Stocks are simple. All you do is buy shares in a great business for less than the business is intrinsically worth, with management of the highest integrity and ability. Then you own those shares forever. I will tell you how to become rich. Close the doors. Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.

November 21, 2010

Mohnish Pabrai

We will never see another Warren Buffett

http://files.arunbansal.com/pdf/Interview_With_Mohnish_Pabrai.pdf
http://www.aboveaverageodds.com/resources/
http://twitter.com/AboveAvgOdds
http://www.gurufocus.com/news.php?author=Valuehuntr


DNA / Vivek Kaul / Wednesday, October 21, 2009 2:02 IST

Mohnish Pabrai currently manages Pabrai Investment Funds, which he founded in 1999. The fund has around half a billion dollars in assets under management. Pabrai went to the US in 1982 to do his undergrad in computer engineering. After that, he worked with Tellabs in Chicago. In 1990, he started his own company TransTech, an IT services/system integration business and ran that for around ten years, before starting Pabrai Investment Funds. He has written a book on investing, The Dhandho Investor: The Low-Risk Value Method to High Returns. Excerpts from an interview:

How did you get into investing business from information technology?
Around 1994 I heard about Warren Buffett for the first time accidentally. The first couple of biographies about him had just been published a year or two before that. I read those books and I was quite blown away by some data points that were coming out about him and the industry and so on. I didn't have any experience or even education in the investment business. But I was very intrigued by it.

I started to invest in the public equity markets using Buffett's model in 1994 and basically did extremely well, north of 70% a year, till about 1999. I was getting more and more interested in investment research and securities analysis and made a decision to leave my company. I brought in an outside CEO and decided that I would spend more time on investing and at the same time some friends of mine wanted me to manage their money for them. It started as a hobby in 1999 with about a million dollars from eight people. About a year later the business (TransTech) actually got sold, I wasn't running it anyway, but I was completely cashed out. And then I thought that let's make my hobby a real business, try to scale it up and get investors. We now manage about $500 million — ten years later.

How did you narrow down on Warren Bufett and value investing?
Basically in 1994, when I read about Buffett, there were two things that stood out. One was that he had compounded money at a very high rate. If you are compounding at a high rate, even if you have a small amount of money — let's say a million dollars — in thirty years you could have a billion dollars. So the idea of compounding at a rate above the market rate is an extremely fine notion because it can lead to enormous wealth creation. That was the first thing.

The second thing was that the way Buffett was compounding money at a rate higher than the market was based on a core wisdom which he stood for. If you are physicist, whether you believe in gravity or not, it will always impact you. Just like there are laws of physics, laws of gravity, there are laws of investing.

I noticed in 1994 that the mutual fund business had two things: one, they did not follow the laws of investing, and two, their results were affected by the fact that they did not follow the laws of investing.

For example, a basic law of investing is that you make very few bets, you don't buy a hundred companies because you are not going to have an understanding of business. But if you look at mutual funds, that is not the way they operate.

So essentially, what you are saying is that investors should make fewer bets?
So you make few bets, you make big bets, infrequent bets and you only make bets when the odds are heavily in your favour. What I found very funny was that here is a guy (Buffett) who is telling you very much the approach to investing he follows, and this is like Newton telling you the laws of physics. The second thing is that the investment industry does not care about these laws, and their results reflect it.

The third conclusion I came to is, I said, OK, if what I am saying is right, what it means is that a person like myself, who has no experience in this industry, could come in and apply Buffett's rules and do better than all these managers running all these funds. So I said, well, that hypothesis means nothing until you test it out. I had an asset sale take place of a part of my business in 1994, and I had about million dollars in cash, sitting with me for which I did not have any need for.

I decided I am going to take this million and put this on a twenty or thirty-year compounding engine. I was about 30 years old, I wanted to see if by the age of sixty I had my billion dollars. I started playing this thirty-year game in 1994, and basically I found that first of all, it was very enjoyable and second, that it's been fifteen years now and the original hypothesis I had is absolutely correct — which is that the industry doesn't get it, they still haven't changed their ways, and there results reflect that.

What are the factors you look at before deciding to invest in a company? Can you give us an example?
The first thing you got to look at is, "I am not buying a stock, but I am buying a business." And you only buy the business if you were willing to buy the entire business if you had money for it. So, for example, if Reliance Industries has a market cap of $100 billion and you had a $300 billion, the question you would ask yourself is, would I buy the entire business for a $100 billion?

The first thing is that you are not buying pieces of paper, but you are buying an entire business. The second is that you ask yourself, do I understand the business? Do I truly understand how it will work, how it makes money, how will it do in the future?
Then the third thing is, if Reliance produces$3 billion a year cash flow and it trades for $100 billion, I have no intention of buying it at 33 times cash flow. It is like I have no interest in putting money in an account that pays 3% interest.

So I love Reliance, maybe, if the fair value of business is 15 times cash flow, which is $45 billion. And since I am cheapskate, I don't want to buy it for more than half its fair value, so I just say to myself, that if it goes below $20 billion in value — or one-fifth the current price — then I will look at it again. In fact, that is the way to look at the Indian Sensex. You take all the Reliances, the Wipros and Infosyses of the world, chop their price by four, and that's your entry price.

What has been your most successful stockpick till date?
You know that's a very funny question. The most successful company I ever invested in is Satyam. I invested in 1995, and I was completely out by 2000. When I invested the stock was at Rs 40, and Satyam's earnings at that time were about at Rs 12 a share, so you were buying a business for three-and-a-half times earnings. And the more interesting thing for me was that property the company had in Hyderabad exceeded the market capitalisation as it was carried at a value that was bought a long time ago.

The only reason I knew about Satyam was because I was in the IT services space. These guys had actually visited us to see if they could do business together. And I had been pretty impressed by the way the business operated and the people I had met.

I looked at it from my investment point of view after was amazed that such a business could trade at such a price. So I invested in Satyam. In 2000, it was trading at Rs 7,000, that is about a 150 times the price I bought it at. This was in the days before demat, and actually when I bought the stock with an account through Kotak that I had in Mumbai, I was given physical delivery of these shares that looked like tattered pieces of paper that were falling apart.

Satyam from less than a PE of 3 to more than PE of 100. I just said I am out of it because now I owned a bubble stock even though I did not buy it at bubble price. I sold my entire position within 5% of the peak. Within six months it had dropped from Rs 7,000 to Rs 1,000, and continued on the sidelines for a while. That was the best deal that I ever made.

I also happened to read somewhere that you wear shorts to work and do not as a matter of habit short stocks?
Well, I am wearing shorts right now … the math for for shorting is really bad. When you are long on a stock, as it goes down in price, the position is going against you and it becomes a smaller portion of your portfolio. In shorting, it is the other way around: if the short goes against you, it is going to become a larger position of your portfolio. When you short a stock, your loss potential is infinite; the maximum you can gain is double your value. So why will you take a bet where the maximum upside is a double and the maximum downside bankruptcy?

Also, any time you short a stock, you are hooked to a (stock price) quote machine for life support because you have to watch what is happening all the time. Many a times, when I am travelling in India, it could be several days when I don't have a quote for any positions that I hold. So I don't want to be a in a situation where I have an umbilical cord linked to some quote machine … and blood pressure going up and down.

Do you have investments in emerging markets like India and China or do you stick to the stocks in the US market?
I would say that most times a very large portion of our portfolio has a lot of exposure to the global market. I have (shares in) several companies in Canada. I own (shares in) one Chinese company and an Egyptian company, I don't own any Indian companies right now, but I use to own Satyam. Also Pabrai Funds use to own Dr Reddy's.

You have said in the past that investment ideas come to you by reading a lot…
An investor should think of himself as a gentleman of leisure. Don't think that you are in some profession. You just think that you are a person who is focused on enjoying and living life well. If you focus on yourself as a gentleman of leisure what is going to happen is that you do not feel any compelling reason to act. It has been several months since I have bought any new stock. And that is not a problem because we went through a period in December when we bought ten stocks. The first thing is that we are in a profession were you don't pay for activity, you get paid for being right. So there should be no compelling reason to act. Basically, the thing you do is you take out the reason to act.
The second thing you do is you focus on acquiring worldly wisdom. I read an enormous amount of stuff and relate to what different investment managers who I respect are saying. So, at times, things become no-brainers.

In the fourth quarter of last year, when everything was going to hell, one part of the market that went to extreme hell was commodity-related stocks. Commodity-related stocks absolutely got crushed. 95% down. 90% down. And if you simply keep in mind that you look at the growth rates of India and China, you can get an insight.

Through our foundation Dakshina I spend a good amount of time in rural India. I can see nuances about India, that most people would not see. You can see that the pressure on the few commodities in the earth's crust is tremendous.

China has severe problems with fresh water and you really have big problems with agriculture with those type of water issues. When you have growth rates of 7-8%, people will want to eat the best. Generally it is proven that protein consumption climbs very high when economies do well. It is absolutely a given that 10 years from now the amount of agriculture and protein needed will be much higher from today. And getting there will not be easy.

So the thing is there are certain businesses that serve as toll bridges in that space. For example, one toll bridge is if you look at Latin America. It has a lot of land and it is flooded with fresh water rivers. South America can basically take that land and convert it into producing corn and soybean or whatever and export the hell out of it to China. And that is exactly what will end up happening. Latin American agricultural companies with large land holdings today are not excessively priced, they are very cheap. But there is absolutely no way for India and China to satisfy the consumption demand that is coming without going to Latin America. So we will just own the toll bridges and wait.

How much of Warren Buffett's success can be attributed to his investment prowess and how much to the fact that he is Warren Bufett?
Well the thing is you could have invested even after Buffett had invested and you could have made six times the money out of it.

In fact there are a couple of professors in Ohio, who studied any stock that Warren Buffett bought, if you bought on the last day of the month, when it was public that he owned that stock, and you sold it after it was public that he had started selling it, you would have generated north of 20% annual rate of return.

I would say that we will never see another Warren Buffett. Just like we will never see any Albert Einstein or another Mahatma Gandhi. Buffett is a very unique individual. His skillsets outside of investment are phenomenal but they get dwarfed by his investing skills. The main thing that makes Warren Buffett Warren Buffett is that he is a learning machine who has worked really hard for, let's us say seventy years, and is continuously learning every day.

So the thing is if you want to be like Buffett, there is no short cut. First of all, you have to be deeply interested in investing and you have to be very willing spending tens of hours, hundreds of hours, reading the minutiae. There is a very famous value investor called Seth Klarman. He is into horse racing. And his famous horse is called Read the Footnotes.

URL of the article: http://www.dnaindia.com/money/interview_we-will-never-see-another-warren-buffett_1301088-all

Pabrai's Perspectives on Investing

Warren Buffett made billions buying shares of Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), and Gillette (now a part of Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG)) in the 1980s and 1990s. But before that, he was actually posting better returns investing in some companies you've never heard of, like Sanborn Maps, and some you have, like American Express (NYSE: AXP).

In those early days, Buffett's investing strategies were geared more toward special situations -- workouts, arbitrage, and liquidations. (Many people, based on comments Buffett has made, believe he makes more than 50% a year in his personal portfolio from special-situation investing.) From 1957 to 1968, Buffett's investment partnership posted 31.6% gross and 25.3% net annualized returns, respectively, in comparison with the Dow's 9.1% annual return.

Mohnish Pabrai, who was profiled in James Altucher's must-read Trade Like Warren Buffett, is an ardent Buffett follower, and his investment partnership likewise has a stellar track record. Pabrai's first book, Perspectives on Investing, was brilliant in its simplicity and ability to convey the principles of intelligent investing. Pabrai also has a new book, The Dhandho Investor, coming out soon. I thought Fools (myself included) would be very well-served to read up on some of Pabrai's thoughts, and the following is the first half of a two-part interview conducted with Pabrai via email.

Emil Lee: You've modeled your partnership after the Buffett Partnership -- do you mind providing any detail on how that's going? Are you on track in terms of performance, assets under management, etc.?

Mohnish Pabrai: It has gone far better than I would have forecasted. Mr. Buffett deserves all the credit. I am just a shameless cloner. A $100,000 investment in Pabrai Funds at inception (on July 1, 1999) was worth $659,700 on Dec. 31, 2006. That's seven and a half years. The annualized return is 28.6% -- after my outrageous fees and all expenses. Assets under management are over $400 million -- up from $1 million at inception. On all fronts, Pabrai Funds has done vastly better than my best-case expectations.

Going forward, I expect we'll continue to beat the major indices, but with just a small average annualized outperformance.

Lee: You clearly believe in having a broad latticework of knowledge from different educational disciplines from which to draw upon when judging investment ideas. Can you describe how you spend your day? Do you devote a general percentage of your time to reading "non-investment" material versus 10-Ks, etc.?

Pabrai: My calendar is mostly empty. I try to have no more than one meeting a week. Beyond that, the way the day is spent is quite open. If I'm in the midst of drilling down on a stock, I might spend a few days just focused on reading documents related to that one business. Other times, I'm usually in the midst of some book, and part of the day goes to keeping up with correspondence -- mostly email.

I take a nap nearly every afternoon. There is a separate room with a bed in our offices. And I usually stay up late. So some reading, etc., is at night.

Lee: In Trade Like Warren Buffett, you mention that you let investment ideas come to you by reading a lot, and also monitoring familiar names on the NYSE. Can you describe your process of generating investment ideas -- is it simply just reading a lot? Do you do anything else to actively seek out ideas?

Pabrai: The No. 1 skill that a successful investor needs is patience. You need to let the game come to you. My steady-state modus operandi is to assume that I'm just a gentleman of leisure, and that I'm not in the investment business. If something looks so compelling that it screams out at me, saying "Buy me!!," I then do a drill-down. Otherwise, I'm just reading for reading's sake. So, I scan a few sources and usually can find something scream out at me a few times a year. These sources (in no particular order) are:

1. 52-Week Lows on the NYSE (published daily in The Wall Street Journal and weekly in Barron's)
2. Value Line (look at their various "bottoms lists" weekly)
3. Outstanding Investor Digest (www.oid.com)
4. Value Investor Insight (www.valueinvestorinsight.com)
5. Portfolio Reports (from the folks who put out OID)
6. The Wall Street Journal
7. Financial Times
8. Barron's
9. Forbes
10. Fortune
11. BusinessWeek
12. The Sunday New York Times
13. The Value Investors' Club (www.valueinvestorsclub.com)
14. Magic Formula (www.magicformulainvesting.com)
15. Guru Focus (www.gurufocus.com)

Between all of the above, I have historically found at least three to four good ideas every year. Sometimes I make a mistake, and a good idea turns out to be not so good.

Lee: A big part of investing is knowing what to pay attention to and what not to [focus on]. How do you sift through the thousands of investment ideas? Often, bargains are bargains because they're unrecognizable -- how do you spot the needles in the haystack, and how do you avoid the value traps?

Pabrai: I wait to hear the scream. "Buy me!" It needs to be really loud, as I'm a bit hard of hearing.

Lee: Would it be fair to say you are more balance sheet-oriented, versus income/cash flow statement-oriented? If so, how do you get comfortable with the asset values (i.e., Frontline, death care)?

Pabrai: John Burr Williams was the first to define intrinsic value in his The Theory of Investment Value, published in 1938. Per Williams, the intrinsic value of any business is determined by the cash inflows and outflows -- discounted at an appropriate interest rate -- that can be expected to occur during the remaining life of the business. The definition is painfully simple.

So, cash can be gotten out of a business in a liquidation or by cash the business generates year after year. It is all a question of what is the likelihood of each. If future cash flows are easy to figure out and are high-probability events, then liquidation value can be set aside. On the other hand, sometimes the only thing that is a high probability of value is liquidation value. Both work. Depends on the situation. But you first need to hear a scream ...

A worthy successor
Pabrai's answers have provided a great look into the thoughts and habits of an excellent value investor. In fact, he's one of a handful alive who are generally acknowledged as worthy of following in Buffett's footsteps (Pabrai was nominated as a "Buffetteer" by Forbes magazine). Like Buffett, Pabrai gives credence to the theory that activity shouldn't be confused with productivity, but instead tends to result in friction.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow, when we publish the second part of the interview and find out more about how to become a better investor.

For more interviews with other hedge fund managers, check out:




Pabrai's Perspectives on Investing

Warren Buffett made billions buying shares of Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), and Gillette (now a part of Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG)) in the 1980s and 1990s. But before that, he was actually posting better returns investing in some companies you've never heard of, like Sanborn Maps, and some you have, like American Express (NYSE: AXP).

In those early days, Buffett's investing strategies were geared more toward special situations -- workouts, arbitrage, and liquidations. (Many people, based on comments Buffett has made, believe he makes more than 50% a year in his personal portfolio from special-situation investing.) From 1957 to 1968, Buffett's investment partnership posted 31.6% gross and 25.3% net annualized returns, respectively, in comparison with the Dow's 9.1% annual return.

Mohnish Pabrai, who was profiled in James Altucher's must-read Trade Like Warren Buffett, is an ardent Buffett follower, and his investment partnership likewise has a stellar track record. Pabrai's first book, Perspectives on Investing, was brilliant in its simplicity and ability to convey the principles of intelligent investing. Pabrai also has a new book, The Dhandho Investor, coming out soon. I thought Fools (myself included) would be very well-served to read up on some of Pabrai's thoughts, and the following is the first half of a two-part interview conducted with Pabrai via email.

Emil Lee: You've modeled your partnership after the Buffett Partnership -- do you mind providing any detail on how that's going? Are you on track in terms of performance, assets under management, etc.?

Mohnish Pabrai: It has gone far better than I would have forecasted. Mr. Buffett deserves all the credit. I am just a shameless cloner. A $100,000 investment in Pabrai Funds at inception (on July 1, 1999) was worth $659,700 on Dec. 31, 2006. That's seven and a half years. The annualized return is 28.6% -- after my outrageous fees and all expenses. Assets under management are over $400 million -- up from $1 million at inception. On all fronts, Pabrai Funds has done vastly better than my best-case expectations.

Going forward, I expect we'll continue to beat the major indices, but with just a small average annualized outperformance.

Lee: You clearly believe in having a broad latticework of knowledge from different educational disciplines from which to draw upon when judging investment ideas. Can you describe how you spend your day? Do you devote a general percentage of your time to reading "non-investment" material versus 10-Ks, etc.?

Pabrai: My calendar is mostly empty. I try to have no more than one meeting a week. Beyond that, the way the day is spent is quite open. If I'm in the midst of drilling down on a stock, I might spend a few days just focused on reading documents related to that one business. Other times, I'm usually in the midst of some book, and part of the day goes to keeping up with correspondence -- mostly email.

I take a nap nearly every afternoon. There is a separate room with a bed in our offices. And I usually stay up late. So some reading, etc., is at night.

Lee: In Trade Like Warren Buffett, you mention that you let investment ideas come to you by reading a lot, and also monitoring familiar names on the NYSE. Can you describe your process of generating investment ideas -- is it simply just reading a lot? Do you do anything else to actively seek out ideas?

Pabrai: The No. 1 skill that a successful investor needs is patience. You need to let the game come to you. My steady-state modus operandi is to assume that I'm just a gentleman of leisure, and that I'm not in the investment business. If something looks so compelling that it screams out at me, saying "Buy me!!," I then do a drill-down. Otherwise, I'm just reading for reading's sake. So, I scan a few sources and usually can find something scream out at me a few times a year. These sources (in no particular order) are:

1. 52-Week Lows on the NYSE (published daily in The Wall Street Journal and weekly in Barron's)
2. Value Line (look at their various "bottoms lists" weekly)
3. Outstanding Investor Digest (www.oid.com)
4. Value Investor Insight (www.valueinvestorinsight.com)
5. Portfolio Reports (from the folks who put out OID)
6. The Wall Street Journal
7. Financial Times
8. Barron's
9. Forbes
10. Fortune
11. BusinessWeek
12. The Sunday New York Times
13. The Value Investors' Club (www.valueinvestorsclub.com)
14. Magic Formula (www.magicformulainvesting.com)
15. Guru Focus (www.gurufocus.com)

Between all of the above, I have historically found at least three to four good ideas every year. Sometimes I make a mistake, and a good idea turns out to be not so good.

Lee: A big part of investing is knowing what to pay attention to and what not to [focus on]. How do you sift through the thousands of investment ideas? Often, bargains are bargains because they're unrecognizable -- how do you spot the needles in the haystack, and how do you avoid the value traps?

Pabrai: I wait to hear the scream. "Buy me!" It needs to be really loud, as I'm a bit hard of hearing.

Lee: Would it be fair to say you are more balance sheet-oriented, versus income/cash flow statement-oriented? If so, how do you get comfortable with the asset values (i.e., Frontline, death care)?

Pabrai: John Burr Williams was the first to define intrinsic value in his The Theory of Investment Value, published in 1938. Per Williams, the intrinsic value of any business is determined by the cash inflows and outflows -- discounted at an appropriate interest rate -- that can be expected to occur during the remaining life of the business. The definition is painfully simple.

So, cash can be gotten out of a business in a liquidation or by cash the business generates year after year. It is all a question of what is the likelihood of each. If future cash flows are easy to figure out and are high-probability events, then liquidation value can be set aside. On the other hand, sometimes the only thing that is a high probability of value is liquidation value. Both work. Depends on the situation. But you first need to hear a scream ...

A worthy successor
Pabrai's answers have provided a great look into the thoughts and habits of an excellent value investor. In fact, he's one of a handful alive who are generally acknowledged as worthy of following in Buffett's footsteps (Pabrai was nominated as a "Buffetteer" by Forbes magazine). Like Buffett, Pabrai gives credence to the theory that activity shouldn't be confused with productivity, but instead tends to result in friction.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow, when we publish the second part of the interview and find out more about how to become a better investor.

For more interviews with other hedge fund managers, check out:


Pabrai Investment Funds Annual Meeting Notes

September-28-2010

Pabrai Funds Annual Meeting
Chicago Illinois
September 25th 2010

Prepared Comments:

The meeting started with an overview of how the fund has performed. Since the fund was started in 2001, it has returned 15.1% annually compared to -1.5% for the S&P 500.

$100,000 invested in the fund in June of 2000 would be $408,000 today.

Mohnish's goal is to beat the index by 3% annually.

This past summer 3 interns worked part time on the checklist 2.0. They identified mistakes by great investors that resulted in a permanent loss of capital and analyzed why the mistakes occurred. They looked for commentary by the fund managers on these mistakes. They found that these investors almost never discussed their mistakes.

The biggest mistake was an investment in AIG by the Davis Fund which resulted in a $2 billion loss for the fund.

Mohnish said that the checklist is a great weapon in the Pabrai Funds arsenal.

Mohnish then went through one winner and one loser in the portfolio.

The worst investment during the period was Ternium which was actually sold at a small gain.

The winner he discussed was Teck cominco. This is the best investment the fund has ever made. The Pabrai Funds made an 8x return in only 3 months. Mohnish invested because they have some of the lowest cost mines in the world. The reason they were so cheap was because of a liquidity mismatch on the balance sheet. It had a large amount of debt coming due in a year. Mohnish felt that if they weren't able to refinance the debt that they could sell assets piecemeal because of their highly diversified operations. In the worse case, the company would be worth a lot even in reorganizations because its book value was so high.

Question and Answer:

How Long did you follow Teck Cominco before buying?

Mohnish said he spent less than 5 days researching Teck because there were so many bargains at this time. Teck had a very solid moat because it was the lowest cost producer. To find Teck he looked at industry cost curves and paid attention to the lowest cost producers. The most important question to figure out was the liquidity mismatch.

Thoughts on Fairfax?

He doesn't discuss current holdings.

Why don't you discuss current holdings?


If investors get in the habit of discussing their investments they may end up suffering from commitment bias. If they constantly talk about how great a company is, they may suffer from a bias that could impair their judgment.

What are your views on position sizing?

His allocation policy changed in 2008 to reflect slightly elevated investment risks of his investment baskets and prior mistakes. If he has 10% positions it's very hard to recover from a mistake. He discussed his new allocation framework with Charlie Munger who disagreed at first. After Mohnish explained it further, Charlie agreed that Berkshire Hathaway has achieved success with a more diversified portfolio. Mohnish talked about basket bets. When the risk is slightly elevated he will buy a basket of companies with small weightings. For example, he said he is currently researching companies in Japan. If he ends up buying companies there, he will buy a basket of companies each with small weightings in the portfolio. He said stocks there are very cheap.

What attracts you to a business?

When he finds a company that looks interesting he starts by thinking as a skeptic. He looks for something that will prove him wrong. He looks for areas of extreme mispricing. It has to be very undervalued but he also has to be able to understand it. He thinks there may be value in Coke bottlers in Japan. The Nikkei has done nothing for 27 years.

Has the increasing size of the fund negatively affect performance?

The performance of the fund has not been affected by size or fund inflows. He said that the fund is sitting on a lot of undervalue assets.

Has the economic turmoil changed your model?

Mohnish said he has more of an appreciation for macro issues than he has in the past. He also said that some macro trends make sense to base investments on. But the majority of macros trends such as inflation and interest rates are very difficult to predict and he doesn't make judgments on those.

What are your thoughts on the financial industry?

Understanding management is key. You want to look for competent and honest managers. Because of the high leverage, management cannot make any mistakes in reserving. Also, it's very difficult for outsiders to understand reserving. He couldn't understand Citibank.

How much time do you spend on the balance sheet of companies you invest in?

Before he invested in Teck Cominco he read the last 8 years of annual reports. He spends a lot of time on the balance sheet.

What's your philosophy on timing buying and selling?

He expects to be wrong in the future on selling. He said its fine to sell to early. If a stock goes down after he buys it that's fine as long as he is still right about intrinsic value and he has dry powder to invest.

What did you identify with the checklist project?

The mistakes were concentrated in 08-09 and included a lot of financials. A lot of the mistakes were similar so he just picked a few. He analyzed Longleaf's investment in GM. Longleaf's management discussed the GM thesis in its reports. The mistake they made was they missed the forest from the trees. They missed the big picture. They figured that because GM did so well in the truck market that that would carry them through. They missed the fact that gas prices would rise to $3. He also said that he greatly respects these managers but that it's important to learn from them. Longleaf also made the mistake of looking at the wrong variables.

How do you know where the edge of your circle of competence is?

If you have to ask yourself that question when looking at a company, then it's probably beyond your circle of competence. You have to be honest with yourself. In the case of the Japanese companies he is researching, he has no interest in American listed Japanese companies. He will use the basket approach to Japanese companies because of the unfamiliarity. He also said that these Japanese companies are extremely cheap.

A business owner in the audience said after analyzing his own mistakes he noticed many of his mistakes were repeated. He asked if Mohnish had made a mistake more than once and was susceptible to reoccurring mistakes in one area?

Chris Davis wrote about a mistake he made in 2002. He ended up making the same mistake again in 2008 with AIG. Buffett made the same mistake twice as well with the original Berkshire Hathaway purchased and later on, with the Dexter Shoe purchase. Leverage is a very important factor to consider. One item on the check list is whether or not he suffers from any personal biases. The checklist forces him to take a step back.

Do you see any bubbles today?

Bubbles are hard to spot. Real estate in certain parts of China is probably a bubble. There are many bubbles around all the time. He mentioned a book called Trendwatching.

What's your philosophy on investing in foreign markets?

He said that investing in US and Canadian companies that are driven by Chinese factors would be of interest to him. It's important to understand foreign growth. You have to watch out for bubbles. China and India have good prospects but there may be an overall bubble. He's very reluctant to invest in China but he's interested in benefiting from Chinese growth. He skips Chinese companies because of accounting.

What does he think about natural gas companies?

The industry may be subject to a disruptive shift because of technological changes. The low prices may be permanent but he has no idea. The only good way to invest would be at the bottom of the cost curve and he can't find one. There is no choke point in natural gas unlike iron ore. Natural gas also has substitutes. Mohnish recommended the book, Irrational Optimist. He talked about how cheap energy allows countries to create more fresh water which will allow more agriculture.

How do you prevent macro issues from blinding investments?

He's learned to appreciate macro issues more than in the past. As an investor you can't get a handle on all factors. So it makes sense to spread ideas out more. The micro factors trump the macro factors. The company has to be able to control its destiny. He looks for staying power so the company can withstand shocks.

This question came from an investor who has to pull out money for living expenses. He asked how he can get more visibility on what taxes will be?

Mohnish practices tax planning in the funds. He sells holdings between the funds to cancel capital gains. The statements sent to shareholders should give them a good idea what the expected tax rate will be. Mohnish is a big tax payer so he is very sensitive to tax issues.

Is your philosophy on portfolio allocation shifting more towards preserving wealth instead of growing it?

The Kelly Formula is only correct when making many bets. He always under bet the Kelly Formula. Since Mohnish is making few bets, the Kelly Formula doesn't work. He never fully used the Kelly Formula because it would have told him to bet more heavily. Return of capital is more important than return on capital. If people redeem their money during down times that is permanently lost capital for those people.

Can you name some great companies that you'd love to own at the right price?

Ikea, In and Out Burger, Costco, the low cost mines owned by BHP and Rio Tinto. Great companies are all over the place across the world. There are great companies in India and China but and ownership issues exists over there. Pricing is also an issue. Ben Graham's approach was to go to the store and buy what was on sale and Charlie Munger's approach is to go to the store and wait for quality items to go on sale. He likes Charlie's framework.

What extra work do you do to analyze financials?

He's reluctant to own most financials. They do own Goldman Sachs. He's read two books on Goldman. It's a great business. He doesn't have a problem with management ethos but it's improving. It's a very complex business. They have the potential to grow huge overseas because they have few offices overseas right now. Since it has opaque parts to its business he made it a basket bet.

Does checklist address good portfolio strategies?

No. The checklist deals with analyzing companies. Mohnish recommended that this person read the fundamental value investing books. Mohnish always tries to learn from others.

Would you be more interested in a more certain intrinsic value or a cheaper price?

Currently the fund holds a lot of cash as there is less cash in the fund he demands higher discounts for new investments. I wasn't able to too write down most of his answer.

What's your average cash level since 1999?

In a crisis, cash plus courage is priceless. Next times a crisis strikes, he wants more cash. Instead of jumping from his second best to his best idea he instead lets investments play out and clings to ideas instead of jumping around.

How does Mohnish spend his free time?

He does plenty of other things. He has a daily nap, plays racquetball and plays bridge.
Discuss this story

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My $650,100 Lunch with Warren Buffett

What would you pay to have lunch with the richest man in the world? For me and Mohnish Pabrai — a friend who, like me, runs a U.S.-based investment fund — the answer is $650,100. That's how much we forked out for the privilege of dining with Warren Buffett on June 25.

It was worth every dime. Buffett is the most successful investor in history, yet he has reached that pinnacle while also being supremely ethical. As remarkable for his philanthropy as for his stock-picking, he's giving the bulk of his billions to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; likewise, the fee for our lunch would go to the Glide Foundation, which helps the poor and homeless. Lunch with Buffett, we figured, would be a good way to give to charity, but it would also be the ultimate capitalist master class — a chance to see up close what makes the Sage of Omaha tick and to learn from his wisdom.

And so it was that my wife and I sat down for lunch with Buffett in a cozy, wood-paneled alcove of the Manhattan steakhouse Smith & Wollensky. Mohnish brought along his wife and two daughters, who sat on either side of Buffett. When the menus arrived, Buffett, now 77 years old, joked with the girls that he doesn't eat anything he wouldn't touch when he was less than 5. His order: a medium-rare steak with hash browns and a cherry coke — a fitting choice, given that his company, Berkshire Hathaway, is Coca-Cola's largest shareholder.

Characteristically, Buffett had done his homework: he'd found out in advance, for example, that my wife was born in Salisbury, North Carolina. But after a minimum of small talk to put us at ease, it was down to more serious matters. When I mentioned how difficult I'd recently found it to do the right thing by lowering the fees I charged my fund's shareholders, Buffett nodded sympathetically and observed, "People will always try to stop you doing the right thing if it is unconventional." When I asked if it would get any easier, he replied with a wry smile: "Just a little."

Buffett has made a point of doing business with integrity — and of working only with people who share his values. As we learned, he credits his father with teaching him early on to rely on his own sense of what's right, rather than looking for affirmation from others. "It's very important to live your life by an internal yardstick," he told us, noting that one way to gauge whether or not you do so is to ask the following question: "Would you rather be considered the best lover in the world and know privately that you're the worst — or would you prefer to know privately that you're the best lover in the world, but be considered the worst?"

When it comes to investing, nothing is more important than the ability to think rationally for oneself — and Buffett is unsurpassed on this front. In the late '90s, he was criticized for his refusal to invest in booming tech and Internet stocks — a decision that was vindicated when the bubble burst. Buffett has made a fine art of keeping this kind of distracting noise at bay: he said he even limits his contact with managers of businesses in which he invests, preferring to assess their companies' financial records — a more neutral source of information. Equally vital to his success, Buffett said he focuses only on investments that lie well within his "circle of competence." As a result, he confided, whenever he makes an investment, he has no doubt at all that he's right.

For most people, attaining the intellectual clarity and emotional detachment that investing requires is tough. But Buffett, for all his affability, is shrewd about disengaging himself to avoid any unnecessary distractions that might impair his judgment. People often try to convince him to meet with them so they can pitch investments to him, he said, but he sees through their many ruses — not least their flattery — and is comfortable saying no far more often than he says yes.

One thing Buffett wasn't about to say no to was dessert. He delighted in sampling an array of them, telling the waiter: "Just bring a couple of spoons, and I'll have a little of everyone's." His zest for life is clearly undiminished — indeed, in Berkshire's latest annual report, he wrote that he and his octogenarian partner Charlie Munger "tap-dance to work."

What better role model could you ask for than this? And how do you put a price on the opportunity to spend nearly three hours in his company? Well, two days after our meal, the auction closed on eBay for next year's lunch with Buffett. The winner, a Chinese money manager named Zhao Danyang, bid $2.1 million. So, that proves it: our $650,100 lunch was a total bargain.

Guy Spier is CEO of Aquamarine Capital Management


Pabrai Investment Funds Annual Meeting Notes

I attended the Pabrai Investment Funds annual meeting in Chicago last Saturday. Mohnish did a great job answering questions, as usual. I've been lucky enough to get to know Mohnish over the past few years. Mohnish is one of the best fund managers in the country. He is one of the most genuine people I know and like Buffett he is always enjoying his job and cracking jokes.

Here are my notes from the 2010 Pabrai Investment Funds Annual Meeting in Chicago:

Prepared Comments:

The meeting started with an overview of how the fund has performed. Since the fund was started in 2001, it has returned 15.1% annually compared to -1.5% for the S&P 500.

$100,000 invested in the fund in June of 2000 would be $408,000 today.

Mohnish's goal is to beat the index by 3% annually.

This past summer 3 interns worked part time on the checklist 2.0. They identified mistakes by great investors that resulted in a permanent loss of capital and analyzed why the mistakes occurred. They looked for commentary by the fund managers on these mistakes. They found that these investors almost never discussed their mistakes.

The biggest mistake was an investment in AIG by the Davis Fund which resulted in a $2 billion loss for the fund.

Mohnish said that the checklist is a great weapon in the Pabrai Funds arsenal.

Mohnish then went through one winner and one loser in the portfolio.

The worst investment during the period was Ternium which was actually sold at a small gain.

The winner he discussed was Teck cominco. This is the best investment the fund has ever made. The Pabrai Funds made an 8x return in only 3 months. Mohnish invested because they have some of the lowest cost mines in the world. The reason they were so cheap was because of a liquidity mismatch on the balance sheet. It had a large amount of debt coming due in a year. Mohnish felt that if they weren't able to refinance the debt that they could sell assets piecemeal because of their highly diversified operations. In the worse case, the company would be worth a lot even in reorganizations because its book value was so high.


Question and Answer:



How Long did you follow Teck Cominco before buying?

Mohnish said he spent less than 5 days researching Teck because there were so many bargains at this time. Teck had a very solid moat because it was the lowest cost producer. To find Teck he looked at industry cost curves and paid attention to the lowest cost producers. The most important question to figure out was the liquidity mismatch.

Thoughts on Fairfax?

He doesn't discuss current holdings.

Why don't you discuss current holdings?

If investors get in the habit of discussing their investments they may end up suffering from commitment bias. If they constantly talk about how great a company is, they may suffer from a bias that could impair their judgment.

What are your views on position sizing?

His allocation policy changed in 2008 to reflect slightly elevated investment risks of his investment baskets and prior mistakes. If he has 10% positions it's very hard to recover from a mistake. He discussed his new allocation framework with Charlie Munger who disagreed at first. After Mohnish explained it further, Charlie agreed that Berkshire Hathaway has achieved success with a more diversified portfolio. Mohnish talked about basket bets. When the risk is slightly elevated he will buy a basket of companies with small weightings. For example, he said he is currently researching companies in Japan. If he ends up buying companies there, he will buy a basket of companies each with small weightings in the portfolio. He said stocks there are very cheap.

What attracts you to a business?

When he finds a company that looks interesting he starts by thinking as a skeptic. He looks for something that will prove him wrong. He looks for areas of extreme mispricing. It has to be very undervalued but he also has to be able to understand it. He thinks there may be value in Coke bottlers in Japan. The Nikkei has done nothing for 27 years.

Has the increasing size of the fund negatively affect performance?

The performance of the fund has not been affected by size or fund inflows. He said that the fund is sitting on a lot of undervalue assets.

Has the economic turmoil changed your model?

Mohnish said he has more of an appreciation for macro issues than he has in the past. He also said that some macro trends make sense to base investments on. But the majority of macros trends such as inflation and interest rates are very difficult to predict and he doesn't make judgments on those.

What are your thoughts on the financial industry?

Understanding management is key. You want to look for competent and honest managers. Because of the high leverage, management cannot make any mistakes in reserving. Also, it's very difficult for outsiders to understand reserving. He couldn't understand Citibank.

How much time do you spend on the balance sheet of companies you invest in?

Before he invested in Teck Cominco he read the last 8 years of annual reports. He spends a lot of time on the balance sheet.

What's your philosophy on timing buying and selling?

He expects to be wrong in the future on selling. He said its fine to sell to early. If a stock goes down after he buys it that's fine as long as he is still right about intrinsic value and he has dry powder to invest.

What did you identify with the checklist project?

The mistakes were concentrated in 08-09 and included a lot of financials. A lot of the mistakes were similar so he just picked a few. He analyzed Longleaf's investment in GM. Longleaf's management discussed the GM thesis in its reports. The mistake they made was they missed the forest from the trees. They missed the big picture. They figured that because GM did so well in the truck market that that would carry them through. They missed the fact that gas prices would rise to $3. He also said that he greatly respects these managers but that it's important to learn from them. Longleaf also made the mistake of looking at the wrong variables.

How do you know where the edge of your circle of competence is?

If you have to ask yourself that question when looking at a company, then it's probably beyond your circle of competence. You have to be honest with yourself. In the case of the Japanese companies he is researching, he has no interest in American listed Japanese companies. He will use the basket approach to Japanese companies because of the unfamiliarity. He also said that these Japanese companies are extremely cheap.

A business owner in the audience said after analyzing his own mistakes he noticed many of his mistakes were repeated. He asked if Mohnish had made a mistake more than once and was susceptible to reoccurring mistakes in one area?

Chris Davis wrote about a mistake he made in 2002. He ended up making the same mistake again in 2008 with AIG. Buffett made the same mistake twice as well with the original Berkshire Hathaway purchased and later on, with the Dexter Shoe purchase. Leverage is a very important factor to consider. One item on the check list is whether or not he suffers from any personal biases. The checklist forces him to take a step back.

Do you see any bubbles today?

Bubbles are hard to spot. Real estate in certain parts of China is probably a bubble. There are many bubbles around all the time. He mentioned a book called Trendwatching.

What's your philosophy on investing in foreign markets?

He said that investing in US and Canadian companies that are driven by Chinese factors would be of interest to him. It's important to understand foreign growth. You have to watch out for bubbles. China and India have good prospects but there may be an overall bubble. He's very reluctant to invest in China but he's interested in benefiting from Chinese growth. He skips Chinese companies because of accounting.

What does he think about natural gas companies?

The industry may be subject to a disruptive shift because of technological changes. The low prices may be permanent but he has no idea. The only good way to invest would be at the bottom of the cost curve and he can't find one. There is no choke point in natural gas unlike iron ore. Natural gas also has substitutes. Mohnish recommended the book, Rational Optimist. He talked about how cheap energy allows countries to create more fresh water which will allow more agriculture.

How do you prevent macro issues from blinding investments?

He's learned to appreciate macro issues more than in the past. As an investor you can't get a handle on all factors. So it makes sense to spread ideas out more. The micro factors trump the macro factors. The company has to be able to control its destiny. He looks for staying power so the company can withstand shocks.

This question came from an investor who has to pull out money for living expenses. He asked how he can get more visibility on what taxes will be?

Mohnish practices tax planning in the funds. He sells holdings between the funds to cancel capital gains. The statements sent to shareholders should give them a good idea what the expected tax rate will be. Mohnish is a big tax payer so he is very sensitive to tax issues.

Is your philosophy on portfolio allocation shifting more towards preserving wealth instead of growing it?

The Kelly Formula is only correct when making many bets. He always under bet the Kelly Formula. Since Mohnish is making few bets, the Kelly Formula doesn't work. He never fully used the Kelly Formula because it would have told him to bet more heavily. Return of capital is more important than return on capital. If people redeem their money during down times that is permanently lost capital for those people.

Can you name some great companies that you'd love to own at the right price?

Ikea, In and Out Burger, Costco, the low cost mines owned by BHP and Rio Tinto. Great companies are all over the place across the world. There are great companies in India and China but and ownership issues exists over there. Pricing is also an issue. Ben Graham's approach was to go to the store and buy what was on sale and Charlie Munger's approach is to go to the store and wait for quality items to go on sale. He likes Charlie's framework.

What extra work do you do to analyze financials?

He's reluctant to own most financials. They do own Goldman Sachs. He's read two books on Goldman. It's a great business. He doesn't have a problem with management ethos but it's improving. It's a very complex business. They have the potential to grow huge overseas because they have few offices overseas right now. Since it has opaque parts to its business he made it a basket bet.

Does checklist address good portfolio strategies?

No. The checklist deals with analyzing companies. Mohnish recommended that this person read the fundamental value investing books. Mohnish always tries to learn from others.

Would you be more interested in a more certain intrinsic value or a cheaper price?

Currently the fund holds a lot of cash as there is less cash in the fund he demands higher discounts for new investments. I wasn't able to too write down most of his answer.

What's your average cash level since 1999?

In a crisis, cash plus courage is priceless. Next times a crisis strikes, he wants more cash. Instead of jumping from his second best to his best idea he instead lets investments play out and clings to ideas instead of jumping around.

How does Mohnish spend his free time?

He does plenty of other things. He has a daily nap, plays racquetball and plays bridge.


http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2004/0607/154_print.html

There is only one Warren Buffett but many who profess to be his disciples. Here are three stock pickers trying to beat the money master at his own game.

 
Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett
 
The Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting takes over Omaha every spring with the force of a Hell's Angels rally. The cheapest tickets cost $3,000, the price of a Berkshire Hathaway B share. This year's hoopla drew 19,500 shareholders eager to glean advice from the investment sage. Alas, Buffett's musings are philosophical and historical; he doesn't give stock tips.

That doesn't stop Buffett fans from trying to imitate him. They may ape his stock purchases once Berkshire's holdings become public. Or they may apply his style of value management to the selection of other stocks. But nobody else's stock-picking record comes close to Buffett's in both cumulative percentage gain and dollar magnitude. Berkshire shares were worth $15 apiece when he took over the company 39 years ago; now they go for $85,500, and the company's market value is $131 billion. In recent years, however, the performance engine has lost some steam, and some imitation Buffetts are doing better than the real thing.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery
Two beat Warren, one tied. The oldest fund lags: Sequoia, closed to new money.
    ANNUALIZED RETURN  
Fund Inception
date
since
inception
in Berkshire Hathaway
since fund's inception
Minimum
initial
investment
Expenses
per $100

Fairholme 12/29/99 18.1% 13.9% $2,500 $1.00

Pabrai 7/1/99 35.3 14.2 100,000 -*

Sequoia 7/15/70 16.5 26.3 closed 1.00

Wisdom** 2/16/99 5.2 5.2 2,500 1.50

Prices as of Apr. 30, except Pabrai, as of Mar. 31. *Fund charges 25% of profits after 6% return. **Has maximum 5.75% front-end sales charge. Sources: Lipper; FT Interactive Data via FactSet Research Systems; Pabrai Investment Funds.





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Investing In Your Child's Future
Video: Prospering In Trying Times
Poll: Where Will The Stock Market Be Next Year?

The Asset-Watcher


Mohnish Pabrai stays closer to Buffett's mentor, Ben Graham, than Buffett himself does these days.


High fees make this magazine skeptical of hedge funds but don't stop us from admiring their stock-selection skills. Los Angeles hedge fund manager Mohnish Pabrai, 39, seems to have some talent as a stock picker. Since he started Pabrai Investment Funds in 1999, he has delivered a 35.3% compound annual return (after fees), to the 14.2% a year you would have made owning Berkshire shares.


 •Investment Guide

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 •20 Stocks For The Long Haul

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Taxes:
 •Guide To Deducting Losses
 •Estate Planning

Flings:
 •Investing In Thoroughbreds
There are two reasons the $116 million portfolio has done better than the competition in Omaha. One, says Pabrai, is that he doesn't try to emulate Berkshire's holdings in wholly owned subsidiaries. That has kept him out of property/casualty insurance, which accounts for a big part of Berkshire's revenue and had suffered some setbacks (such as claims from Sept. 11). The other is that he hews a little more closely to the kind of value investing espoused by Buffett's mentor, Benjamin Graham. Graham liked to buy companies for less than net current assets, meaning cash, inventory and receivables minus all obligations. Buffett has pushed the definition of intrinsic value in new directions. He is willing to pay for intangibles, like a consumer brand name or a newspaper monopoly, provided those assets throw off "owner's profits"--cash that can be extracted from a business after necessary capital outlays are paid for.


Like Buffett, Pabrai keeps his distance from Wall Street. He buys no research and has no hired help. If he can't understand a company, he doesn't buy the stock. Further, Pabrai won't meet with a company's executives; if he socializes with one, he'll never invest in the stock. "Chief executives are salesmen, as Graham says," Pabrai intones. "That's how they get their jobs."

Pabrai last year bought the Norwegian oil tanker firm Frontline when shipping rates fell to $5,000 a day. To remain profitable, the company needs rates of at least $18,000 a day on its 70 double-hulled oil tankers. Investors fled the stock, and it fell to $3. Frontline wasn't a classic Graham value play since it didn't have much in the way of net current assets. But it did have hard assets--those tankers.

After noticing the stock on a new lows list, Pabrai looked into the oil shipping business and discovered that small Greek shippers with near-obsolete single-hulled tankers were being hurt more than Frontline and were selling their ships for scrap. So he knew that when oil demand next surged, Frontline would be better able to command premium rates. Near the end of 2003 Frontline was charging $50,000 a day per tanker. Pabrai is long gone, but the stock, at $29 a share, trades at a cheap five times trailing earnings.

In 2002 he beat Buffett to the convertible bonds of Level 3 Communications. Like his hero, Pabrai saw value in telecom's distress.



 •Investing Like Warren Buffett  •20 Stocks For The Long Haul  •Condos With Room Service  •Buying College Admission


 •Workers' Safety Net  •Guide To Deducting Losses  •Estate Planning  •Investing In Thoroughbreds



In Pictures:
Five-Star Living
Investing In Your Child's Future
Video: Prospering In Trying Times
Poll: Where Will The Stock Market Be Next Year?

The Copycat

C. Douglas Davenport, manager of the $52 million Wisdom Fund in Atlanta, is Buffett's shadow. If Buffett does something, Davenport will, too--going so far as to buy proxy stocks for companies that Berkshire acquires. Davenport keeps the identical proportion of cash that Berkshire does, a sizable 22% of his portfolio.

Davenport's fund, with backing from Sir John Templeton's family, started in early 1999 as the Berkshire Fund but changed its name after the real Berkshire complained. Davenport, 53, follows Berkshire's public filings and news reports to see what Buffett has been up to. "Buffett is quite well followed. It's amazing how much you can find out about the man on the Internet," he says. Thus Davenport has 8% of his assets in Coca-Cola, and 4% in American Express, just like Berkshire.

When Berkshire acquired carpetmaker Shaw Industries in 2001, Davenport went after competitor Mohawk Industries, waiting two weeks for its share price to settle down. Last year Berkshire bought Clayton Homes, a builder of prefab homes, and Davenport bought into similar Champion Enterprises. To roughly match Berkshire's huge stakes in auto insurance and reinsurance, Davenport has American International Group.

Since inception just over five years ago Wisdom is up an annual 5.2%, after its 1.5% expense ratio, matching Berkshire's showing.



 •Investing Like Warren Buffett  •20 Stocks For The Long Haul  •Condos With Room Service  •Buying College Admission


 •Workers' Safety Net  •Guide To Deducting Losses  •Estate Planning  •Investing In Thoroughbreds



In Pictures:
Five-Star Living
Investing In Your Child's Future
Video: Prospering In Trying Times
Poll: Where Will The Stock Market Be Next Year?

Berkshire With Special Sauce

The Fairholme Fund, managed in Short Hills, N.J. by Bruce Berkowitz, Larry S. Pitkowsky and Keith Trauner, has a fourth of its $130 million in Berkshire shares. But it has done better with its non-Berkshire holdings. Net of 1% in overhead, Fairholme has returned 18.1% a year since its inception in 2000, besting Berkshire's 13.9%.

The fund's second-largest holding is Leucadia National, a Berkshire-like conglomerate run by recent Buffett partners Joseph Steinberg and Ian Cumming. Alongside Buffett, Fairholme invested in White Mountains Insurance Group, holding on even after the Sept. 11 attacks, when insurance stocks looked dicey. Fairholme makes bets on distressed companies that would scare off a classic Grahamite. In 2002 it started buying debt of troubled Williams Communications, saw that debt converted to equity in a reorganization and bought more equity. When Leucadia acquired the business last year, Fairholme's stake appreciated 50%.


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