A Berkshire-like Company that Always Survives Troubled Times

Diversification is your best friend in the investment world. During the market crash of 2008-2009 that wiped some -55% off the major averages, a diversified portfolio allocated across many different types of investments suffered far less. Sometimes, even a single stock could provide this diversification. These conglomerates managed to scoop up ownership in a bunch of different public and private companies, making them a de-facto mutual fund.

In the case of Leucadia National Corporation (NYSE: LUK), you have a company that’s been around for more than 30 years that has amassed ownership positions in a broad array of interesting businesses. That diversification is just one reason the company intrigues. There are several other compelling reasons to give Leucadia a good look as a potential investment.

The company has created a disciplined investment methodology that rivals Warren Buffett’s, and it sticks to it. Simply put, it buys well-managed companies that make high-quality things that people need, and buys them at prices they think underestimates their true worth. Leucadia’s management ties employee compensation to performance, thereby aligning management and shareholder interests.

But let’s get to the meat of Leucadia — what they own. As a diversified holding company, Leucadia has aggregated an impressive list of assets.

— A 25% stake in AmeriCredit Corporation (NYSE: ACF), which handles subprime auto loans

— A 29% stake in investment bank Jeffries Group (NYSE: JEF)

— 9% of Australian miner Fortescue Metals Group and 10% in Canadian miner Inmet Mining Corporation

— 75% of STi Prepaid (prepaid phone cards)

— 92% of Sangart (biopharma product development)

— 100% of Conwed Plastics, which it has held for 25 years and all of Idaho Timber, Keen Energy Services (an oil and gas driller), ResortQuest (timeshares), the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi, Crimson Wine Group, Garcadia (auto dealerships); and investments in real estate, gasification, and natural gas transport.

Now that’s what I call “diversified.”

Leucadia has a huge advantage by holding stakes of publicly-traded companies. If cash is needed for any reason, Leucadia can quickly raise it by selling portions of those stock holdings. Of course, Leucadia’s businesses generate plenty of cash flow on their own, and that’s beyond what’s needed to service debt. Leucadia also has more than $150 million in cash, just in case it sees other worthwile targets.

Leucadia also has something consistent with both Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B) and some of the best performing mutual funds: consistency of management. Chairman Ian Cumming and President Joseph Steinberg have been with Leucadia for more than 30 years. These men, not unlike Warren Buffett, are totally devoted to one thing: running their company. Devotion like that means there is no variation in how the company is run. Shareholders know what to expect from the stewards of the company. These two gentlemen directly, and indirectly, own 14% of Leucadia, representing an alignment of shareholder and management interests.

Leucadia will also be able to avoid Uncle Sam’s reach for quite some time. As a holding company, the operating losses of any individual holding become operating losses of Leucadia as a whole. This $6 billion in losses offset any realized gains the company may have going forward, saving the company and its shareholders more than $2 billion in corporate taxes.

Rarely can investors find a company as well run as Leucadia. The company lost -75% of its market value between June 2008 and March 2009, and despite having doubled off its low, still sits 50% below its all-time high. I see no reason why it could not return to those levels, particularly as the economy improves.

If you peek back at the list of Leucadia’s holdings, several of them are linked to consumer spending. These still generate plenty of money even in these times, and while Leucadia patiently waits for the economy to pick up, it can also rely on its other holdings to create revenue.