Friday, November 27, 2009

lessons from annual reports: 2008--- Prem watsa

To Our Shareholders:

While 2007 was a record year for us, 2008 was even better! We earned approximately $1.5 billion1 after tax or $79.53 per diluted share. Book value grew by 21.0% to $278.28 per share (excluding the $5.00 per share dividend paid in 2008) and we ended the year with over $1.5 billion in cash and marketable securities at the holding company level. We were net cash at the holding company level, as our cash and marketable securities exceeded holding company debt and other obligations.

Since we began 23 years ago, book value has compounded by 25% while our common stock price has followed at 23% per year. The last two years have made up significantly for the biblical seven lean years that you have suffered. In the seven lean years (1999-2005), we made no money on a cumulative basis. In the three years since (2006-2008), we have earned $2.8 billion after tax and book value per share has more than doubled. While we are pleased that our forecast of “the seven lean years are over” did come true, we much prefer the Noah principle, “Forecasting doesn’t count, building an ark does”!

The results for our major subsidiaries are shown below:
Return on
Net Average
Combined Earnings Shareholders’
Ratio after Tax Equity
Northbridge 107.3% 45.7 3.6%
Crum & Forster (US GAAP) 114.6% 332.8 27.1%
OdysseyRe (US GAAP) 101.2% 549.0 20.5%

Excluding the effect of foreign currency movements, the impact of an unusual reinsurance commutation and lawsuit settlement at Crum & Forster, and catastrophe losses related to Hurricanes Ike – the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history – and Gustav, the combined ratios of Northbridge, Crum & Forster and OdysseyRe (the latter two on a US GAAP basis) were 100.1%, 97.0% and 93.7% respectively, and Fairfax’s consolidated combined ratio (on a Canadian GAAP basis) was 96.2%. Overall, these were extraordinary results, both absolute and relative to the industry, especially given the investment environment. Northbridge’s results were mediocre because of charges recorded on investments for other than temporary impairments and mark-to-market losses, the gains on Canadian Federal Government bonds being less than on U.S. Federal Government bonds, and higher combined ratios.

The table below shows our major subsidiaries’ growth in book value over the past seven years (per share for Northbridge and OdysseyRe), adjusted by including distributions to shareholders.

2001 – 2008
Annual Compound
Growth Rate
Northbridge 19.2%
Crum & Forster (US GAAP) 18.9%
OdysseyRe (US GAAP) 21.2%

Our investment team has produced exceptional returns in many of the years over the past 23 – but none like in 2008! The investment environment in 2008 was brutal as the 1 in 50 or 1 in 100 year storm in the financial markets that we feared arrived in the fall. All major stock markets worldwide were down about 50% and all corporate and non-Federal Government bond spreads widened to historically high levels. There were very few places to hide, let alone prosper! Fortunately, after many years of caution, we were perfectly positioned with a cash and government bond position of approximately 75% of our investment portfolio, our stock positions fully hedged, and our large holdings of credit default swaps. The total return (including unrealized gains) in our investment portfolios, including our CDS position and hedges, was 16.4%. Total interest and dividend income and net investment gains in 2008 (including at the holding company) were $3.3 billion after recording almost $1 billion in other than temporary impairments and over $500 million of mark-to-market losses (primarily on convertible bonds). Interest and dividend income dropped in 2008 from $761 million to $626 million because of the collapse in short term interest rates, but total net investment

gains increased to $2.7 billion – again, after the $1.5 billion of impairment and mark-to-market charges mentioned above – from $1.6 billion in 2007. These are exceptional results and no other company in the industry has even come close to matching them! A standing ovation for our investment team, led by Roger Lace, Brian Bradstreet, Chandran Ratnaswami, Sam Mitchell, Paul Rivett, Frances Burke and Enza La Selva.

Our performance in 2008 did not go unnoticed by the rating agencies. A.M. Best upgraded Crum & Forster to an “A” rating after upgrading Northbridge to an “A” rating and Fairfax to an investment grade rating in 2007. DBRS upgraded Fairfax to investment grade in 2008 and Standard & Poor’s followed early in 2009. By the way, we do not know of another publicly traded financial institution, of any size, that has survived after being downgraded to non-investment grade status.

In November of 2008, after the stock markets had dropped 50% from their highs, we decided to remove the equity hedges on our portfolio investments. Also, as the yield on long (30-year) U.S. Treasuries began to drop below 3%, we sold almost all our U.S. Treasuries (at year-end we had only $985 million left, compared to $6.4 billion on December 31, 2007), having realized net gains of $583 million in 2008 on sales of U.S. Treasuries. Both the equity hedges and the U.S. Treasuries have done an outstanding job in protecting our capital. Our U.S. Treasury bond position was to a large extent replaced by $4.1 billion in U.S. state, municipal and other tax-exempt bonds (of which $3.6 billion carry a Berkshire Hathaway guarantee) with an average yield (at purchase) of approximately 5.79% per annum. During the fourth quarter of 2008, we also increased our cash and short term investments by $752 million and invested an additional $2.3 billion in common stocks. The annualized pre-tax equivalent interest and dividend income has increased significantly for our company by virtue of our significant holdings of tax-exempt bonds and as we have taken advantage of the significant widening in corporate and non-Federal Government spreads.

In previous annual reports, we have discussed the holding of some common stock positions for the very long term. Last year we identified Johnson & Johnson as one name and said that Mr. Market may give us more opportunities in the future. As shown in the table below, at the end of 2008 we had taken advantage of the major decline in stock prices to purchase additional positions in outstanding companies with excellent long term track records which we contemplate holding for the long term.

Shares Owned Cost per Share Amount Invested Market Value
Johnson & Johnson 7,585,000 $60.68 460.3 453.4
Kraft Foods 10,723,571 26.61 285.4 287.6
Wells Fargo Bank 3,515,100 21.93 77.1 103.6

Late in the fourth quarter of 2008, after receiving a $350 million dividend from Crum & Forster, we decided to take Northbridge private at a fair price for all minority shareholders. Our Cdn$39.00 per share offer was unanimously recommended by the Independent Committee of the Board of Northbridge, which had retained Scotia Capital as its financial advisor. As many of you will remember, we took Northbridge public in 2003 at Cdn$15.00 per share. At Cdn$39.00 per share, in the approximately five and a half years that Northbridge was public, Northbridge minority shareholders earned a 20%+ compound annual rate of return, including dividends (versus 5% for the TSX 300). We took Northbridge public at 1.2x book value and private at 1.3x book value, in an environment where the whole P&C industry (including us) was selling at approximately book value. Northbridge had never traded at Cdn$39.00 per share before. You can see why we considered the offer a fair price for Northbridge’s minority shareholders.

As you know, necessity is often the mother of invention – by taking Northbridge public in 2003, we created the largest commercial lines P&C company in Canada from four relatively small companies. Under Mark Ram’s leadership (Mark has been with us since he graduated from the Ivey Business School in 1991), we are very excited about Northbridge’s long term prospects.

In the past year, we have had significant share repurchases in the group. Fairfax repurchased 1.07 million shares at an average price of $264.39 per share (total cost of $282 million), more than offsetting the 0.9 million shares issued on the conversion of the $189 million of 5% convertible debentures that we called for redemption in early 2008. Northbridge repurchased 2.3 million shares at an average price of Cdn$29.04 per share in 2008, while OdysseyRe repurchased 9.5 million shares at an average price of $37.06 per share after repurchasing 2.6 million shares at an average price of $35.83 per share in 2007. Fairfax also retired Cdn$50 million of preferred shares in 2008.

We think that Fairfax has developed two significant strengths over the past 23 years. One, our worldwide investment management capabilities, has been evident, especially in a year like 2008.


1. buy gold, treasuries and hedge and sell stock equities before the market fall

2. Accumulate stocks of companies that have good long term prospects after the market fall and also during normal market conditions.

3. Important to understand annual reports before investing long term and also consider following the stock trends for buying and selling.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Complex divorce situations

This article is a emotional tour of how father and child are entangled in dishonest relationships.

what are our brothers,sisters, mommies and daddies doing?

Making it easy for "sugar daddy" to connect with "sugar babies"

A very interesting article on how people spend enormous amount of time on sex, food and sleep.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quote of the day: Sharing is loving

The Mother shares her happiness with the child. Now I understand that sharing is loving and by the act of sharing her nature with the child, she shows that she loves him non vocally. The child who experiences her happiness in turn loves her for sharing with him.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

By the sea and the beach

I see the boat drifting away
towards the ocean horizon
into the unknown and far

As the sun sets
the crowd starts to leave
the sky turns red
and after a while i see the first stars
of the night.

The waves regain their strength
and start to jump higher

oh! these waves have the strength
to break the rock to sand
in the ocean was born the fate of land
Into the the ocean does everything return

the time spent on the beach
alone or with a friend
remains in the memory till the end
the sea wind soothes the soul and the mind
All my worries look trivial
and I have gained the calm strength of the sea.

the waves erase the footprints
on the beach and make a new
beginning for the fresh sun

some birds love to dive
into the ocean waters
and catch the fish
in the light of last hours

one can see the fun of nature
in the play of the small silly birds
with the encroaching waves

As the sun sets on the horizon
I feel the silence take over me
lost in utter quite
i loose all sense of surrounding

Friday, November 6, 2009

The suppressed classes of India

Injustice towards lower classes from more than a millennium is still pervasive. The idea of superiority is entrenched in the Indian mind. A vast majority of the individuals in India have a strong identity with their caste which in itself is innocuous but with it also comes the token of class hierarchy. An individual by birth falls in this hierarchy that he is tagged to till death and he takes full pleasure in claiming superiority over the lower classes in the hierarchy. There are four classes, they are:
1.the Brahmins or the priestly class,
2. Kshetriya or the warrior class,
3.Vyshaya or the trader class and
4. the Sudra or the labor class.
There is another class called the Avarna or the classless untouchables who are considered the Scheduled class and Scheduled tribes in the present constitution. The lowest of the classes have to take the brunt of this social evil in all relations with the class hierarchy. They are looked upon as dirty untouchables. Although these practices have been banned by the constitution of India, in practice they exist covertly and sometimes overtly.

There are several reasons for the present state of class problems in India even after 60 years of independence. The SC/ST classes are stagnant, poor, uneducated and have not progressed one. One reason I find is that upper classes in India who hold powerful positions in government and politics, do not have an incentive to uplift the lower classes. They feel the threat of competition, fear of sharing power and also losing the privileged social, economic and political superiority in the society. Also,there is not only the fear of the Brahmin class but also the other backward classes above the untouchables in the hierarchy, who control the vast swathes of agricultural land feel this fear. The situation is such that these higher classes oppose government distributing unused land to them.

Untouchability has been cleverly sustained in India through unjust maneuvers and made into the code of law otherwise called as Manu smriti in past millinia. Some part of it is also included presently in the present constitution in the form of hindu marriage law. The Manu smriti has many codes of law based on discrimination of caste. Though Hinduism as religion has given social stability, it also carries the baggage of old customs and discriminations. The form it takes now is a potpourri of various sects in the long stride of time in the subcontinent. The point that I am making is that blaming Hinduism will not solve any problems of the present situation. Every religion of the past has its social evils and as man has progressed morally the social practices in religions also changed. It can also be said the same with Hinduism as a social practice. Compared to other religions Hinduism gave ample freedom for an individual to seek spiritual freedom away from the society. The Bhagavat gita also stresses the realization of the individual as the primary step for the good of the society.

There are a few dalit intellectuals and educated people who want to change or eliminate the caste system that has treated them cruelly. I would like to discuss about some reformations they propose. Firstly, I completely agree that caste system should go and it is one social evil that has split this society and caused great pain to its suppressed people.

It is true that on a social scale Hinduism has not been able to
create an egalitarian society based on religion like the Islam but has become fixated in caste distinctions based on birth and labor. Caste is the remnant of old society that are still hard to eliminate because of the hard shells it has formed around each class and deep social disease ingrained in all citizens of class identity and hierarchy.

There are some dalits who say that all of Hinduism is false.I argue that within Hinduism it is known that teachings of scriptures like the Bhagavat gita are catholi and hold true to all of humanity irrespective of caste, nationality,race, sex and birth. The gita very clearly emphasizes that spiritual realization is possible to all individuals irrespective of their class. So we can see a clear distinction in the voice of the Manu smriti and
the Gita. Hinduism has sacred scriptures which celebrate the equal latent potentiality in all human beings to realize their higher consciousness. Hence, it is important to distinguish between the teachings of scriptures and critique accordingly. All scriptures in Hinduism do not carry the same importance and it is ridiculous to go by the manu smriti as the only scripture representing Hinduism.

Some give the solution of an atheist society as an alternative as if the dalits( untouchables) themselves would discard their customs and traditions steeped in their religion. It has to be agreed the religion of dalits and higher caste hindus has co-evolved or probably shared some myths and stories. Therefore, I feel atheism is an unpractical solution for a country like India where religion has played an important role in the culture and lives of people in all their live activities.
And three are some who prefer the complete conversion of dalits to Buddhism. It is true that dalits had to bear atrocities by the upper classes but are these alternatives really viable?

This problem is obviously complicated. No particular solution can offer a complete remedy. The change I feel should come from all quarters of the society. The upper castes should learn to understand their own important scriptures where all humans are treated as equal and give an opportunity for social mobility of the lower classes. They need to recognize that scriptures like Manu smriti are not valid in this modern era and those scriptures are based on discrimination and a shame to human dignity.

The government has tried several plans and programs for the uplifting of the lower classes. One move in this direction is the reservation of seats in higher education for the lower classes. This provision has been scathingly successful. The problem is that the students of lower classes do not get adequate education to get into a higher institutes even if the cut out mark has been deliberately lowered. So it becomes incumbent to focus on primary education for the poor and the lower classes.

The problem in India in its failure of primary education is because of several factors. One of them is that the upper classes who hold the power politically do not see any incentive for proper administration of primary schools and education of the lower classes. It only adds to their disadvantage if the poor educate and complete with the upper classes. The political leaders of upper classes fear they loose their credibility and support of their own respective classes in case they go out of their way in helping the other castes. So the vision of nation building has been reduced and narrowed to uplifting their own caste. In a situation like this the lower classes need to become politically active and have representation in the electoral process, so that there are leaders of their classes who have an incentive to educate them at least as a ploy to get elected again. So, basically they have to become politically active and have more leaders representing them to share the piece of pie along with the rest of the society. Sometimes they may have to come on the streets to protest the
inequality in the society.

This activism by the lower classes has been presently viewed by the upper classes as a rebellion against the age old tradition of caste system. Some upper class citizens also claim that there is no more any class distinction in the modern world and do nothing to engage in straightening the unseen malady. For them, if the problem is not visible to their eyes campus it does not exist. Untouchability is true and rampant today and man does not like to share power with the deprived unless he is forced to. For example, most of the rich do not like to pay taxes for the welfare of the poor. They would like to see the society dying when they pile more money for themselves.

The government whose job is to give a minimum welfare to all citizens has to
take care of the poor and marginalized classes of the society. If social mobility is not allowed due to lack of education and land reform, the democratic society
will be rejected by its poor citizens who will take arms or change their ideology to other dangerous paths like the Marxist movements that are already on the rise in India.

In conclusion, this serious problem has to be addressed immediately and due measures taken for the uplifting of the lower and marginalized classes of Indian society to prevent
farce democracy. This change has to come from the upper classes through proper education of their own sacred scriptures that hold all human beings as equal and reject the caste system as a malady of the past; lower classes with political activism and the government by taking due measures for a welfare state for the support of the poor and social mobility from the bottom up.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


May nothing I do in the day or night interrupt the remembrance of the Divine.May I feel the touch of the Divine and love of the Divine always. The time spent thinking other things is the time spent in lowering the consciousness and the time spent remembering the Divine is the time spent in lifting the consciousness. Work needs to be done as an offering to the Divine and the remembering of the Divine in everything. May I get the vision of oneness in difference and work as a means to experience the oneness of everything in difference of appearances.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Quote of the day

When I hear the buzz of silence I am touched by the peace within.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How India Avoided a Crisis by Joe Nocera

What has taken a number of us by surprise is the lack of adequate supervision and regulation,” Rana Kapoor was saying the other day. “This was despite the fact that Enron had happened and you passed Sarbanes-Oxley. We don’t understand it. Maybe it’s because we sit in a more controlled economy but ....” He smiled sweetly as his voice trailed off, as if to take the sting off his comments. But they stung nonetheless.

Mr. Kapoor is an Indian banker, a former longtime Bank of America executive with a Rutgers M.B.A. who, along with his business partner and brother-in-law, Ashok Kapur, was granted government permission four years ago to start a private bank, which they called Yes Bank. In the United States, Yes Bank is the kind of name a go-go banker might give to, say, a high-flying mortgage lender in the middle of a bubble. (You can even imagine the slogan: “Yes is part of our name!”) But Yes Bank is not exactly the Washington Mutual of India. One news release it hands out to reporters who come calling is an excerpt from a 2007 survey by The Financial Express: “#1 on Credit Quality amongst 56 Banks in India,” reads the headline.

I arrived in Mumbai three weeks after the terrorist attacks that killed 200 people — including, tragically, Yes Bank’s co-founder Mr. Kapur, who had served as the company’s nonexecutive chairman and was gunned down while having dinner at the Oberoi Hotel. (His wife and two dinner companions miraculously escaped.)

My hope in traveling to Mumbai was to learn about the current state of Indian business in the wake of both the credit crisis and the attacks. But in my first few days in this grand, sprawling, chaotic city, what I mainly heard, especially talking to bankers, was about America, not India. How could we have brought so much trouble on ourselves, and the rest of the world, by acting in such an obviously foolhardy manner? Didn’t we understand that you can’t lend money to people who lack the means to pay it back? The questions were asked with a sense of bewilderment — and an occasional hint of scorn. Like most Americans, I didn’t have any good answers. It was a bubble, I would respond with a sheepish shrug, as if that were an adequate explanation. It isn’t, of course.

“In India, we never had anything close to the subprime loan,” said Chandra Kochhar, the chief financial officer of India’s largest private bank, Icici. (A few days after I spoke to her, Ms. Kochhar was named the bank’s new chief executive, in a move that had long been anticipated.) “All lending to individuals is based on their income. That is a big difference between your banking system and ours.” She continued: “Indian banks are not levered like American banks. Capital ratios are 12 and 13 percent, instead of 7 or 8 percent. All those exotic structures like C.D.O. and securitizations are a very tiny part of our banking system. So a lot of the temptations didn’t exist.”

And when I went to see Deepak Parekh, the chief executive of HDFC, which was founded in 1977 as the country’s first specialized mortgage bank, practically the first words out of his mouth were these: “We don’t do interest-only or subprime loans. When the bubble was going on, we did not change any of our policies. We did not change any of our systems. We did not change our thought process. We never gave more money to a borrower because the value of the house had gone up. Citibank has a few home equity loans, but most banks in India don’t make those kinds of loans. Our nonperforming loans are less than 1 percent.”

Yet two years ago, the Indian real estate market — commercial and residential alike — was every bit as frothy as the American market. High-rises were being slapped up on spec. Housing developments were sprouting up everywhere. And there was plenty of money flowing into India, mainly from private equity and hedge funds, to fuel the commercial real estate bubble in particular. Goldman Sachs, Carlyle, Blackstone, Citibank — they were all here, throwing money at developers. So why did the Indian banks stay on the sidelines and avoid most of the pain that has been suffered by the big American banks?

Part of the reason is cultural. Indians are simply not as comfortable with credit as Americans. “A lot of Indians, when you push them, will say that if you spend more than you earn you will get in trouble,” an Indian consultant told me. “Americans spent more than they earned.”

Mr. Parekh said, “Savings are important. Joint families exist. When one son moves out, the family helps them. So you don’t borrow so much from the bank.” Even mortgage loans tend to have down payments in India that are a third of the purchase price, a far cry from the United States, where 20 percent is the new norm. (Let’s not even think about what they used to be.)

But there was also another factor, perhaps the most important of all. India had a bank regulator who was the anti-Greenspan. His name was Dr. Y. V. Reddy, and he was the governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Seventy percent of the banking system in India is nationalized, so a strong regulator is critical, since any banking scandal amounts to a national political scandal as well. And in the irascible Mr. Reddy, who took office in 2003 and stepped down this past September, it had exactly the right man in the right job at the right time.

“He basically believed that if bankers were given the opportunity to sin, they would sin,” said one banker who asked not to be named because, well, there’s not much percentage in getting on the wrong side of the Reserve Bank of India. For all the bankers’ talk about their higher lending standards, the truth is that Mr. Reddy made them even more stringent during the bubble.

Unlike Alan Greenspan, who didn’t believe it was his job to even point out bubbles, much less try to deflate them, Mr. Reddy saw his job as making sure Indian banks did not get too caught up in the bubble mentality. About two years ago, he started sensing that real estate, in particular, had entered bubble territory. One of the first moves he made was to ban the use of bank loans for the purchase of raw land, which was skyrocketing. Only when the developer was about to commence building could the bank get involved — and then only to make construction loans. (Guess who wound up financing the land purchases? United States private equity and hedge funds, of course!)

Then, as securitizations and derivatives gained increasing prominence in the world’s financial system, the Reserve Bank of India sharply curtailed their use in the country. When Mr. Reddy saw American banks setting up off-balance-sheet vehicles to hide debt, he essentially banned them in India. As a result, banks in India wound up holding onto the loans they made to customers. On the one hand, this meant they made fewer loans than their American counterparts because they couldn’t sell off the loans to Wall Street in securitizations. On the other hand, it meant they still had the incentive — as American banks did not — to see those loans paid back.

Seeing inflation on the horizon, Mr. Reddy pushed interest rates up to more than 20 percent, which of course dampened the housing frenzy. He increased risk weightings on commercial buildings and shopping mall construction, doubling the amount of capital banks were required to hold in reserve in case things went awry. He made banks put aside extra capital for every loan they made. In effect, Mr. Reddy was creating liquidity even before there was a global liquidity crisis.

Did India’s bankers stand up to applaud Mr. Reddy as he was making these moves? Of course not. They were naturally furious, just as American bankers would have been if Mr. Greenspan had been more active. Their regulator was holding them back, constraining their growth! Mr. Parekh told me that while he had been saying for some time that Indian real estate was in bubble territory, he was still unhappy with the rules imposed by Mr. Reddy. “We were critical of the central bank,” he said. “We thought these were harsh measures.”

“For a while we were wondering if we were missing out on something,” said Ms. Kochhar of Icici. Banks in the United States seemed to have come up with some magical new formula for making money: make loans that required no down payment and little in the way of verification — and post instant, short-term, profits.

As Luis Miranda, who runs a private equity firm devoted to developing India’s infrastructure, put it: “We kept wondering if they had figured out something that we were too dense to figure out. It looked like they were smart and we were stupid.” Instead, India was the smart one, and we were the stupid ones.

Ms. Kochhar said that the underlying risks of having “a majority of loans not owned by the people who originated them” was not apparent during the bubble. Now that those risks have been made painfully clear, every banker in India realizes that Mr. Reddy did the right thing by limiting securitizations. “At times like this, you tend to appreciate what he did more than we did at the time,” said Mr. Kapoor. “He saved us,” added Mr. Parekh.

As the credit crisis has spread these past months, no Indian bank has come close to failing the way so many United States and European financial institutions have. None have required the kind of emergency injections of capital that Western banks have needed. None have had the huge write-downs that were par for the course in the West. As the bubble has burst, which lenders have taken the hit? Why, the private equity and hedge fund lenders who had been so eager to finance land development. Us, in others words, rather than them. Why is that not a surprise?

When I asked Mr. Kapoor for his take on what had happened in the United States, he replied: “We recognize it as a problem of plenty. It was perpetuated by greedy bankers, whether investment bankers or commercial bankers. The greed to make money is the impression it has made here. Anytime they wanted a loan, people just dipped into their home A.T.M. It was like money was on call.”

So it was. And our regulators, unlike theirs, just stood by and let it happen. The next time we’re moving into bubble territory, perhaps we can take a page from Mr. Reddy’s book — sometimes it’s better to apply the brakes too early than too late. Or, as was the case with Mr. Greenspan, not at all.

Health: Death due to E.coli in Beef

Sunday, November 1, 2009

If you cannot find cell phone at home

and want a ring or some kind of sound popping from your cell phone. here is the link to google text message sender