Sep 29, 2010

FairFax Financial Spots a Deal

After months of issuing preferred shares and debentures, the insurance giant Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited is initiating one of the largest share buybacks of it's history. At yesterday's closing price, it would be valued at over $600 million. Over the next 12 months, the company will buy close to 1.6 million shares, almost 10% of the current float. This means that the average daily volume of the company will be greatly influenced by the actions of the company.

The company's Chairman and CEO, Vivan Prem Watsa, has developed a reputation of value investor over the past 20 years. Having the company dedicate more than half a billion dollars to buying it's own shares instead of increase it's current investments is a clear sign that the FFH is currently trading under or close to it's book value. This is an hypothesis that will be confirmed on the next quarterly filing of the holding company. Note also that this move will greatly increase the seize of the CEO's control stake in the company, which is already pretty close to 50%.

However, before buying the stock, one should consider taking this news with care, as the final amount of the operation is not yet known. Some companies will issue such statements to stimulate a downbeat stock price. Fairfax is up a mere 2% for the year, this is therefore another possibility. If the transaction is completely filled, the remaining shareholders will be greatly rewarded as the company will showcase higher EPS.

This might not be a good time to buy the company's stock, but for those who already own it, it is definitely a great idea to hold on to it.

Full disclosure: Long FFH.TO

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