Achieving a high rate of return is the main objective at Fairfax Financial Holdings. The holding company provides insurance, reinsurance, and other financial services. Its subsidiaries, including Northbridge Financial, Falcon Insurance, and Crum & Forster, focus on property/casualty coverage such as commercial, auto liability, trucking, and accident insurance in Canada, the US, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Fairfax's reinsurance operations span North America, the UK, and Central Europe. Chairman and CEO Prem Watsa's unorthodox business strategies have been compared to those of Warren Buffett; he controls about half the voting rights of Fairfax Financial.
One difference in the company's style is it pays less attention to its market share, and more attention to its profitability. For this reason its subsidiaries might not be household names, but unlike better-known competitors, the company does not underwrite at a loss so its combined ratios came out of the financial recession in sturdier condition.
The majority of Fairfax Financial Holdings' operations are in the US and account for roughly half of its earned premiums. These include Crum & Forster (commercial and specialty insurance) and Odyssey Re (reinsurance). International operations include Asian firms Falcon Insurance, First Capital Insurance, and The Pacific Insurance Berhad, which Fairfax Financial acquired in 2011 for $64 million. In 2012 the company agreed to buy (through its Fairbridge Capital subsidiary) Thomas Cook Group plc's 77% interest in Thomas Cook (India) Limited for INR 8,174 million, or approximately $150 million.
The Resolution Group and the RiverStone Group tend to the company's runoff businesses in the US and UK, respectively. International acquisitions and new operations are keeping the company lively overseas. In 2009 Fairfax acquired Polskie Towarzystwo Reasekuracji (Polish Re) for $72 million through a public tender offer. The purchase expanded Fairfax operations in Central and Eastern Europe. In 2010 the company launched a commercial property/casualty insurance business in Brazil and then struck a partnership with Alltrust Insurance in China. Fairfax also formed a joint venture with conglomerate Kuwait Projects Co. (Kipco) to provide insurance in the Middle East through Gulf Insurance Co.
Fairfax likes to acquire a minority stake in a company, and then, if it likes what it sees, goes ahead and works to acquire the balance. In 2009 Fairfax purchased the remaining common shares of Northbridge Financial it didn't already own, then repeated itself in buying the stake it didn't already own in British insurer Advent Capital for about $154 million. Fairfax bought out the minority investors in Advent and delisted the company.
In 2010 the company paid some $1 billion to buy up the 27% of Odyssey Re that it did not already own through a public share tender offer. Also that year, Fairfax's modest portion of Zenith National Insurance pleased the company enough that it paid about $1.3 billion for the remaining 92% of the insurer to expand in the growing workers' compensation market. Odyssey Re and Zenith National continue to operate as independent subsidiaries of Fairfax.
Fairfax acquired specialty insurer First Mercury Financial for about $295 million in early 2011. First Mercury brought with it a strong presence in the Canadian specialty commercial insurance markets; its subsidiaries include CoverX Corporation, First Mercury Emerald Insurance Services, and American Management Corporation.
Insurance isn't the only game in town for Fairfax. The company not only makes investments in other sectors, but acquires businesses from entrepreneurial founders as well. Late in 2008 it acquired a majority stake in Ridley Inc., a Canadian animal nutrition products maker, for $81 million from Australian firm Ridley Corporation. In 2011 Fairfax acquired family-owned William Ashley China, Canada's largest prestige retailer of exclusive gifts and tableware and North America's first to launch a computerized wedding registry system. – less