Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Betting Big, Winning Big: Interview With Bruce Berkowitz, CEO of Fairholme Capital Management

BRUCE BERKOWITZ, PRESIDENT OF FAIRHOLME FUND and CEO of Fairholme Capital Management in Miami, runs concentrated portfolios -- and keeps a lot of powder dry to pounce on opportunities as he looks for companies that throw off a lot of free cash. This approach has paid off nicely for the firm, which now oversees about $9 billion, the vast majority of it in the no-load Fairholme Fund (ticker: FAIRX), of which Berkowitz is president. Since its launch at the end of 1999, the fund has finished near the top of its Morningstar category, with an annual "since-inception" return of 16.27%, trouncing the S&P 500's performance of minus 0.03% over the same period. The fund also bests most of its peers based on one-, three- and five-year returns.

Barron's: You run a very concentrated portfolio, with the top 10 holdings of the Fairholme Fund accounting for roughly 70% of the assets. Why is that?

Berkowitz: If you can buy more of your best idea, why put [the money] into your 10th-best idea or your 20th-best idea? If we're confident in what we do, then that's the way we should do it. The only reason not to is a fear of being wrong. The more positions you have, the more average you are.

How do you go about mitigating risk in such a concentrated portfolio?

We consider risk to be the chance of permanent loss, as opposed to volatility. Volatility is more of an opportunity. There's nothing better than a one-time event that allows you to buy a reasonable company at a great price. So we are looking at the chance -- in terms of risk -- of a permanent loss, based upon our own security research.

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