What are we reading?

  1. Bubble in quality? (here)
  2. What are we seeing 29-11 version (here)
  3. Has Buffett lost it? (here)
  4. Banks 10 years return (here)
  5. CNBC complete interview with John Malone (here)
  6. Haircuts for Indian finance — bald or bold (here)
  7. Core investment tenets – upslope capital (here)

What are we reading?

  1. You got a free internet upgrade and then your bill went up (here)
  2. Interesting q2 investment commentary from horizon kinetics (here)
  3. Interview with Liberty Media founder and John Malone partner, Peter Burton (here)
  4. A dozen things I have learnt from John Malone (here)
  5. PershingSquare Holdings buys Berkshire Hathaway – Page 10 (here)
  6. Netflix’s content budget seems greater than it seems (here) (Worthwhile to read the entire series)
  7. How I spotted a fraud before it was too late (here)

Berkshire Quarterly Watch!

Berkshire Hathaway announced another solid quarter on Saturday. With unrealized investment gains flowing through its P&L, the results do incorporate wild swings in equities that needs to be accounted for while evaluating the results.

Revenue for Berkshire was up almost 2% YoY from $62.2B in 2018 to $63.6B in 2019. Investment gains were $10B in Q2 2019 compared to $6.3B in Q2 2018. Energy revenues were slightly down from $3.7B to $3.6B in Q2 2019. Insurance losses were sharply up from $9.4B to $10.7B or 13.8% on a much lower revenue growth of 3%.

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The results do not include the Kraft Heinz results for the first half of 2019 as the results have not been announced yet.

From an earnings perspective, significantly lower earnings from Geico, Berkshire Hathaway reinsurance and Primary group affected the overall operating earnings for Berkshire.

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Berkshire continues to maintain a very conservative portfolio on the fixed income side with less than $20B compared to its $200B equity portfolio. It  is a clear sign that WEB thinks that the bond market is overvalued and the returns do not justify the risk.

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On the equity side, Berkshire sold more than it bought in the first six months and the cost basis remained roughly the same at $102.6B. Berkshire sold $4.6B of equities and bought around $2.8B in the first six months.  The only notable news is that Wells Fargo continues to be a key part of the portfolio and BAC has now crossed the 10% ownership threshold for Berkshire.   In the first six months of the year,  $29.3B of net unrealized gains was recognized on the income statement.

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Interestingly, the derivatives that Berkshire wrote before 2008 are starting to expire. Out of the notional exposure of $24B, over $10B will expire in 2019.

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The buyback from Berkshire was also pretty lukewarm in Q2. $440M was repurchased in Q2 2019. With the cash balances further swelling to $122.3B, hopefully the repurchases will get more meaningful over time.

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Brief thoughts on valuation:

Another robust quarter for Berkshire. Our thoughts on the valuation is a simple SOTP that many other value investors do.  Berkshire can be divided into operating earnings of the business and the portfolio investments. Berkshire earned $10.8B pre-tax in their operating business (excluding insurance) in the first six months, with a run rate of $21.6B for the year. At a safe multiple of 10 given the robustness and the mix of the businesses, it amounts to $216B. I prefer to take the insurance earnings as zero given the cyclical nature of the business even though Berkshire has made profits very consistently. Portfolio investments at the face value of equity + fixed income + equity method investments and cash is approx. $358B. In total, the intrinsic value is about $574B with 2.452B B shares outstanding resulting in a conservative intrinsic value of  $234 / B share.

Disclosure: Long BRK.B

Not a recommendation.

Berkshire Files with SEC on 10% ownership in BAC

We all know that Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway have been bullish on banks in America. It looks like the fest is all set to continue. Berkshire Hathaway just filed a Form 3 with the SEC as a 10% owner of Bank of America (BAC). You can find the filing here

It looks like Berkshire has added over 54 Million shares in BAC since April 2019. What is even more interesting is that Warren Buffett and Berkshire have been actively selling down Wells Fargo every quarter for the last few years to keep its ownership interest below 10% (here) as it hampers their ability to do business with the bank (here)

It also looks like it is okay to own up to 25% of a bank as long the investor gets a permission from the federal reserve and assures them that they would remain a passive investor.

Whichever way you look at it, between WFC, BAC and the growing stake a JPM, Warren Buffett is owning a huge piece of the American banking system. And his actions are the strongest indicators on how Berkshire feels about the current valuation of American banks and areas where large amounts of capital can be deployed for Berkshire.

Short Post on Berkshire

While there are a lot of commentators out there commenting on Berkshire’s results, here is a short different take on it.

  • In 2018, Berkshire took a pre-tax mark to market losses of $22.4B on investments and derivatives and $17.8B on a post tax basis
  • Berkshire reinsurance group did not have a great year and lost $1.1B pre-tax driven by property casualty and retroactive reinsurance.
  • Berkshire’s portion of the Kraft Heinz goodwill impairment was $2.7B in 2018
  • $19.8B of Fixed Income securities compared to $172B of equities
  • $109B in Cash and treasury bills
  • Offset by strong earnings in the rest of the operating businesses and insurance companies resulting in a book value increase of 0.4% and net income of $4B for the year.

If on a year like this, Berkshire does not lose money, it talks a lot about the fortress balance sheet and the resiliency of the business model. I know that Buffett talks about not using BVPS any more. I look at it differently. It was an understated proxy for intrinsic value. Now, it is vastly understated for the intrinsic value.

It is often about return of capital before return on capital. There are a lot of commentary about Berkshire being an index fund. It might be but the risk profile is completely different.

Blast from the Past: Timely reminder to think for yourself — Munger on Valeant

This is a dated post but fun nevertheless.

It all started in April 2015 when Valeant Pharma was the toast of town.

And then Charlie said this: “Valeant is like ITT and Harold Geneen come back to life, only the guy is worse this time.”

No one really understood what Charlie meant at that point. There were some speculations but no one was sure. This was way before the entire Valeant thing unraveled. Pause a moment to think. A lot of us had access to the same information and Munger came to a radically different conclusion than the rest of the market. Bill Ackman tried to reach out to Charlie and convince him otherwise here. Charlie turned out to be correct. How many times as investors have we had a radically different opinion than the rest of the market put together and been right? Are the markets always efficient? What qualitative factor is the market not pricing in that is not evident in the numbers?

In November in 2015, he explained himself further when Valeant started to come apart. Look at the initial response from Munger.

Later, of course, Munger ended up comparing Valeant to a sewer.

Here is how Valent played out finally. They now trade as Bausch Health Companies (BHC).

Now, Charlie also said Ackman was right on Herbalife; that has not proven out yet. Independent thinking….

Fairfax –Actions and Results Speak Louder than Words

Fairfax is a global P&C insurance company led by its charismatic CEO, Prem Watsa, often dubbed as the Warren Buffett of Canada. Fairfax has compounded book value by 20.4% CAGR since inception and the stock price has closely followed it at a 19.4% CAGR. However, the recent performance has been anemic and  events have left a lot of questions unanswered about Fairfax.

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Picture Source: 2015 Fairfax Annual Report

Fairfax Macro Position:

Fairfax has had a long history of making bold macro calls and producing returns for its investors. The most recent successful macro bet was during the great financial recession between 2007-2009. Fairfax was early in the macro call before the recession but profited handsomely when shocks permeated through the financial world.

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Source: 2013 Annual Report

Coming out of the recession in 2010, Fairfax saw similarities between the 2008 recession and the 1929 depression and took a position based on the assumption that the recession story had not been completely played out. Fairfax took a bearish stance in two different ways, through derivatives linked to CPI’s and equity hedges on its portfolio. The CPI linked derivatives have been covered extensively in several places and is a key component to the bullish thesis on Fairfax. However, these are not the securities that have caused the under performance. It is the equity picks of Fairfax.

As we will see later, the under performance on the equity picks meant that the equity hedges kept Fairfax in a net short position in a bull market over the last several years.

Book Value per Share:

The book value per share compounded 2.6% CAGR between 2011 and 2015 for Fairfax. This can be separated into two different components. The shareholder’s equity has been compounding at 4.8% CAGR and the shares outstanding has been diluting at 2.1% CAGR over the last five years resulting in a net compounding of 2.6% over the five year horizon.

book-value-per-share

As with most insurance companies, Fairfax’s economic engine is driven by

  1. A profitable insurance underwriting company that generates benefit of float and a great capital structure,
  2. An investment portfolio consisting of bonds and stocks to generate leveraged returns for shareholders

Insurance operations at Fairfax:

Fairfax has a decent record of underwriting over the last five years. The company’s insurance operations have generated $954M of underwriting profit over the last five years. The insurance operations provides a capital structure that enables Fairfax to borrow cheaper than the government of Canada and get paid to hold the premiums in advance. As the tailwinds in the insurance markets continue, Fairfax will continue to benefit out of this. The capital structure is a great source of competitive advantage for insurance companies. I would like to cast the readers attention to our article on capital structure some time ago here.

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Investment Returns at Fairfax:

When one looks at the net result of realized and unrealized gains at Fairfax from 2011 to 2015, one would notice that the equity investments have lost Fairfax $378M over the last five years. This mediocre performance has been driven by the under performance of the equity that Fairfax has invested in as compared to the strength of the bull market in general over the last five years. In addition to this, the CPI linked derivatives have cost another $436M to shareholders. However, given the extreme pay off ratio if some of these bets do realize probably makes them a speculative risk worth considering given Fairfax’s long term macro record.

fairfax-equity-returns

At the end of 2015, the value of market investments for Fairfax was about $650M below the cost of the investments. This is before any equity hedges or derivatives causing further deterioration. The common stock exposure (below table excludes funds that are common stock investment funds that primarily has fixed income bonds) shows that close about 40% of the common stocks are held in the US and Canada. There is a significant exposure to stock markets in Greece, Egypt, Ireland, India, China and Kuwait. This is not something for the fainthearted. There are two ways to look at this, the brighter side is that these markets could be a source of alpha, and on the less brighter side, these could result in a host of political, volatility and currency risks.

frfhf-equity-investments

We looked through the most recent 13-f filings for Fairfax’s performance of its long positions in the US.

Fairfax US Positions.png

The four positions in the US make up around 83% of the reported US equity portfolio. Their performance has not been inspiring. We looked up the buying period when Fairfax added these positions and their relative performance against the S&P 500.

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In addition, we reproduce the below extract from the annual report for one of the biggest Greece investments for Fairfax.

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The under performance of the equity picks from Fairfax as against the Russell and the S&P index has caused erosion in the value of the investments for Fairfax. Instead of hedging against equities, the poor long picks of Fairfax has landed them in a net short position that caused them to lose money ($377M) against the general market.

These risks continue to exist in Fairfax stocks today. After the recent election results, the equity hedging has been reduced to 50% from the 112% at the end of Sep, 2016. Unless the underlying picks start performing better, the returns from the equity side will continue to be anemic. The foreign markets risk is something a prudent investor must think carefully over before investing in Fairfax.

The bond portfolio:

With the great disconnect in mind, Fairfax piled on bonds in the anticipation of lower interest rates. With the recent interest rise hikes and the anticipation in the future, one needs to closely look at the duration of the bonds at Fairfax.

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Close to half the bonds held at Fairfax have a maturity greater than 10 years which is result in interest rate sensitivity being high on the bond portfolio.

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Contrast this with Berkshire Hathaway where less than 10% of the bonds was have duration greater than 10 years.

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Source: Berkshire Hathaway 10-K 2015

Correction: Subsequent to Q3, Fairfax sold 90% of long dated US treasuries which is about $5.6-$5.7B of Bonds. It will be interesting to see the use of cash subsequently as another source of profits in the last few years has dried up.

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Allied World Acquisition:

Fairfax announced the acquisition of Allied World for $4.9B or $54 per Allied Share. $10 of dividend from the cash between Fairfax and Allied World and the rest in the form of Fairfax shares. Essentially, $0.9B of cash between Fairfax and Allied and then $4.0B of Fairfax stock with an option to replace $2.7B of stock with cash within 75 days of the announcement. It was very interesting to see the conference call where it was announced that Allied would be decentralized and there are no cost synergies. So essentially Fairfax is paying between $435 and $485, a share implying a book value of 1.07 to 1.19 (9/30 2016 BVPS) to buy a company at 1.35 times book value.

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Source: Allied Acquisition Slides

Okay. Here is an excerpt of the intrinsic value of Fairfax from the 2015 annual letter.

frfhf-intrinsic-value

So, essentially, Fairfax took undervalued shares to buy Allied World at 1.35x book without any cost synergies. I do hope that Fairfax understand what they are getting in return. Given the long duration bond portfolio and the lackluster performance of the equity book, the additional float for investment cannot be solution to the problem. The current shareholders are going to be diluted anywhere between 12% and 41% through this acquisition.

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All the recent events and their performance raises more questions than answers. As a long term holder of Fairfax, I have to re-think a lot of the assumptions about Fairfax and this post is part of the evaluation. Any new buyers, caveat emptor.

Buffett on Reinsurance

Just a post to keep some notes on reinsurance to self.

The Berkshire Shareholders meeting had little in terms on new content though it was good to see that both Charlie and Warren razor sharp as ever.

Probably one of the most interesting insights came in the initial parts of the Q&A. Reinsurance. Berkshire Hathaway had sold down its position in Munich Re and Swiss Re in 2015. When asked a pointed question about it, Buffett was very articulate and gave two key reasons for it: a. Low to negative yields in Europe b. Surplus capacity in reinsurance industry.

In a way, Buffett was alluding to the fact that with hedge funds like Greenlight Re and Thirdpoint Re entering the reinsurance business and being hungry for float, it is likely that too much competition will make (or has made) pricing softer in the market. Supply up, demand is the same. This should raise two questions: a. Buffett is reducing exposure to the reinsurance business by reducing his stake, Greenlight Re and Thirdpoint Re are going long at the same time. One must thoroughly consider the consequences of betting against the man who built the most profitable reinsurance business in the world and has constantly reminded us that the insurance industry is survived the longest by those who walk away when pricing is not adequate to the risks taken. b. If there is going to be softer pricing in the market, investors in companies like Greenlight Re and Third Point re, not only have to tide over the cost of float but also the rich fees that the hedge funds rake in.  The two net cost adders might make the economics very difficult for investors to make meaningful returns unless the reinsurance companies have many home runs on the investment side.

With the low to negative yields, float becomes less valuable as the capital structure of many of the reinsurance business like Swiss Re and Munich Re allows them to invest float in only certain types of securities. Buffett is essentially betting that it will be tough for reinsurance companies to invest float in positive returns instruments for quite sometime to come. Unless of course, you are Prem Watsa and assume that deflation is going to take over in which case the bonds become very useful. Time will tell. Time to increase watch on the insurance holdings.