The Surprising Mini-Berkshire You May Have Missed

The Surprising Mini-Berkshire You May Have Missed

To be sure, investors around the world seem awfully eager to identify the next Berkshire Hathaway .

But can you blame them?

After all, under the guidance of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, Berkshire's book value increased at a compounded annual rate of 19.7% over 48 years through 2012, good for a mind-boggling overall gain of 586,817%. For those who found Berkshire early, investments in the thousands of dollars were turned into millions upon millions.

The usual suspects
And there are already some pretty good candidates, most notably including the much smaller fellow financial holding company and insurer Markel , which itself just posted what I believe were impressive second-quarter results in the face of its recently completed merger with reinsurance specialist Alterra Capital.

In fact, with the help of CEO Alan Kirshner and CIO (and noted value investor) Tom Gayner, shares of Markel have already helped early investors multiply their money by more than 6,200% since its IPO at $8.33 per share in December of 1986.

There's another mini-berkshire in our midst
Of course, as a shareholder myself, I'm certainly not alone in believing Markel's winning streak will continue going forward.

But there's another even smaller company I believe looks even more like Berkshire Hathaway in its earliest days.

Hungry investors, meet Daily Journal Corporation , a California-based publishing company that primarily focuses on law, business, and real estate news.

So what, exactly, does a seemingly dull newspaper company have in common with Berkshire?

As the folks at Bloomberg so astutely reminded us recently, Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger so happens to be the chairman of Daily Journal as well, and along with the company's vice-chairman, J.P. Guerin, he helped guide the company into equities investing when the market hit the fan in early 2009.

As a result, shares of Daily Journal have more than tripled since late 2008, and its most recent quarterly report showed the company's marketable securities held a value of roughly $128.4 million as of June 30, 2013 -- or roughly 60% of its market cap as of this writing -- with a cost basis of just under $49.7 million.

Curiously enough, the same filing stated more than $121 million of that total stood in just six common stocks.

However, considering this particular portfolio is run by Munger, who's arguably one of the greatest investors who ever lived (and who once stated "Wide diversification, which necessarily includes investment in mediocre businesses, only guarantees ordinary results."), it's hard to argue that only investing in only six stocks presents any particular danger to Daily Journal's operations.

Naturally, though, at risk of spawning copycat investors, Munger and Guerin have opted to keep their picks a secret.

In fact, the only hints we received regarding what those investments actually are came as statements in the company's quarterly report, saying they "bought shares of a common stock of a Fortune 200 company" in the first quarter of 2012, and "bought additional shares of common stock of one of the foreign manufacturing companies in which it had previously invested" during the third quarter last year. (Sigh.)

Like Berkshire... a long, long time ago
Apart from its investments, Daily Journal also looks strikingly similar to one of the earliest versions of Berkshire Hathaway in that its first-quarter revenue and net income from the traditional newspaper business actually fell 21.5% and 19.8% year over year, respectively.

If you recall, Buffett himself once called Berkshire Hathaway the "dumbest" stock he ever bought, saying he fought for 20 years to save its "terrible" textiles business before finally giving up to focus on building Berkshire's other, more profitable businesses.

In fact, Buffett also elaborated to say that mistake has likely cost him more than $200 billion in compounded returns.

But while things don't look promising for Daily Journal's traditional business, that doesn't guarantee the still-profitable company will ultimately turn out to be an equally awful investment. Most notably, in December, 2012, Daily Journal acquired its New Dawn software business for around $14 million, through which filings state it supplies "case management software systems and related products to courts and other justice agencies, including administrative law agencies."

We should remember, though, that Munger will turn 90 years old next January, and J.P. Guerin is currently 82. As such, Daily Journal investors certainly can't count on enjoying their guidance for the same length of time as Berkshire shareholders have with Buffett and Munger.

Heck, even Markel investors can smile knowing their resident stock picker in Tom Gayner is currently just 50 years old as of this writing.

Maybe one day...
But who knows? Maybe Daily Journal will one day find itself in the position to continue making additional acquisitions outside the realm of traditional publishing, and perhaps it'll also be able to find the next Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett, or Tom Gayner to take the helm of its investment operations down the road.

If that happens, you can bet investors will be clamoring to own a chunk of this under-the-radar stock.

In the meantime, Munger has proven time and again the best investing approach is to choose great companies and stick with them for the long term. The Motley Fool's free report "3 Stocks That Will Help You Retire Rich" names stocks that could help you build long-term wealth and retire well, along with some winning wealth-building strategies that every investor should be aware of. Click here now to keep reading.

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Fool contributor Steve Symington owns shares of Markel. The Motley Fool recommends Berkshire Hathaway and Markel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and Markel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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