Tag Archives: Ajit Jain

Berkshire Hathaway Turns Away From Reinsurance Business

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Berkshire Hathaway’s long term love affair with the reinsurance continues to wane. Over the past few years, Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger and Ajit Jain all have spoken about the changes in profitability in the reinsurance market.

The latest proof comes as Berkshire Hathaway has dropped to sixth in A.M. Best’s annual special report on the global reinsurance industry.

“The reinsurance business not as good as it once was and is unlikely to get better,” Charlie Munger said at the 2015 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. “Money has come in, not because they want to be in reinsurance, but because it’s an uncorrelated asset class. We’re in it for the long haul.”

“What we’ve seen from Berkshire Hathaway is that they recognize that reinsurance opportunities are not where they need to be from a pricing perspective,” A.M. Best Vice President Robert DeRose said. “They have pulled capacity back from that particular aspect of the market and they are building out insurance strategies.”

DeRose stated that Berkshire Hathaway is specifically building out that capacity through Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Co. Also, Berkshire Hathaway, through its General Reinsurance Corp. franchise, has entered into a five-year agreement under which Transatlantic Reinsurance Co. will serve as its exclusive underwriter for U.S. and Canadian property/casualty treaty reinsurance business.

© 2016 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Warren Buffett’s Greatest Insurance Investment

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What was Warren Buffett’s greatest insurance investment? Was it the purchase of GEICO? How about National Indemnity?

According to Buffett, it was none of those. It was the hiring of Ajit Jain.

In an interview with Best’s Review, Warren Buffett says he made one of his best investments when he chose Ajit Jain to run his reinsurance business nearly 30 years ago. Jain, who is considered one of the front-runners to succeed Buffett as the head of Berkshire Hathaway, is one of the insurance leaders profiled in the July issue.

Jain was hired by Buffett in 1986, and at the time he was 35-years-old and had little experience in the reinsurance business.

Today, Jain is one of Buffett’s most trusted managers, having built Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group into a reinsurance insurance powerhouse with $44 billion in float.

In April, he was given additional duties overseeing Gen Re after CEO Tad Montross retired.

Sounds like a good investment indeed.

© 2016 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Buffett Throws Cold Water on Ajit Jain Rumors

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Two weeks ago rumors began flying that perhaps Warren Buffett had just signaled that Ajit Jain would be his successor as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

The rumors started when General Reinsurance Corp. Chairman and CEO Tad Montross announced that he would step down near the end of 2016.

Berkshire quickly announced that Ajit Jain, who already runs a large part of Berkshire’s reinsurance business, would add General Reinsurance to his portfolio.

Buffett watchers jumped on the news, speculating that the odds that Jain would someday take over Berkshire Hathaway had dramatically improved.

Not So Fast Says Buffett

Speaking at the 2016 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, Buffett threw cold water on the rumors. Buffett watchers, who hoped to divine the future of Berkshire’s leadership, got no help on their visit to the Oracle of Omaha.

Buffett noted that there are “no tea leaves to read in the fact that Ajit is supervising Gen Re from this time forward.”

While Buffett continues to emphasize that the conglomerate has a succession plan, and the Board is fully behind it, he is not going to reveal it to the public.

From his perspective, to do so would be to risk announcing a successor who might not take the job if a personal “situation” comes into play in the interim period. Buffett didn’t define that situation, but health is just one possible factor.

Speaking of health, Buffett, who at age 85 has no problem parrying five hours of questions at the annual meeting, also noted that the exact timing of succession is also an unknown. He doesn’t look to be interested in stepping down as he clearly loves what he is doing, and his recent $32.3 billion acquisition of aerospace manufacturer Precision Castparts shows he can still do it better than anyone else.

Buffett appeared to be in excellent health and spirits, and when asked if he had regrets for anything he wishes he could do over in life, he chuckled.

“I don’t think I would have started with a textile company,” he joked, referring to Berkshire Hathaway’s origins as a failing New England textile mill.

© 2016 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Berkshire Cuts Munich Re Stake, Again

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Berkshire Hathaway continues to see the reinsurance business as a low return business and is pulling back from the sector in its own underwriting and in its ownership stake in other underwriters.

Berkshire has again cut its stake in Munich, Germany-based reinsurer Munich Re, this time from 9.7 percent to 4.6 percent. It previously cut its stake from 12 percent to just over 9 percent earlier in 2015.

Berkshire’s own reinsurance business has been less than stellar this year with Berkshire reporting$155 million in losses from storm damage on Australia’s east coast in the 2nd quarter of 2015.

Charlie Says

“The reinsurance business not as good as it once was and is unlikely to get better,” Charlie Munger said at the 2015 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. “Money has come in, not because they want to be in reinsurance, but because it’s an uncorrelated asset class. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Uncorrelated (also called non-correlated) asset classes are assets that move in the opposite direction of a particular asset class, thus helping investors reduce risk in exchange for lower upside performance.

Munger’s words were echoed by Ajit Jain, who is the head of Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance. “What was a very lucrative business is no longer a very lucrative business going forward” Jain was quoted in The Wall Street Journal.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Berkshire Rises in Reinsurance Ranks Even as Business Softens

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Berkshire has jumped ahead of SCOR SE into fourth place among the top 50 insurers in A. M. Best’s Global Reinsurance Segment Review.

Ahead of Berkshire are Munich Reinsurance Company, Swiss Re Ltd., and Hannover Rueckversicherung AG, in that order.

Lloyd’s of London’s international casualty reinsurance market dropped from fourth place to sixth. The rankings are based on premiums written in 2014.

Berkshire’s gross written premiums rose from $12.776 billion in 2013 to $14.919 billion in 2014.

Profits Harder to Come By

Through its Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group, Berkshire provides reinsurance to Suncorp and Insurance Australia Group, and in the 2nd quarter of 2015 reported $155 million in losses from April and May storm damage on Australia’s east coast.

Buffett, Munger and Jain Cool on Reinsurance

Storms or no storms, Berkshire is not generating the profits it used to from reinsurance.

“The reinsurance business not as good as it once was and is unlikely to get better,” Charlie Munger said at the 2015 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. “Money has come in, not because they want to be in reinsurance, but because it’s an uncorrelated asset class. We’re in it for the long haul.”

“It’s a business whose prospects have turned for the worse and there’s not much we can do about it,” Warren Buffett said.

Uncorrelated (also called non-correlated) asset classes are assets that move in the opposite direction of a particular asset class, thus helping investors reduce risk in exchange for lower upside performance.

Buffett’s and Munger’s words were echoed by Ajit Jain, who is the head of Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance.

“What was a very lucrative business is no longer a very lucrative business going forward,” Jain was quoted in early July in The Wall Street Journal.

Remaining Disciplined

Traditionally Berkshire has been a disciplined underwriter. Warren Buffett has always stressed that it is better to write fewer premiums in a given year than to give in to chasing short-term revenues that lead to long-term losses.

A recent survey of the Lloyd’s Market Association’s reinsurers found that 95% of survey respondents indicated a relaxation of reinsurance contract terms and conditions in the international casualty market. Additionally, 39% felt the loosening of contract terms was having a material impact on the amount of underwriter’s exposure.

Hopefully, Berkshire will remain disciplined and not fall into that trap.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Berkshire Hathaway’s Biggest Question

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Who will succeed Warren Buffett, who turns 85 in August, as the head of Berkshire Hathaway? This would seem to be the biggest question hanging over the shareholders of the massive conglomerate. Will it be Greg Abel, the head of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, or Ajit Jain, who heads up Berkshire’s reinsurance business? Both are frontrunners, especially since Vice-chairman Charlie Munger, who is himself 91 this year, specifically dropped their names in his shareholder letter included in the 2014 Berkshire Hathaway annual report. Yet while people speculate on Buffett’s successor, I would suggest there’s a far more important question. After all, CEOs come and go, and whoever follows Buffett and Munger will eventually be succeeded by others.

So, the biggest question is not who will succeed Buffett; it’s how will they be compensated. In other words, how will they participate in the growth of the company as compared to how has Buffett participated?

Can a unique situation be replicated?

Berkshire Hathaway may be unique in the sheer number of companies that operate under its umbrella. It’s not only a conglomerate; it’s a conglomerate of conglomerates. For example, Berkshire’s Marmon Group has 160 independent manufacturing and service businesses, and Berkshire’s Scott Fetzer Group oversees 21 diverse companies. But even this is not what is most unique about Berkshire. What’s most unique is that Warren Buffett is participating first and foremost just as you do, as a shareholder.

The most underpaid CEO in the Fortune 500

For a man overseeing a conglomerate with a market value of roughly $347 billion, you would think that Buffett receives sky high compensation, especially since that conglomerate’s share value has risen 1,826,163% (yes, that’s not a misprint) from 1966 to 2014. However, Buffett (and Charlie Munger) have annual salaries of only $100,000. What’s more, there are no stock options and no bonuses. Buffett and Munger’s rock bottom salaries mean that they are participating in Berkshire just like you are, as long-term shareholders that care more about increasing the underlying intrinsic value of the company than any short-term trick to boost the stock price.

Think that doesn’t matter?

“The more CEOs are paid, the worse the firm does over the next three years, as far as stock performance and even accounting performance,” notes Michael Cooper of the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business. Prof. Cooper co-authored a paper that proved just that.

Just look at David Zaslav, CEO of pay-TV channel Discovery Communications. Zaslav had a total compensation package of $156.1 million in 2014, yet the same year the stock lost a quarter of its value, even as the broader market boomed. The shareholders felt the pain, while Zaslav got the gain. That’s not exactly participating on the same basis.

At the 2015 Berkshire annual meeting, Buffett acknowledged that when CEO incentives get out of line with a company’s goals bad things can happen.

“Charlie and I believe in incentives, Buffett said. “But we have seen decent people get into trouble with incentives. The CEO promises a certain number, and his executives don’t want to make the CEO look bad. Egos get involved. You have to be careful in the messages you send as CEO. If you don’t want to disappoint Wall Street, your managers will react.”

A Hedge without the 2 and 20

Hedge fund managers built their fortunes on the 2% annual management fee and a 20% of the profits, but that’s not necessarily the same for the hedge fund’s investors, who don’t get that management fee to cushion any tumble in profits. Remember in 2008 when Buffett bet hedge fund manager Ted Seides that a low-priced index fund tracking the S&P 500 would beat the average of any 5 hedge funds over a 10-year period that Seides picked? Well, the “Million-Dollar Bet” is looking more and more like a sure bet for Buffett, because he knew the high friction costs would hurt the hedge funds’ returns.

In fact, Berkshire’s a conglomerate that operates as hedge fund without the management fee structure. Like a hedge fund, it can buy 100% of a company (unlike a mutual fund), it uses derivatives to increase its leverage and hedge its risk, and because its leadership is in lock step with its investors, all that benefit goes right to each shareholder.

Whose side will they be on?

In 2011, David Sokol, who once looked like the heir apparent to Buffett, abruptly resigned after it turned out that he had accumulated over 96,000 shares of Lubrizol before bringing the company to Buffett’s attention as a potential acquisition. Buffett later called Sokol’s actions “inexplicable” and “inexcusable,” and while the SEC dropped its probe, the Sokol fiasco showed that’s it’s not automatic that Berkshire’s leadership will align with its shareholders interests.

Or, as Charlie Munger has said, “Trustworthiness is more important than brains.”

Berkshire’s Future Leadership

Berkshire’s future generations of leadership may be great stock pickers, able to build portfolios that equal the $100 billion portfolio that Buffett built. They may be great capital allocators like Buffett, able to use the profits from one company to by other companies with even greater growth potential. They might even be as savvy opportunists, unleashing Berkshire’s mountains of cash just when others credit has dried up. However, the big question is whether they do it on the same basis as Buffett and Munger, on behalf of all the shareholders.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.