Wednesday February 15, 2012
by Stephen Leeb, editor The Complete Investor
The news is looking up and market action is strongly suggestive of further gains to come. But the prospect of potential turbulence still suggests we put an emphasis on all-weather stocks.
And when we think of all-weather stocks, one of the first that always comes to mind is Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B).
Buffett virtually coined the notion that you could translate a so-called franchise into public companies.
Franchises are companies that have control over their markets, or at least are close to exercising a lot of control. And to be good franchises they have to be situated in strong and growing markets.
Probably Buffett's two biggest purchases in history (or at least, among public companies) were Coca Cola and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the latter being a company he took entirely for himself.
He has also invested a huge sum in another company he wholly controls, MidAmerican Energy. Both Burlington and MidAmerican certainly satisfy the definition of a franchise.
And each is in an industry that's highly leveraged to a burgeoning sector: growing demand in trade and commodities (Burlington) and the growing need for alternative energies (MidAmerican).
In addition to these private holdings, Buffett's biggest earning center is a bevy of insurance companies, including GEICO, General Re and others.
Insurance may be a peculiar business in which to suspect a franchise can exist, but in Buffett's case, it is probably his strongest franchise.
The edge that he has in insurance is very simply the amount of money that Berkshire Hathaway has. Berkshire's insurance companies maintain capital strength at exceptionally high levels compared to all their competitors.
More money means a greater ability to write additional insurance policies. It means that in a world torn by periodic economic losses from earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc., Buffett's insurance assets remain in the catbird's seat.
So when you think "uncertainty," think franchises. These are companies, by and large, that have the ability to gain market share when the economic going gets bad (i.e., deflationary) ... to raise prices when the economic going gets good ... and to raise prices even more when the economic going gets inflationary.
Our advice is that investors should not forget to bet a little bit of money with Warren Buffett, probably the greatest investor in the history of capitalism.
Learn more about this financial newsletter at Stephen Leeb's The Complete Investor.