The Canadian Buffett Consolidates His Empire

Fool readers should know by now that I am a big fan of superinvestor Prem Watsa.

In November, I noted that the "Canadian Buffett" had turned bullish, and caused both Fairfax Financial (NYSE: FFH  ) and Odyssey Re (NYSE: ORH  ) -- Watsa is chairman of both companies -- to remove their equity hedges. Those protective positions are what enabled these companies to grow per-share book value by 21% and 23%, respectively, in 2008. Even top-notch insurer/investors Markel (NYSE: MKL  ) and Greenlight Capital Re (Nasdaq: GLRE  ) registered double-digit book value declines amid last year's market maelstrom.

Despite this investing masterstroke by Watsa and his team, which partly motivated my nomination for the Overall Most Foolish award, both Fairfax and Odyssey were trading below book value in late February. I felt then like I'd died and gone to jockey heaven. I picked up some Fairfax shares in early March, but sold (way too soon) to help pay for a recent significant life event. The gal's worth it.

After the close on Friday, Fairfax announced a bid for the remaining 27.4% of Odyssey shares that it doesn't already own. The latter used to be a wholly owned subsidiary, but it was partially spun out in 2001 to help its parent raise capital at a time when Fairfax had some problems.

I imagine it has been a long-standing goal to fully bring Odyssey back under the Fairfax umbrella. This bid follows a similar move to reacquire all the shares of Northbridge Financial in late 2008. As with the Northbridge offer, this bid offers a significant premium over recent prices. This is also the highest price that Odyssey shares have ever attained, so no investors should feel cheated. At the same time, Fairfax has to pay only a modest multiple of book value (1.16 times as of June 30) to achieve this consolidation.

Interestingly, Odyssey shares trade at a premium to Fairfax's $60-per-share cash offer, indicating that some folks expect the reinsurer to be able to negotiate a somewhat higher takeout. I closed out my outperform call in Motley Fool CAPS today, but if you're an Odyssey shareholder, I'd consider holding on for a while longer.

Markel is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. If a margin of safety is what you seek, see what other stocks the service is recommending with a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool owns shares of Markel, and has a fair, friendly disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On September 08, 2009, at 4:16 PM, ByrneShill wrote:

    Stop calling watsa "the canadian buffet". It is insulting to both canada and buffet.

  • Report this Comment On September 08, 2009, at 4:48 PM, socraticmunger wrote:

    Considering that Fairfax was Canada most profitable insurance business in 2008 and that they used the proceeds to shore up the capital of numerous Canadian companies that desperately needed capital to keep from shutting their doors.

    I don't see why either Buffett nor Canada would be offended.

    I'm sure he laughs at the comparison but humility aside Prem has compiled one of the most impressive investment track records in history. His focus on building shareholder value has translated into huge rewards for his shareholders, You'd be hard pressed to find a better candidate for Canada's best capital allocator, although a few probably work at Fairfax.

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