Monday, July 28, 2008

Prem Watsa: Fairfax Financial beats bad markets

Q: Everybody else is running for the exits and melting down and Fairfax just had its credit rating upgraded so how did you pull this off?

A: “Very simply it goes back to this 100-year storm concern of ours. We took action that reflected our belief that everything was headed downward. Predicting rain doesn’t count, but building an ark does. And that’s what we did. We built an ark and we had a little bit of good fortune. This is why our rating went up.”

“Our focus has had a tremendous effect on our results. Last year we made in excess of US$1.1 billion and in the first quarter of 2008, US$631 million. Our capital, shareholders equity in 2006, was US$2.9 billion and it grew by 50%.”

Q: What was your thinking that led to these results?

A: “We have always taken a long term view and in 2003 we started worrying. We were concerned about asset-backed paper. We saw the moral hazard in all this credit that we saw was being blended and blown out. This was because interest rates were dropped to 1% to bail out the technology companies after the bubble burst in 1999 and we saw that this would lead to the real estate and auto loans and credit card problem. We saw that half of consumer spending was from home equity loans. So we protected ourselves. Credit default swaps are why our ratings went up.”

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