Over the course of any given day, you'll read hundreds of different stock recommendations, with various justifications for why a particular stock is worth buying or selling. But at the end of the day, the real test of any recommendation is whether the people making it actually believe in the stock enough to put real money behind their call. Investments speak louder than words, and when you look at my portfolio, the individual stocks you'll see most prominently featured are Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B) and Fairfax Financial (NASDAQOTH:FRFHF).
2 peas from the same pod
For the most part, individual stocks aren't my thing. I use a lot of mutual funds and ETFs in my portfolio, especially closed-end funds that trade at discounts to their net asset value. My value-investing bent gravitates toward picking up discounted closed-end funds on the cheap.
With Berkshire and Fairfax, though, I get many of the same investing benefits that funds offer. Both companies have huge investments in equities, and both have a similar philosophy, using their respective core insurance businesses to gather premium money that they then invest in an attempt to provide outsized returns.
The power of Buffett
With Berkshire being one of the most-followed companies in the world, there's little I can say that hasn't already been said countless times. But for me, the key to Berkshire's place in my portfolio is the reputation that the company has built over decades, as that reputation has given it access to investing opportunities that no other company has been able to find.
During the financial crisis, who did Goldman Sachs and General Electric turn to for additional capital? Berkshire got the call, and it scored lucrative deals that included both high-income preferred stock and warrants that have given Berkshire additional profits from their respective share-price advances. When Bank of America needed to bolster its capital position in 2011 when investors were punishing the stock mercilessly, where did it find support? Berkshire came in again with a similar deal that has already produced huge paper profits.
Berkshire has also created plenty of value from its traditional stock holdings and its wholly owned businesses. By taking advantage of the time value that insurance-related float creates, Berkshire has been able to overcome the headwinds of corporate-level taxation to outperform index mutual funds over the long haul. Moreover, its ability to make massive investments on timely occasions differentiates it from peers that tend to make smaller investments, showing that Berkshire has access to upper-echelon deals that other companies would miss out on.
Watsa-up with Fairfax?
Compared to Warren Buffett, Fairfax's Prem Watsa is a relative unknown. But the person some call "Canada's Warren Buffett" hasn't been afraid to take the same sorts of unpopular contrarian positions that have distinguished Buffett's time at Berkshire.
Lately, Watsa has been conservative in his overall investing stance. Even as the U.S. stock market has returned to all-time highs, Watsa believes that the financial crisis of 2008-09 isn't something that the economy can recover from in just a few years, especially given the massive intervention that the Federal Reserve continues to make in the form of quantitative easing. Fairfax has hedged its portfolio against the risk of big declines, and that has cost the stock some return in recent years.
Yet at the same time, Watsa has taken some big positions. His bet on BlackBerry raised many eyebrows given the company's long-heralded struggles to keep pace with competition in the smartphone industry, but BlackBerry's recent bounce has raised hopes that it may not have been permanently displaced by its rivals. Similarly, Watsa's position in Bank of Ireland involved buying into the massive risk of the European financial crisis, yet that stock has risen sharply as the country shows signs of emerging from the worst of the troubles plaguing the Eurozone.
Playing off each other
I like balance in my portfolio, and owning both Berkshire and Fairfax provides offsetting views of the market and the economy. The two stocks may not move in lockstep, but over time, I think both positions will continue to see strong gains.