Holding companies are a weird sort of Wall Street animal. Some, like Berkshire Hathaway
And then you have the case of Loews
Loews consists mainly of sizable chunks in publicly traded entities CNA Financial
Generally speaking, whatever advantage there is in buying a holding company stock (as opposed to just buying the stock of the particular business(es) you really like) lies either in management's ability to allocate assets effectively (Warren Buffett, for instance) or in the notion that diversification will reduce some of the risk that would go with owning just a single stock.
For example, CNA is generally a very large part of the company's earnings, but the insurance business had a bad quarter this time around because of costs related to exiting some finite reinsurance contracts. So while that offset good performances from tobacco, offshore drilling, and pipeline operations, the picture in a year or two could be different. Perhaps drilling or tobacco will be down in the dumps and insurance will be the brighter star.
While Loews does seem to trade at a discount to the value of its stakes in these businesses, I'm not all that intrigued by this stock. It's not that I don't like the tobacco, drilling, or pipeline businesses, but rather, I really don't care too much for CNA Financial, and that's a pretty good-sized piece of this pie. Other Fools may, of course, feel differently, though, and find this collection of assets more appealing than I do.
For more Foolish thoughts on conglomerates:
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).