Day 2 of the Value Investing Congress has come and gone, and it's been exactly what we expected. By that, we mean it didn't fit a hard and fast classification. The unexpected is bound to rule when a curmudgeonly, somewhat cynical group devoted to finding cheap stocks dons $1,000 suits and celebrates contrarian investment thinking in the middle of Times Square.
The probabilities compound when the speaker list includes some of the most accomplished value investors of our time: David Einhorn, Leon Cooperman, Joel Greenblatt, Bill Ackman, and Jim Chanos. The list included some equally accomplished names who nab fewer headlines but are similarly deserving of the spotlight: Tim Hartch of Brown Brothers Harriman, Adam Weiss and James Crichton of Scout Capital; and Boykin Curry of Eagle Capital.
The surprising, expected, and whoa
It's hard to pinpoint a single watershed moment amid such a memorable cast of characters, but here's our stab at the more interesting moments. In no particular order, we'll give a smattering of the ideas that caught and grabbed us.
1. Leon Cooperman on dividends and sex
"I like income. Somebody once told me income is like sex. When it's bad, it's good. When it's good, it's really good." I would elaborate, but you know, it's hard to describe good sex.
Cooperman's a straight-shooting New Yorker and, as principal of Omega Partners, among the hedge fund elite. Little surprise that Cooperman's list of favored ideas included dividend hog Transocean (NYSE: RIG ) . I've written this story before: I believe the secular outlook for deepwater drilling is quite good, and rig rates are poised to turn higher. As a technological leader in deepwater, Transocean is poised to benefit. I also think the market's concern over Transocean's part in the Gulf spill is overrated. Cooperman thinks the same.
2. Bill Ackman in the house of value
The VIC is kinda like the Super Bowl of investing, but superstar quarterback Bill Ackman took an uncharacteristic posture: He passed the duties to his analyst.
We were doubly surprised by the idea: Fortune Brands Home & Security (NYSE: FBHS ) . Housing's pretty reviled, even among the most diehard, contrarian sorts. It'll eventually recover, but amid leveraged consumers, still-struggling banks, and a government whose hands are tied on additional stimulus, it'll be a hard slog.
For us, what makes the idea interesting is that FBHS is a recent spinoff and the subject of related castaway selling. That piques our curiosity. The owner of leading brands in kitchen and bath, plumbing, and windows, the company is poised to reap a windfall when housing eventually recovers, growing EBITDA two to three times, according to Ackman and his Pershing Square team.
And even if housing doesn't recover too quickly or continues to languish, Ackman still thinks the downside is limited. On first glance, Fortune's relatively clean balance sheet and dominant brands seem an interesting, low-risk way to play a recovery.
3. News flash: Berkshire is cheap!
Congress co-founder and partner at T2 Partners Whitney Tilson wasted zero time pegging an idea near and dear to us: Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) -- which friend and Foolish colleague Joe Magyer recently tripled down on at Inside Value -- as cheap. The shares now comprise a mid-teens percentage of Tilson's fund. But this time, it's actually different. Buffett's given his endorsement, by authorizing a share repurchase of indefinite time horizon and dollar amount. He, Tilson, and Joe think the shares are stupid cheap. Lest you're curious, I do too.
4. Value scouts
Conglomerate discounts are among the most prolific market inefficiencies and hardest to exploit. Scout Capital -- a meticulous, whip-smart group focused on cheap, high-quality companies with catalysts -- thinks that as Williams Companies (NYSE: WMB ) undertakes a planned split of its E&P and infrastructure segments , optimizes its capital structure, and investors properly value the newly separated segments, the shares possess upside in the vicinity of 50%-100%. Those seeking confirmation needn't look further than Kinder Morgan's purchase of El Paso at a 37% premium.
5. Two stocks I love
I've written passionately, and at length, over the opportunity in Aon (NYSE: AON ) shares -- on a recovery in the underwriting market, CEO Greg Case's managerial acumen, and mispriced earnings power in the Hewitt acquisition. Boykin Curry of Eagle Capital agrees. It's no secret that I'm also a big fan of nuclear waste disposer EnergySolutions (NYSE: ES ) -- and I've written a lot about it -- for its one-of-a kind waste disposal site, the potential in its Zion contract, possible debt reduction, and consistent cash generation. Tim Hartch, an investor after my own heart (and Joe's) and winner of the 2008 Lipper large-cap fund of the year, laid a case that sounds a lot like that. He thinks the shares are worth $8 or more, and you won't find arguments here.
Time well spent
All told, it was a great few days. We learned, wore suits, and conversed on investing's sundries with a wonderful group. That's what investing's about. I've posted my detailed notes to Special Ops' discussion boards, and my colleague Joe Magyer's posted his to Inside Value's boards. But if you thirst for more value, you can join the festivities at Omaha in May, after the Berkshire annual meeting. Grab a $1,300 discount here, if you register with discount code O12FOOL.