Preparing for a year 2000-type scenario

I am relatively convinced that although the economy appears to be muddling along with a low real growth rate, the markets are pricing in a growth trajectory that is optimistic. We are likely to see increased volatility in the future.

There are some good doomsday type stocks, but perhaps none would be better than Fairfax Financial (TSX: FFH), who have continually prepared for a gloomier future. They have hedged their entire equity portfolio against the S&P 500 and also have purchased CPI-linked derivatives that would profit in the event of a deflation. From Prem Watsa’s annual report, he believes that any credit event in China would cause commodities to collapse (they consume 40-50% of most commodities from iron ore to copper) and it would have an impact on the mining industry. He goes on to state that world iron ore capacity has increased by more than 100% in the last ten years, mainly due to increased Chinese demand.

The excesses in the Chinese real estate market are quite well known and have been reported extensively in the past, but just like what happened in the USA from 2004-2008, it might take some time before any credit events emerge. In addition, the Chinese government has proven to be very adept at managing the situation.

While I don’t profess to if or when such a credit event will happen, if it does occur, it would be very adverse for Canadian investors holding equity and debt in such entities. Fairfax is an interesting bet for a doomsday scenario, but at CAD$470/share they are considerably priced above book value (which is US$339 at the end of 2013 or about CAD$374 at current currency rates). Given the performance of Fairfax’s businesses, one would expect a modest premium over book, but 25% over book seems a bit heavy to swallow. The company also sold 1 million shares at CAD$431 (CAD$417 after expenses) in November, but this was also in relation to their purchase of Blackberry convertible debentures.