Of the infinite number of possible stock-picking strategies, one that we particularly like can be summed up in three words: The pros know. In other words, ask the experts what stocks they're buying and you're likely to come up with some pretty good ideas. Last year, we asked seven top portfolio managers to name their favorites, and their 22 choices returned an average of 29% to May 14, well ahead of the 18% gain of Standard & Poor's 500-stock index (for more details, see Our Team Gains 29%).
Now we've rounded up a new group of outstanding managers using the same simple criteria we used to pick last year's bunch: They all have produced superior records, over both the short term and the long term. When these folks discuss their best investing ideas, it's worth listening in.
A Berkshire bent
Tilson and Tongue look for safety, low price and rapidly growing value when they shop for stocks. If this reminds you of a certain investor in Omaha, it's for good reason. "We admit to being loyal Buffett disciples," says Tilson.
No surprise then that Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A) is Tilson Focus's largest holding. Tilson and Tongue see safety in Buffett's triple-A-rated holding company: "Its balance sheet is Fort Knox-safe," says Tongue. The value of Berkshire's operating companies in particular, such as Geico, Gen Re and Shaw Industries, is compounding at a furious pace. Tilson says that pretax earnings of Berkshire's operating companies swelled by more than 30% a year from 1995 through 2006.
And Tilson and Tongue reckon that the shares are still cheap. When they apply a modest price multiple to the operating businesses and add the value of Berkshire's cash, bonds and big stakes in publicly traded companies, such as Coca-Cola, Moody's and American Express, they arrive at an intrinsic value of $150,000 a share for Berkshire, a 36% premium to the stock price of $110,000 (Berkshire Class B shares change hands for a mere $3,668).
Mueller Water Products (MWA) is a more traditional deep-value pick. Spun off from Walter Industries late last year, Mueller is the leading maker and supplier of water-infrastructure products, such as fire hydrants, valves, couplings and transmission pipes. The stock, which sells at a small premium to book value (assets minus liabilities), has been depressed by the housing recession. But the water infrastructure in the U.S. is in urgent need of repair or replacement, so Tilson thinks it's just a matter of time before Mueller's flow of profits increases. He sees more than 50% upside in the stock, recently trading at $16.