Author Topic: Fairfax 2018  (Read 126753 times)

ABM

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 41
Re: Fairfax 2018
« Reply #30 on: January 11, 2018, 05:17:44 PM »
Petec, no offense taken. Two people can look at the same situation and come to two very different conclusions; does not mean one is right and one is wrong. It often comes back to what ones objectives are and investing style.

Dalzel/cigarbutt, regarding the large amount of cash at the holding company, yes, it will be interesting to see what FFH does. Prem has clearly stated that he feels the shares are cheap and buybacks are likely. I wonder if they will wait and see if there is a bit of a hard market as we start 2018 and therefore an opportunity to grow the business organically. I think he has stated another large acquisition is not likely. I would like to see them start to get the share count down. You can see all the shares that have been added the past 10 years on the one page summary at the beginn8ng of the annual report. If I had to guess i think they will end up using the excess cash to reduce the share count; if this happens we should see a nice jump in the shares. This is another reason I bought shares recently (I got concerned they would not stay cheap). Shares also go ex dividend Jan 17 and this will net shareholders US$10 per share a week later.

Viking your comments and obvious experience with FFH is very much appreciated.  Based on Prem's comments from the Q3 call, I am hoping to see a high level of repo activity once results are released, especially, given the asset sales have closed.  Im paraphrasing but he basically said differential between book value and IV is at the widest level in his 32 years at the company. Secondly, I am focused on Allied adverse reserve developments though Prem said it was a one-off in Q3 results.  Lastly, a firmer guide around the hurricane CAT losses and pricing outlook. 


StubbleJumper

  • Lifetime Member
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1006
Re: Fairfax 2018
« Reply #31 on: January 11, 2018, 06:18:06 PM »
Viking and SJ - while everything you post is true, I take a slightly different approach with FFH. I decided a long time ago that a) I like the float-investment model; b) I trust Prem and his team and the culture they are building; and c) that they are smart people who will make more good decisions than bad over time. So I decided to hold the shares long term (unless they got to a silly valuation) and see what happened.

Maybe that's naÔve - many would say so. But then again all investment managers go through good patches and rough ones, and if you can't stick the rough patches you seldom compound with them. So far I am very happy with the results, although I will admit that keeping the faith was easier in 2015/6 by the fact that I agreed with the hedges! Oops! where Prem and team beat me hands down is I wouldn't have taken them off when they did. Big oops, but then that's why I let them manage some of my money!

Anyway, that's why I don't really feel we have more info than a year ago. We have more precise data on the value of certain subs and investments, yes. But what creates the value is the people and the culture, which has proven itself over 30 years, and that hasn't changed in the last 12 months.

I accept that the ratio between the "surfaced" value per share and the share price has changed, but that only explains why people are more bullish on the shares. It does not explain why Fairfax has gone from hero to zero, from dumb to smart. I honestly think that anyone who has changed their mind on that in the last 12 months simply didn't know the history or isn't being rational. However as RG said, the tone has changed because different people are posting so it is a moot point.

I'm not trying to start a fight here, BTW, so I slightly regret my initial post.


Please do not regret in any way your initial post.  It was a worthwhile observation and has stimulated discussion.  That in itself is of considerable value.

You are right, of course, that FFH is ultimately a jockey-stock.  Either you have confidence in the jockey or you don't.  You've maintained your position because you have confidence in the jockey, and I've had various levels of investment in FFH and its subs since 1998, so that should tell you something about my view of management's capabilities.   That being said, we should not put Prem up on a pedestal.  In addition to the savvy investment decisions and the clever moves in 2003 and 2004 to keep the company alive, he sometimes does things that are plain old wacky or that are abusive of minority shareholders.  When too many of those wacky things are done over a short period, he loses long-time shareholders.

If you are curious about the sorts of things that might be viewed as wacky, here are a few:

-The repeated increases in capital dedicated to Blackberry (RIM) despite demonstrably poor returns was baffling.  His flirtation with purchasing the firm outright, despite FFH's dearth of expertise in the industry were bizarre.  His decision to accept a position on RIM's board of directors which effectively limited FFH's ability to divest the position was a strange thing to do.  And finally, the overall size of the Blackberry investment in the context of FFH's investment portfolio was ridiculous.  All of this occurred during a period when US banks were a no-brainer and BRK was demonstrably cheap.  There was large cap value in plain sight, and he chased a failing tech company with our capital.

-The sizing of the equity hedges and particularly the inflation hedges was baffling.  Without a doubt, I shared (and still share) FFH's concerns about current valuation levels and the risk that poses to FFH.  Hedging was a reasonable and thoughtful thing to do.  But what FFH actually did went far beyond hedging and entered into bald market speculation.  The entire equity portfolio was hedged, and if my memory serves me correctly, the inflation hedges had a notional value of ~70B or so, which far exceeds any reasonable level of protection that FFH might require.  And the flimsy argumentation for closing the hedges was beyond weak, even though closing the position was the correct thing to do.

-I like the idea of investing in Greece, but once again, position sizing is the key consideration.  There's a big difference between taking a flyer for $300m and dropping $1 billion on a high risk investment.  Again, this was done at a time when any value investor could see that JPM was cheap or BRK was cheap.


Anyway those are a few of the wacky things that were done using truly baffling position sizes.  So kudos for the good work in India, management of the actual insurance companies' underwriting has been outstanding, and the majority of the insurance acquisitions have worked out.  But, my take is that the wacky stuff has badly hurt investor confidence.  Here's to hoping for a more orthodox approach going forward.


SJ

Dazel

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 223
Re: Fairfax 2018
« Reply #32 on: January 11, 2018, 07:25:11 PM »

Cigarbutt,

3. The hedges can be viewed many ways but it is the result that matters. They not only dropped like a rock the equity positions they were supposed to hedge were completely uncorelated and also dropped like rocks.

6. As I said it depends on what lines of business, where they are and whether or not they had claims last year

Petec
You are wise and you will do well holding Fairfax but you already know that...without the disasters last year the shares would be much higher and you would be right Prem et all would 0 to hero. I would argue that they are not even close yet. The share price is the same as it was almost 20 years ago albeit way overvalued then...there are clouds around Fairfax and its past depending who bought when.

The reason I am posting is that I think they have turned a corner and are in a position to perform greatly going forward. We will all debate the past but the future is all that matters now.

petec

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1572
Re: Fairfax 2018
« Reply #33 on: January 12, 2018, 06:55:21 AM »
SJ

Agreed that we should not put Prem on a pedestal. He's made some huge errors. This will sound odd, but I don't mind them. It's part of investing his way, and what matters is the overall result, not the individual ones. I would not try to persuade others of that - anyone not comfortable with how they invest should not be a shareholder - but I am comfortable with it. I think the reason they didn't take the large cap value lying in plain sight is that they are deep value investors by instinct, and past c.2012 the US wasn't deep value - especially if you allowed for some margin mean-reversion. Anyway, I don't really care because I bought a lot of those cheap large caps myself. Fairfax was a diversifier and a hedge for me, as well as an excellent long term compounder at a reasonable price.

On position sizing: I think it's fair to point out that some big bets like BKIR & TCIL worked beautifully. Also, I don't really believe in criticising investments until they are finished. Let's see where Eurobank and Blackberry get sold. Prem et al are avowedly long term value monkeys. That means they don't try to maximise compounding by jumping on the best horse each year, but by buying dirt cheap and waiting. Given current valuations on the S&P and current trends at Eurobank and Blackerry, it's quite possible that these two look like great absolute and relative investments over their full holding periods, which probably won't end for a few years yet. Who knows, but I will assess them when its over.

On BBRY: Fairfax now has control over a wide range of businesses in which they have limited experience. Some (like Cara, TCIL, Quess) are huge. So, I don't find the idea of buying BBRY outright so odd, although I am glad they didn''t. Also, I think one of the key strengths of Fairfax is its ability to build businesses by attracting the right managers (a key cultural strength) and supporting them. I think (?) they were instrumental in getting John Chen to come to BBRY. They probably couldn't have done that without a board seat.

Agreed that the sizing/structuring of the equity hedges was an outright mistake - although as I have said before, I think we would all be more forgiving if the longs had outperformed. That way they'd have locked in their alpha but foregone beta, which would now look like a "mistake" but a more justifiable one. But I think you're wrong about the deflation swaps. The nominal exposure hit $110bn but that's a meaningless number. What matters is that they'd have made 1% of that number for every 1% CPI dropped below strike. Since strike was some way below current CPI, you'd have had to have had several % of deflation to make a big return on the outlay. I think they sized that one more or less right and it was a decent "heads I win, tails I don't lose too much" hedge against a tail risk. What damaged them was hedging the equities as well and then not performing on the equity longs.

Thanks for your comments. Even though I often see the other side of the argument, they are all valid and good for helping me keep Prem off that pedestal. As Dazel says, what matters is the future.

Dazel

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 223
Re: Fairfax 2018
« Reply #34 on: January 12, 2018, 07:23:24 AM »


I believe that Prem and the equity side of Fairfax got caught in the proverbial trap of Sir John Templeton (prems mentor and a long  time Fairfax shareholder) and Warren Buffett. No one teaches you how to go from running a 10 million dollar business to a $10b company. Buffett missed Premís mistakes because of Charlie Munger who knew early that Ben Graham model would not scale into the future and during that transition and the tough 70ís markets Berkshire did not move a dollar for a ten year span. What Prem and his team did do greatly over this time is build very good businesses and their best purchases are home runs and forgotten. Orh, Nb, Zenith (take a look at their comps) and many other smaller insurers were steals and have been tremendous acquisitions and to me the back Bone of what is to come....itís where the intrinsic value is hidden.

Petec,  I agree that Fairfax will not make these mistakes again and understand your thinking. Allied will turn out very well and they are morphing into a mini Berkshire...they have to. The old ways do not scale and they have been headed this way for awhile and it has not been noticed. I amrepeating myself...but I am a little giddy I did not think I would get an opportunity to partner with Fairfax again in a big way. Companies like this rarely trade a discount  like this especially in this type of market multiple.

It may be awhile but that will benefit us all the most...as buy backs are key.

longinvestor

  • Lifetime Member
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1636
  • Never interrupt compounding unnecessarily -Munger
Re: Fairfax 2018
« Reply #35 on: January 12, 2018, 08:02:52 AM »


I believe that Prem and the equity side of Fairfax got caught in the proverbial trap of Sir John Templeton (prems mentor and a long  time Fairfax shareholder) and Warren Buffett. No one teaches you how to go from running a 10 million dollar business to a $10b company. Buffett missed Premís mistakes because of Charlie Munger who knew early that Ben Graham model would not scale into the future and during that transition and the tough 70ís markets Berkshire did not move a dollar for a ten year span. What Prem and his team did do greatly over this time is build very good businesses and their best purchases are home runs and forgotten. Orh, Nb, Zenith (take a look at their comps) and many other smaller insurers were steals and have been tremendous acquisitions and to me the back Bone of what is to come....itís where the intrinsic value is hidden.

Petec,  I agree that Fairfax will not make these mistakes again and understand your thinking. Allied will turn out very well and they are morphing into a mini Berkshire...they have to. The old ways do not scale and they have been headed this way for awhile and it has not been noticed. I amrepeating myself...but I am a little giddy I did not think I would get an opportunity to partner with Fairfax again in a big way. Companies like this rarely trade a discount  like this especially in this type of market multiple.

It may be awhile but that will benefit us all the most...as buy backs are key.

Buffett and Munger were moving more than a dollar. See's, Geico and the newspaper deals...all happened during the 70's.

cwericb

  • Lifetime Member
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 767
Re: Fairfax 2018
« Reply #36 on: January 12, 2018, 08:07:20 AM »
I am also one who has been very comfortable holding Fairfax for the past 10+ years, perhaps because I am a rank amature at investing.

Yes Prem has been widely criticized for his hedges,  just as he was for his Credit Default Swaps when he purchased them. As they say, hindsight is 20/20, some things work, some do not.

My investment in Fairfax with its hedges and deflation swaps acted as a hedge for me that allowed me to make other investments in the market with a certain amount of confidence that my FFH shares would help protect me if things went south. As a Canadian, Fairfax also tends to act as a hedge for the Canadian dollar. When the CDN dollar drops against the US dollar, FFH shares tend increase in value which is why FFH shares have performed better in Canada than in the US. According to the TMX chart comparing FFH to FRFHF, since 2013 FRFHF is up 40% while FFH is up 80%. Works for me.

I donít know why it is expected that he has to be right every time. I certainly am not right on all my investments, but overall I seem to do okay, I donít demand more of Fairfax.

StubbleJumper

  • Lifetime Member
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1006
Re: Fairfax 2018
« Reply #37 on: January 12, 2018, 08:32:32 AM »
I donít know why it is expected that he has to be right every time. I certainly am not right on all my investments, but overall I seem to do okay, I donít demand more of Fairfax.


Nobody is right every time.  But the question is how to you manage risk, and how do you choose your position sizes?  There's a big difference between dropping $100m on something like Resolute and pumping $1.3B into Blackberry.  They are both risky investments with a considerable risk of a permanent loss of capital.  But, in the first case, if you get your ass handed to you, it might cost you $80m of capital, while in the second case, it might cost you $1B if you get your ass handed to you.  In both cases you were wrong if your ass was handed to you, but in the first case your position size was more appropriate in the broader context of your investment portfolio.  Bank of Ireland, which was an unambiguous success, was a position size of ~US$500m and that was already plenty large for the inherent risk of a permanent loss of capital.  Working from memory, the credit default swaps were a collective position of less than US$400m.  So, irrespective of your level of conviction about an investment, proper risk management requires appropriate position sizing.

Nobody is going to agree with every investment that FFH makes.  And nobody should expect 100% success from any investor.  But we should expect that the risks being taken are not reckless.


SJ

cwericb

  • Lifetime Member
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 767
Re: Fairfax 2018
« Reply #38 on: January 12, 2018, 09:49:56 AM »
ďWorking from memory, the credit default swaps were a collective position of less than US$400m.Ē

Yes SJ, but consider that $400m (actually about $435m) represented a much more significant gamble in 2003 than $435m would be today given inflation and the size of Fairfax 15 years later.

And Prem has warned us that results would be "lumpy".


StubbleJumper

  • Lifetime Member
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1006
Re: Fairfax 2018
« Reply #39 on: January 12, 2018, 10:02:49 AM »
ďWorking from memory, the credit default swaps were a collective position of less than US$400m.Ē

Yes SJ, but consider that $400m (actually about $435m) represented a much more significant gamble in 2003 than $435m would be today given inflation and the size of Fairfax 15 years later.

And Prem has warned us that results would be "lumpy".


Sure, that's absolutely true.  As your portfolio gets larger, your appropriate position size measured in dollars should get larger.  But was the ~$400m CDS in 2003 equivalent to ~$1.3B Blackberry position in 2015?  And would a ~$400m CDS position even remotely represent the same risk of a large permanent loss of capital as the complete acquisition of Blackberry?

Returns will be lumpy, and that's fine because it's the nature of the market.  You make your money when you buy, not when you sell.  But, lumpy returns and wacky position sizing (ie, poor risk management) are two different things.


SJ