Barron’s Hypes W.R. Berkley

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, September 29, 2008

I can’t think of anything intelligent to say about the current political and Wall Street mess, other than that in times like these I tend to hunker down and slow my trading, and focus more and more on multi-year investments in companies that I’m pretty sure will thrive in the next decade regardless of where the risk-terrified market goes today or tomorrow.

But clearly this is a time for everyone to focus on their own comfort level, and, if necessary to turn off the TV, stop reading the daily newspaper, and worry about the things we can control. In the meantime, long term opportunities appear to be available … one of them is in insurance companies, some of which I like and have invested in, but there was an interesting article in Barron’s that brought a recent article of mine to mind:

Over the weekend in Barron’s there was yet another article that proposed another candidate for the “next Berkshire Hathaway” …

“If you like Berkshire Hathaway you might love W.R. Berkley.

“IF BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY WERE A MODEST-SIZED insurer and not the giant created by Warren Buffett, it might look like W.R. Berkley , which has amassed one of the industry’s best records since it went public in 1973.

“The Greenwich, Conn., company, headed by its namesake and founder, William R. Berkley, focuses on niche property and casualty markets, insuring the likes of NFL teams, New York cooperative apartment buildings, tanning salons and scuba-diving operations that many rivals ignore or won’t touch. Berkley, 62, is a maverick chairman and CEO who takes a management approach similar to Buffett’s. He grants considerable autonomy to the heads of the company’s 34 insurance units, manages overall risk and isn’t afraid to turn away business when pricing is poor.”

If you’re a subscriber, the article is here. In general, the argument is that WRB is extremely effective compared with its insurance peers, and that at a PE of 8 it is a bargain-priced gem, partly because their results have been depressed recently by their relatively large investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

If WR Berkley sounds familiar, it might be because this was also one of the picks of Dan Ferris in his “Ten Minute Work Week” teaser ad for the Extreme Value newsletter, an ad that touted several insurance companies (including Berkshire Hathaway, too). That article is here ...

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