an insurance company, and protecting downside is paramount for them.  They got the timing wrong, absolutely.  But they locked in their BV, and that's what they were trying to do.  Fine by me.

 

Also, ref your point about frequent big market falls: it's not just about how likely they are, but how catastrophic they will be.  Fairfax identified (correctly in my view) that if the market did collapse, with the world at this level of leverage, things could get very serious.  And, being a levered business with regulators and customers who care about whether they can pay, they decided to make sure they were bulletproof.  The cost of this was that they would give up some upside.  I love that they run their *insurance* company this way.

 

I also think it is fascinating that people (not necessarily rb!) are declaring victory for monetarist intervention when we are only halfway through.  If gdp accelerates to grow faster than loans; and if that state of affairs can survive rising interest rates (which incidentally will cause asset markets to fall, throwing the wealth effect into reverse) - then I will declare victory for monetarism.  As it stands what I see is a world which, under enormous stimulus, is growing loans much faster than GDP, which stubbornly will not accelerate.  We simply do not yet know whether this easy money experiment has worked and if it does not, we will spend our time debating whether Fairfax were just lucky or were, in fact, well within their circle of competence.

 

 

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Sometimes the market is downright funny.

it will be nice to see some buybacks here as Prem raised money at $650 cdn..he will buy large amounts here as the market misses it...free money and good math.

hope the share price drops further!

 

:)

 

Dazel

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Sometimes the market is downright funny.

it will be nice to see some buybacks here as Prem raised money at $650 cdn..he will buy large amounts here as the market misses it...free money and good math.

hope the share price drops further!

 

:)

 

Dazel

 

While I hope it's true, has wasn't buying back when we were delisted and sank 20% below the current price. Maybe he had better opportunities back then, but I'd truly be surprised if he bought back here.

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Sometimes the market is downright funny.

it will be nice to see some buybacks here as Prem raised money at $650 cdn..he will buy large amounts here as the market misses it...free money and good math.

hope the share price drops further!

 

:)

 

Dazel

 

While I hope it's true, has wasn't buying back when we were delisted and sank 20% below the current price. Maybe he had better opportunities back then, but I'd truly be surprised if he bought back here.

 

Like TwoCitiesCapital, I also tend to think that he would not have purchased his own stock - given that he believes that the market will offer even better opportunities.

 

In fact, perhaps it is a topic for another thread to ask long time observers as to what they think about Prem's investment process - sound as in the past or negatively affected by past successes.

Many here have started believing that Prem has got carried away.

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Sometimes the market is downright funny.

it will be nice to see some buybacks here as Prem raised money at $650 cdn..he will buy large amounts here as the market misses it...free money and good math.

hope the share price drops further!

 

:)

 

Dazel

 

While I hope it's true, has wasn't buying back when we were delisted and sank 20% below the current price. Maybe he had better opportunities back then, but I'd truly be surprised if he bought back here.

 

Like TwoCitiesCapital, I also tend to think that he would not have purchased his own stock - given that he believes that the market will offer even better opportunities.

 

In fact, perhaps it is a topic for another thread to ask long time observers as to what they think about Prem's investment process - sound as in the past or negatively affected by past successes.

Many here have started believing that Prem has got carried away.

 

I've only been an observer for 10 years.  But my sense is:

1. Bond process hasn't changed and doesn't get as much attention as it should.

2. Options process hasn't really changed, they were wrong on these for a long time pre 08 but the basic idea of protecting the company from excessive global leverage has remained the same.

3. Major acquisitions philosophy *has* changed, from cheap and crappy to reasonable price for great companies.

4. Basic value-driven, against-the-herd equity philosophy hasn't changed, even if some of the investments haven't worked out (others have: Bank of Ireland, some great stuff in Greece, WFC/JNJ etc.)

5. The *tone* of commentary, very value oriented, hasn't changed.

 

On balance the major change I see is (3) and it's positive.  The macro calling/thinking hasn't changed, it's just that it's always a binary call and so far it's been wrong.  Interesting though, they spent the 2000s saying they saw a once-in-50-years crash because of excessive leverage and they turned out to be absolutely right.  Now there is more leverage in the world.  Thinking out loud here but wouldn't it be *much* more inconsistent of them to be bullish?

 

EDIT: not investing related, but I also find the annual reports are giving me a clearer and clearer picture of the culture - things like the stock purchase scheme, the charitable involvement, etc., all of which I believe are key for locking people in; plus the constant improvements in how the insurance business spread best practice and so on.  I don't see arrogance in this stuff, so I don't assume arrogance in the investing (just honest mistakes).  I firmly believe FFH is a better company than it was 10ya.

 

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I've only been an observer for 10 years.  But my sense is:

1. Bond process hasn't changed and doesn't get as much attention as it should.

2. Options process hasn't really changed, they were wrong on these for a long time pre 08 but the basic idea of protecting the company from excessive global leverage has remained the same.

3. Major acquisitions philosophy *has* changed, from cheap and crappy to reasonable price for great companies.

4. Basic value-driven, against-the-herd equity philosophy hasn't changed, even if some of the investments haven't worked out (others have: Bank of Ireland, some great stuff in Greece, WFC/JNJ etc.)

5. The *tone* of commentary, very value oriented, hasn't changed.

 

On balance the major change I see is (3) and it's positive.  The macro calling/thinking hasn't changed, it's just that it's always a binary call and so far it's been wrong.  Interesting though, they spent the 2000s saying they saw a once-in-50-years crash because of excessive leverage and they turned out to be absolutely right.  Now there is more leverage in the world.  Thinking out loud here but wouldn't it be *much* more inconsistent of them to be bullish?

 

EDIT: not investing related, but I also find the annual reports are giving me a clearer and clearer picture of the culture - things like the stock purchase scheme, the charitable involvement, etc., all of which I believe are key for locking people in; plus the constant improvements in how the insurance business spread best practice and so on.  I don't see arrogance in this stuff, so I don't assume arrogance in the investing (just honest mistakes).  I firmly believe FFH is a better company than it was 10ya.

 

First - wow. Active observer for 10 years and did not invest. That is discipline - I assume that you had alternate investment options which were more attractive.

 

Second, thanks for sharing the granular assessment of Fairfax's investment process and company culture oriented observations.

Glad that you think things have not changed, except that some things have changed for the better. Even their investments in India have been quality companies that can grow for long periods of time.

 

I agree also with your observation that they need to hedge because of their leverage - people always compare them with BRK.

I hope there comes a day when they do not have to hedge because their revenue sources are very diversified and they are less leveraged, but as of now that leverage is part of the strategy.

 

And I do agree that if they were not concerned now, then that would be inconsistent with their past process.

 

Wonder what others think about the Fairfax investment process.

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First - wow. Active observer for 10 years and did not invest. That is discipline - I assume that you had alternate investment options which were more attractive.

 

 

Ha ha, I wasn't very clear.  I first invested in June 2008 (dumb luck) and have been building my stake ever since.  What I meant by 'only an observer for 10 years' was that I wasn't an observer in the 1990s, so I  can't comment on whether their process/mentality/confidence has changed since then.

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I agree also with your observation that they need to hedge because of their leverage - people always compare them with BRK.

I hope there comes a day when they do not have to hedge because their revenue sources are very diversified and they are less leveraged, but as of now that leverage is part of the strategy.

 

OK, let's compare them to MKL instead of BRK. Why do they need to hedge and MKL doesn't?

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Jurgis,

 

Fairfax investment portfolio is double the size of Markel's.

So Fairfax has an extra $16 billion in exposure to the market above that of Markel's...

 

 

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If someone will do a Fairfax vs Markel analysis post it would be helpful for both Fairfax shareholders and potential and Markel as well....Maybe wait until Fairfax drops some more!!!!!hehehe.

 

I have great respect for Markel as they were partners with Prem and Fairfax from 1984 (Prem and his group bought Markel's Canadian insurance unit and recapitalized it as Fairfax... In 1990 Fairfax bought back Markel's ownership of Fairfax. The buy back was the biggest buyback (cancelling 20% of all outstanding shares in Fairfax history and likely their best investment ever.

 

Fairfax insurance units are performing better than Markel's as of late as Fairfax combined ratio has been exceptional.. this is being hidden by the $5 billion in unrealized hedge losses. Fairfax premiums are about double the size of Markel's....

 

Markel mkt cap today $11.5b  debt $2.3b

 

Fairfax                      $9.6b  debt $3.5b

 

Forget the past...lets look at the future...

 

Dazel

 

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Buy backs....continued. instead of buying back Fairfax shares they bought back all of Northbridge, Odyssey Re, Zenith and they did not have to take Crum and Forester public.

 

These are a "buy back" as they did not raise equity to do them they used internal profits. Fairfax keeps "all' of their subsidiary profits...I think are normalized around $1.5 to $2b. Other than the 1990 buyback these are the greatest investments that Fairfax has ever made.

 

The return on these "buy backs"...subsidiary purchases...I will disregard what they have made since the purchase date  (likely return is 7 to  10 times their investment in earnings so far!!!)...if you use future average normalized earnings from these investments they are about $500m a year...and growing.

 

I think the money raise-Brit purchase was a currency investment.

 

And now I think they will start to buy back their own shares as they are cheap on both book value.. but way more importantly intrinsic value....as you will see if someone does a Fairfax-Markel comparison.

 

I owe Fairfax my investment life...so I will respond to this thread because quite frankly I owe it to them to tell their story which is truly one of the very best in corporate history.

 

Dazel

 

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First - wow. Active observer for 10 years and did not invest. That is discipline - I assume that you had alternate investment options which were more attractive.

 

 

Ha ha, I wasn't very clear.  I first invested in June 2008 (dumb luck) and have been building my stake ever since.  What I meant by 'only an observer for 10 years' was that I wasn't an observer in the 1990s, so I  can't comment on whether their process/mentality/confidence has changed since then.

 

Oh well. Then you are not quite the 50 year patient observer turned investor.

Anyhow, dumb luck favored you. I heard that luck is when preparation meets opportunity.  ;)

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Buy backs....continued. instead of buying back Fairfax shares they bought back all of Northbridge, Odyssey Re, Zenith and they did not have to take Crum and Forester public.

 

 

Thanks for sharing the buyback related information.

 

Also, it would indeed be interesting to see an informed comparison of Markel and Fairfax.

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