Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fairfax's blowout year

Canadian insurer Fairfax Financial (FFH) has just reported its year ending December 2007 results and they are extraordinary. Normally I don't get carried away with a quarter's numbers but what is significant here is that an investment strategy brilliantly conceived by Prem Watsa and his team over the past few years has paid off handsomely. The simple premise was this, risk had been undervalued by the credit markets for too long with little to no distinction made between a safe AAA treasury bond and a AAA rated CDO that included unsafe subprime loans. Fairfax made its bet that risk would be repriced at a higher level, by using credit default swaps. In the last year, Fairfax was proven right as credit was dramatically repriced.

Driven by huge gains on this credit default swap bet, Fairfax ended the year with $4.1 billion in shareholders or $230 in book value, a 49% increase year over year. This closing book value was more than my more conservative estimate of $220 (see my article from earlier in January).

Further, there is clear evidence that Fairfax is finally getting its reserves under control with a solid 93% combined ratio for the quarter & 94% for the year.

Fairfax's credit default swap gains continued during the first quarter of 2008. A total of $151 million in realised gains & $596 million in unrealised gains up to February 15 2008. That puts Fairfax's book value north of $270 so far this quarter. A truely great result.

Prem Watsa and Fairfax Financial have suffered under a torrent of press criticism and outspoken Fairfax shorts over the last few years. Surely justice has been dealt today and Fairfax shareholders have been vindicated.

Disclosure: I own shares in FFH

No comments: