Quick Take: Bruce Berkowitz likes recessions and stock market declines. That’s because they provide opportunities to “buy some really great companies at reasonable prices,” says the lead manager of the Fairholme Fund (FAIRX).
Berkowitz hunts for undervalued stocks among profitable companies whose top executives have histories of success in good and bad times, as well as large stakes in the business. High returns on capital, as well as strong balance sheets and competitive edges, are also on his list of desired criteria.
In the first quarter of this year, the concentrated $134.3-million fund returned 9.6%, topping all its mid-cap value fund peers, which rose 4.9%. For the three years ended in February, the Fairholme fund gained 11.8%, on average, versus 8.9% for similar funds.
Berkowitz, who began running the fund when it started operations in December 1999, was joined two years later by Larry Pitkowsky.
The Full Interview:
While most stock pickers invest with an eye towards making money, Bruce Berkowitz starts off with a slightly different approach.
“We don’t want to lose,” Berkowitz says of himself and Larry Pitkowsky, who run the Fairholme Fund. “That’s rule No. 1.”
The way they think they can do that, Berkowitz says, is to buy companies whose leaders have long track records of generating returns under all kinds of economic conditions, and who have sizeable stakes in their businesses.
After that hurdle is cleared, the managers look for profitable businesses with conservative balance sheets, above-average returns on equity and capital, and sustainable competitive advantages.
They want to buy stocks cheaply, and have no qualms about investing in distressed companies and industries if they think the problem that has weakened their shares is only temporary.
Companies of any size can enter the fund, but only a handful do. The managers limit the portfolio to no more than 25 stocks. Not many have the qualities they prefer, explains Berkowitz, who also believes that greater diversity breeds only average performance.
In addition, concentrating their holdings facilitates research, which enables the managers to become very familiar with what they own, says Pitkowsky. “I think that lessens the chance of something disastrous happening,” he says.