September Idea of the Month: Buy Loews, Sell High

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, October 1, 2008

October 10 Update:  I sold Loews, and can’t urge anyone to buy or hold it here. Did anyone say “no take backs?”  I sold my Loews shares today, less than two weeks after writing the following analysis.  They remain cheap relative to their “competitors” like Berkshire and Markel, but those two and so many others have gotten so cheap that I can’t justify holding Loews when such bargains are available in companies with stronger foundations.

OK, there isn’t much that you can “sell high” right now, but I couldn’t resist a little play on words. I think one of the most interesting and compelling stocks I’ve looked at this month is Loews (L), and I think it’s a reasonable buy here below $40.

I have to add some significant disclaimers at the top, because about half of this stock is a fairly weak insurance company. I do like Loews, but an investment here depends in part on that insurance company, CNA, improving in the years to come. I own shares of Loews, but if I owned nothing in these sectors I would probably buy Markel first, if I could get shares under $330 on the crazy up and down days it has seen lately, or Berkshire Hathaway if the shares dip below $4300 again in the near future. I own both of those, too.

That’s not to take away from Loews. Markel around $400, where it is as I type, is fairly priced or possibly a bit expensive for the current environment and has been oddly crazy lately, so I hesitate to write it up in detail here; and lots of folks don’t like buying $4000 stocks, so it seems silly to go into detail on Berkshire Hathaway. Both of them trade at a significant premium to Loews using most valuation metrics.

What is Loews?

Loews is not Lowe’s, first of all — Lowe’s is the Home Depot competitor. Loews is a conglomerate and a holding company, controlled and managed by the wealthy Tisch family (several of whom are celebrities in their own right — Jonathan has a show on CNBC, I think, and the family is part owner of the New York Giants — they also just made a major gift to one of my alma maters, though I don’t think that influenced my thinking). The Tisches own about 25% of the company, and they are firmly ...

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