Piggybacking With The Best

By Sham Gad | December 01, 2009 AAA

Some notable investors recently disclosed positions in a few names that they feel still hold compelling long-term value. And in a current market environment where it is becoming more and more difficult to find truly fantastic bargains, looking at companies where seasoned investment pros have taken a likening could uncover some hidden gems. (For a quick refresher on this topic, check out Keeping An Eye On The Activites Of Insiders And Institutions.)

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Man of the Year
Paulson and Co recently disclosed that it now holds almost 10% of insurer Conseco (NYSE:CNO). For those of us who have been sleeping under a rock, Paulson and Co. is run by John Paulson, who back in 2007 began betting that the housing market would correct back to the mean. The tidy bet netted Paulson's firm billions and turned Paulson into a instant rock star in the hedge fund world. Considering Conseco's market cap of $850 million, this $85 million dollar bet is relatively small, compared to the size of Paulson's hedge fund. Still, he wouldn't have wagered any money if he didn't feel that value was to be had.

Conseco looks to have some instant appeal: shares fetch 1/4 of book value. Its insurance operations concentrate on seniors and other middle income areas. Getting the shares to trade at half of book value represents a significant rise in the company's stock price.

Statistically Cheap
There's a famous saying that states that the only certainties in life are "death and taxes." Unfortunately, the tax portion hasn't held up for Jackson Hewitt Tax Service (NYSE:JTX), which has not been a participant in this rally. Jackson Hewitt is the much smaller version of H&R Block (NYSE:HRB) in the tax preparation business. The shares are priced for extinction, but Discovery Group feels otherwise, as it now owns 7% of the shares. Shares currently trade for approximately $4, or nearly 20% less than Discovery's $4.87 cost basis. Shares fetch one half of book and sales, respectively. Less than two years ago, this was a $30 stock. People will always need the services of tax preparers. At the current price, which commands a forward P/E of less than five, shares deserve a look. (For more, see Finding Profit In Troubled Stocks.)

Anytime, Pershing Square's Bill Ackman makes a big position, investors out to take notice. Ackman is often known as the friendly activist investor, and he does not enter into any position without meticulous investigation of the company. So the firms 9.6% position in Landry's Restaurants (NYSE:LNY) should be of keen interest especially in this economic landscape where many more folks are choosing to dine in. Of even greater interest is that Pershing Square, has a long economic exposure of nearly 25% of the shares, a sign of strong conviction.

Considering that Landry's owns some valuable pieces of real estate, including the iconic Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas, Ackman's play could be solely to unlock that real estate value. Considering the company's market cap of $340 million and EV of $1.2 billion, it would appear that such a casino could easily be worth the entire market cap of the company.

The Bottom Line
Value comes in may shapes and sizes, and it's very worthwhile to examine the holdings of the most seasoned pros to gain insight as to how they think and view value.

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