Friday, November 23, 2007

Prem Watsa: He Has Never Been More Bearish

In a rare interview, the chairman of Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. said he thinks it's possible the United States is on the cusp of a prolonged market slide, similar to the one endured by Japan between 1990 and 2003, when the Nikkei index plunged 80 per cent.

Mr. Watsa suggested the decision to put 75 to 80 per cent of Fairfax's portfolio .into government debt - "for the first time, I think, ever" - reflects his view that credit markets will take a long time to digest the problems in the U.S. real estate and mortgage business.

"We don't know how bad the recession's going to be, so credit is going to be tough," he said. "You're going to have these big losses, the banks are going to have big losses. So we are worried."

Mr. Watsa took particular aim - not for the first time - at the structured-products industry on Wall Street and Bay Street. Many of those securities got high ratings from the credit agencies, but have cracked under the strain of rising U.S. mortgage defaults.

The Fairfax chairman said the products were always flawed because they shifted the risk away from the person making the lending decision - which encouraged auto finance or mortgage companies to give loans to almost anyone, since they would not have to bear the losses on defaults.

No comments: