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Friday File: Hurricane Insurance, Gold, and GE

A few small transactions for the Real Money Portfolio, plus thoughts on Sandstorm, Maverix, GE, Berkshire Hathaway, Fairfax and Axis

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, September 1, 2017

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We’re all growing more and more immune to hyperbole, I hope, but the combination of hype-filled newsletter pitches, shallow commentary from attention whores on CNBC, and clickbait headlines is enough to put you off investing in the market at all… how many times can you hear words like “collapse” and “beaten down” and “nightmare” applied to tiny little 2% moves in stock or commodity prices before you start to be sucked into believing that yes, those kinds of fluctuations are really a BIG DEAL?

I know I’m preaching to the choir here (again), but here’s one example — with the dreadful hurricane strike on Texas last weekend, every member of the press was desperate for your attention on Monday morning… check out this headline from a article: “Harvey’s Strike in Houston Pummels Insurers Including Warren Buffett’s Berkshire”

Sounds dastardly, no? We should panic! Even Warren Buffett is getting pummeled!

Except the actual news, a little ways down the article, is far more boring: “Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., another big property insurer via its Geico unit, declined 0.7% to $267,960.”

And, of course, now a few days later Berkshire’s A Shares are back well above $270,000 and hit new all-time highs most days this week. (The B shares are the same company and trade within a whisper of the same valuation pretty much all the time, it’s just that it takes 1,500 B shares to make one A share — not being in Buffett’s tax bracket, I personally own the B shares).

So yes, even if you’re desperately searching for a story, and hoping that all of those underwater GEICO-insured cars will bring a headache to Warren Buffett’s doorstep, it’s hard to make the actual facts match the clickbait headline (latest estimate I saw was for a 13-cent hit to BRK-B’s roughly $7 in expected 2017 earnings because of GEICO losses). Not even the insurance companies who probably do have the most to lose from covering insured losses in Houston and Corpus Christi were down much more than 2-4%, and that’s because the real story is how freakishly profitable these insurance companies have been in recent years. Almost all of them that I’ve looked at are within a whisper of their all-time highs, even those that are most likely to face measurable claim losses in the near ...

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