When you think of famous investors in Nebraska, anybody worth his salt can come up with Warren Buffett. But if you really want to impress your cocktail party friends with your name-dropping skills, you really ought to know about the other successful moneymaker in Omaha who's been bringing great returns to investors for over 25 years.
Back in 1983, Wallace Weitz started a number of investment partnerships, the same way Buffett got started in his investment management career. Instead of building a corporate empire like Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway
An enviable track record
Over the years, the Partners Value Fund has put together a long-term record of outperformance. Although a 0.5% average annual return over the past 10 years may not sound like a great success, it's a big improvement over the S&P 500's average loss of 3%. When you consider the fund's full record -- including the period when it was a partnership -- its 25-year average return of 10.9% handily beats the broad market averages, especially when you consider that it already accounts for an annual expense ratio that currently stands at 1.16%.
Like many value funds, however, Partners Value has struggled recently. By last June, even before the worst of the bear market hit, the fund had already dropped nearly 30% from June 2007, with positions in AIG, Countrywide Financial, and Fannie Mae having taken their toll as problems in the mortgage industry ramped up toward the full-blown financial crisis that would ensue.
On the comeback trail
But after a 32% drop in 2008, Partners Value is on the rebound, with nearly a 10% gain year-to-date versus a flat to slightly down performance for the S&P 500. Some of those gains have come from a recovery in the traditional value sectors, including financials, media, and retail. Cabela's
More interesting, though, is where Weitz is looking for his next big value play. After doing research for a number of years on commodity-related companies, Weitz now believes the time is right to make some targeted purchases -- especially in light of the collapse in commodities prices late last year. Partners Value added a position in XTOEnergy
It's that willingness to think beyond what many see as the traditional boundaries of value investing that I find most interesting about Weitz's funds. In managing his funds, Weitz clearly isn't afraid to buck the trends, and is quite willing to take innovative steps that many avoid. For instance, looking at the quarterly holdings for Partners Value, you'll notice that he wrote covered call options on a portion of his American Express holdings, earning over $300,000 in additional premiums for fund shareholders.
Nevertheless, with nearly 10% of the fund's assets invested in Berkshire stock, Weitz clearly doesn't forget his neighbors.
Who'll win the battle of Omaha?
Of course, it's impossible to predict whether Weitz and his funds will outperform Berkshire in the future. But for those looking for an alternative to Berkshire -- or who would be satisified with a small fraction of their money being invested in Buffett's company -- Weitz has delivered the goods in the past. Given the fund's flexible approach, fund investors can expect to see that track record continue well into the future.
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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has only been to Omaha a couple times, but he's done his share of husking corn. He owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. The Fool owns shares of American Express and Berkshire Hathaway, which are both Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Berkshire Hathaway is also a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy is part of the heartland.