Will The Next Warren Buffett Please Stand Up?

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If you’ve never heard of Allan Mecham, you’re not alone. But this 30-something fund manager is starting to turn heads on Wall Street. In fact, some are suggesting he just might be the next Warren Buffett, which is certainly a tall order. After reading his 2013 letter, there’s more than just numbers that suggest Mecham might have what it takes to belong in Warren Buffett’s league.

Mecham’s incredible returns

Forbes contributor Brett Arends first started talking about Mecham about two years ago and then provided an update on Sunday. He runs a small investment firm called Arlington Value Capital, and he managed to double his investors’ money in just two years. Last year, he raked in 52% returns after fees for his investors. That’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.

It certainly is pretty dangerous to compare someone to the great Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, but Mecham shows promise. He’s only in his mid-30s, and he’s already accomplished big-time returns for his investors. In fact, he’s creaming Warren Buffett in terms of numbers. Arends put together a graph showing Mecham’s returns compared to Warren Buffett’s and also the Vanguard Total Stock Market index fund.

What’s particularly interesting is that Mecham simply seems to follow his nose after reading anything and everything and then just thinking about the best route to take. Does that sound familiar? He doesn’t use complicated algorithms or technical data to figure out where to put his money. He simply does the homework and thinks before making a decision.

Mecham’s biggest positions

Recently Mecham’s 2013 letter was shared with ValueWalk. Unsurprisingly, his fund’s biggest holding is Warren Buffett’s own Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B). Clearly, he’s very familiar with the way Warren Buffett does his investing. Berkshire Hathaway gained 33% last year. Although he continues to like Berkshire, he said they cut back their position last year “in the name of prudence and flexibility as the discount to intrinsic value narrowed. However, he says Berkshire is still “hunting-dog healthy” and “a solid rudder to the portfolio.”

One of his other large positions is Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC). He said investors have questioned why he invests in banks because of the 2008 credit crisis. He said after studying regulatory filings and “applying critical thought” to the bank’s numbers and the actions of management, “it’s crystal clear” that Bank of America is now much stronger than it was going into 2008.

Storyteller Warren Buffett

One thing that’s particularly interesting about Mecham’s letter is the fact that there’s a story in it. Warren Buffett is known for his storytelling ability, and indeed, his letters are actually fun to read, unlike some firms’ regular letters. While Mecham has a ways to go before his storytelling abilities will rival Warren Buffett’s, there are some signs that he’s heading in that direction.

The fund manager tells about VistaPrint Limited (NASDAQ:VPRT), which he said he “played coy with.” The company did well last, contributing to Arlington’s gains last year, as they held a 15% stake with an average cost of about $31 per share. He said VistaPrint has “a strong track record, compelling economics, intelligent management with significant ownership,” and “a dominant market position with powerful competitive advantages,” which he says is his favorite advantage.

Mecham takes us back to 1996 when Robert Keane founded VistaPrint Limited (NASDAQ:VPRT). The story is a very brief history lesson, but one he felt compelled to include. He’s certainly not as long-winded as Warren Buffett can be, at least not yet.

Admitting mistakes

The fund manager also talks about SandRidge Energy Inc. (NYSE:SD), which was one of their more significant losing positions last year. They solid out of it entirely not long after he wrote last year’s letter, and Mecham said they filed that one under “Lessons Learned…Again.” However, he said that lesson was an “inexpensive” one.

He said some of the reasons they exited SandRidge Energy Inc. (NYSE:SD) was because of “the combination of ambiguous asset values and a heavy debt load,” which he said can cause management to over-predict future earnings.

“As an aside, we’ve found investments based on asset values, as opposed to earnings and free cash, can lead to mistakes,” he wrote. “All too often, asset-plays being sold as yachts heading to St. Tropez turn out to be Higgins boats headed toward Omaha Beach.”

Ah yes, a bit more of the magic that makes annual fund letters interesting to read.

So is Mecham the next Warren Buffett? Time will tell, but the humble, media-shy fund manager is certainly making a good go of it.

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