Tom Gayner: Markel Q4 Conference Call

Thomas Gayner

Thank you, Richie. I’m [indiscernible] a variety of encouraging items from the investment and Markel Ventures components of Markel. First, let’s start with investments. In 2011, we earned a total return of 6.5% on our investment portfolio, fixed income earned 7.6% and equities earned 3.2%.

During the year, interest rate started low and went lower. As a consequence, we over earned the coupon rates of return on the fixed income portfolio. We continue to believe that rates are unnaturally low and suppressed by non-market forces. As we painfully observed with natural catastrophes in our insurance operations this year Mother Nature can swat manmade artifices when she chooses to do so.

Consequently, we remain cautious about what the forces of nature will do when the manmade levies protecting zero interest rates break. As such we continue to maintain shorter than usual durations in our bond portfolio. This means we forego current investment income in exchange for protecting the balance sheet of the Markel Corporation.

We are balance sheet oriented in all we do at Markel and we will continue to follow this path. We just simply do not believe in an extended period of 0% interest rate and we are acting accordingly.

On our equity investments, we’re at 3.2% in 2011. While we don’t manage versus the S&P 500, we do find it a valuable bogie to provide a frame of reference about what our investment return should realistically be over time.

I’m pleased to report to you that our return was a 110 basis points ahead of that index more and more over the two decades [indiscernible] statistics, we’ve performed by 190 basis points per year. We certainly think that two decades of data supports our case that we add value in our equity operations both against the S&P 500 index as well as against fixed income alternatives.

Our core participants are buying stakes in businesses with good returns on capital run by honest and talented managers with reinvestment opportunities in capital discipline at fair prices works for both public and private investment opportunity.

Speaking to private opportunities, 2011 was a very productive year for Markel Ventures. For 2011, revenues came in at about $317 million versus a $156 million a year ago. EBITDA was $37 million an 80% plus increase compared to the $20 million in 2010. As always a reconciliation of EBITDA to net income is available on the website.

Full transcript here-