Canadian billionaire Watsa to focus on internal growth at insurance empire

Canadian billionaire Prem Watsa told shareholders of Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd on Thursday that the company will focus on internal growth at its key insurance business and step up efforts to boost its stock price by focusing on investment returns.

Watsa, who oversees insurance and other businesses in more than 100 countries, expressed disappointment at the company’s weak stock performance and book value over the past five years, largely the result of unimpressive returns from its investment holdings.

He said Fairfax was de-emphasizing acquisition-driven growth, but assured shareholders that would not limit the company’s overall performance.

Watsa nonetheless defended some of Fairfax’s core holdings, which include BlackBerry Ltd and Greek lender Eurobank Ergasias SA, and told shareholders to be patient and ignore the short-term stock market fluctuations and focus on the long-term performance.

“We are building the company for the next hundred years, long after I am gone,” he told shareholders at the company’s annual shareholder meeting.

Watsa, who is sometimes referred to as Canada’s Warren Buffett, established Fairfax as a trucking insurance company more then three decades ago. Fairfax has a market value of C$17.1 billion ($12.8 billion) and its insurance companies last year underwrote $15.5 billion in premiums around the world.

Watsa, who has a big exposure to India, said he was bullish the country’s growth prospects. He said that with a little of bit luck, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party could win a majority in the general elections that kicked off on Thursday.

Don’t expect a bailout if you build in a flood zone

The excerpted article was written by  | Global News BC

As the winter snowpack melts and fears of spring flooding rise, Canada’s public safety minister Ralph Goodale has a “tough message” for municipalities, homeowners and businesses: build in a flood zone and you could be on your own.

“At some point, you’re going to have to say if people ignore the knowledge base and deliberately rebuild in danger zones, they are going to have to assume their own responsibility for the cost burden,” Goodale said Thursday.

Goodale made the comments in Ottawa when asked by Global News if there’s anything the federal government can do to stop municipalities from building in areas at high risk of flooding.

“After it’s happened once and then twice, and then three times, at some point the taxpayer’s patience runs out,” he said. “So there’s that clear message that has to be delivered.”

And according to Goodale, it’s municipalities that need to heed this message most.

“The right zoning decisions need to be taken,” Goodale said.

“That takes a good deal of local political courage because you’re often talking about some of the most attractive places in which to build,” he said.

“So that’s a bit of a tough message, but you can’t repeatedly go back to the taxpayer and say; oh, it happened again.”

‘Bold decisions’ to deal with flooding

While much of the funding for disaster relief and emergency management comes from the federal government, the decision to build in areas prone to flooding is “largely within the jurisdiction of provinces and municipalities,” Goodale said.

Whether to rebuild in these areas after flooding is also up to municipalities, and according to Goodale, this “very serious issue” is something communities across Canada will increasingly have to deal with as climate change takes hold and as the threat of flooding grows.

Goodale points to High River, Alta., which in June 2013 experienced devastating flooding with billions of dollars in damage, as an example of the type of decision making that’s needed to protect homes — and by extension, government finances — from the catastrophic effects caused by flooding.

According to Goodale, the community made the tough decision not to rebuild in the most high-risk areas after the 2013 floods.

“Other municipalities have not taken those bold decisions,” he said.

In addition to making “bold decisions,” Goodale said communities across Canada are benefiting from federal infrastructure spending targeted at flood relief. And while the Liberals have committed up to $2 billion to such programs, Goodale admits far more will be needed in the future.

Because, Goodale said, “the size of this problem is just very, very large.”

Billions in difficult or impossible-to-insure properties

So how big is the problem of homes and other properties built in areas prone to flooding?

According to a 2016 Parliamentary Budget Office report, flooding caused $12.5 billion in damages in Canada between 2005 and 2014 — by far the biggest cause of disaster relief spending.

The federal government’s share of paying for these disasters was nearly $3.5 billion.

But as the feds seek to get out of the business of flood relief, the notion that this level of funding will exist in the future is far from certain.

According to Craig Stewart, head of federal affairs with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the percentage of Canadian properties that are either difficult or impossible to insure because of risks from flooding is between 10 and 15 per cent. Stewart says the value of these properties is easily in the billions.

Like Goodale, he believes communities should be encouraged not to build or rebuild in areas known to be at high risk of flooding. He also thinks government bailouts for flood victims could soon be a thing of the past.

“Municipalities have been incented to build in flood planes in the past due to the tax revenue that such attractive locations afford,” Stewart said. “Now it’s all too clear what the consequences of those decisions are.”

“We believe municipalities should follow the lead of High River and revert high-risk land either to wetlands or to park areas, where it can still enjoy appropriate use, but where these people won’t be losing their possessions and homes when the next flood comes,” he said.

Stewart said Canada’s insurance industry has been working with federal and provincial governments — including conversations with Goodale’s office — on ways to provide insurance to high-risk properties. This could include a model similar to that in the United Kingdom where private insurers and governments work together to create a special class of government-backed insurance plans, he said.

Laval residents picking up the pieces after ice storm

The excerpted article was written by By  | Global News

Laval resident Josiane Lenain relied on her small basement fireplace to heat her whole house while she had no power. She said the heat emitted from it warmed her living space up to 15 degrees.

“It was chilly,” she said. “But we could tolerate it.”

What worries the retiree now, though, is the cost of cutting down damaged branches from her backyard tree.

“If a branch falls on a child or one of our neighbours, it could be terrible,” she said.

She’s waiting to hear back from her insurance company to see if it will help pay for it.

“I would prefer to get reimbursed, but I am not sure they will cover it,” she said.

As the clean up continues from the storm that paralyzed parts of Laval for days, many residents are now assessing the damage.

Liliana Antonacci lost the contents of her fridge and freezer, which she estimates was worth around $150. She spent a lot of money in restaurants while she had no power.

She says she has a $500 insurance deductible, so claiming anything isn’t worth it.

“After 35 years, you pay insurance, they don’t cover anything: the food, they don’t cover the trees, they don’t cover anything,” Antonacci said. “It’s useless.”

The Insurance Bureau of Canada says most damage from an ice storm is covered, but deductibles vary.

“Calling your insurer is the first step,” said Pierre Babinsky, of the Insurance Bureau of Canada. “You have to consider the claim you will file. If it’s mostly the contents of your fridge and you have a large deductible on your policy, you may not feel it’s worth it.”

The City of Laval isn’t offering compensation to residents for issues related to this ice storm, but a spokesman says they are offering help to residents in other ways.

“There is a bunch of stuff we do offer,” said Louise-Philippe Dorais. “Community centres, our patrol cars are on site, police on site, fire department providing help.

“We are doing the best we can.”

Laval says it made a colossal effort to help citizens during the crisis. At the height of the storm, half of Laval’s 450,000 residents lost power.

As of Thursday afternoon, around 1,000 people in Laval still had no power.

The Co-operators acquires Robinson & Associates Insurance Brokers

The Co-operators announced today it has purchased Robinson & Associates Insurance Brokers in Niagara Falls and Ridgeway, Ontario.

The brokerage’s portfolio includes personal and commercial insurance policies. Any existing insurance coverage a client has will remain in effect for the current term of their policies.

“This is our second Ontario broker acquisition of 2019, demonstrating our commitment to strengthen our agency distribution system in the region” says Rob Wesseling, President and CEO of The Co-operators. “This continued growth allows us to better serve our clients, helping them achieve financial security, and ultimately, peace of mind.”

Clients will enjoy the exemplary service of a leading national insurance co-operative and have access to a full suite of insurance products including home, auto, life, travel and commercial.

About The Co-operators:
The Co-operators Group Limited is a Canadian co-operative with more than $41.7 billion in assets under administration. Through its group of companies, it offers home, auto, life, group, travel, commercial and farm insurance, as well as investment products. The Co-operators is well known for its community involvement and its commitment to sustainability. The Co-operators is listed among the Best Employers in Canada by Aon Hewitt and Corporate Knights’ Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada. For more information, visit www.cooperators.ca

SOURCE The Co-operators

Debilitating injuries described in mounting lawsuits against alleged van attacker

By Liam Casey

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Traumatic brain injuries, spinal fractures and internal bleeding are among the litany of ailments described in a mounting number of lawsuits against a man accused of killing 10 people and injuring 16 others in a van attack in Toronto last year.

Lawyers involved in the suits against Alek Minassian believe the cases, which the court is working to pull together in one large proceeding, will take years to come to a resolution.

On April 23, 2018, police allege Minassian drove a white Ryder rental van south along Yonge Street in the city’s north end, hopped the curb and deliberately mowed people down.

While Minassian’s criminal case slowly makes its way through the system – his trial on 10 first-degree murder charges and 16 attempted murder charges has been scheduled for February 2020 – the 26-year-old already faces four civil suits, with more expected.

The lawsuits, from the families of one person who died and three who were injured, are seeking millions of dollars from Minassian and Ryder Truck Rental Canada, alleging the devastating injuries and deaths on that day were due to an intentional act by Minassian and negligence on his and the rental company’s part.

The unproven civil suits will be fought in the trenches of insurance law.

“This is going to drag on for a long, long time,” said Gus Triantafillopoulos, who represents the family of Anne Marie D’Amico, a young woman who died that day and whose family filed a $1-million suit in January against Minassian and Ryder.

Triantafillopoulos said if the family receives any money through the civil proceedings it will all be donated to the Anne Marie D’Amico Foundation, which supports women who are victims of violence.

The first suit related to Minassian was filed in November 2018 by Amir Kiumarsi, a chemistry instructor with Ryerson University who is seeking $6 million dollars in damages.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury and several skull fractures, spinal fractures, traumatic internal injuries including a displaced kidney and numerous other injuries throughout his entire body, the claim says.

“These injuries have been accompanied by severe physical pain, suffering and a loss of enjoyment of life,” the claim alleges, noting that his future holds “numerous surgical and medical assessments, treatments and procedures.”

Since Kiumarsi filed his suit, the court is in the process of getting all the cases on one track, documents show.

Another suit was filed in mid-January by Amaresh Tesfamariam and her family, who are seeking $14 million. Tesfamariam has a complete spinal cord injury, multiple spinal fractures, rib fractures and a traumatic brain injury.

She cannot move her body below her neck, cannot breathe without a machine, suffers a total loss of independence and a “profound and permanent loss of her cognitive ability,” according to the claim.

Tesfamariam also has loss of short-term memory, depression, anxiety, a “drastic personality change” and cannot communicate properly with others, and cannot return to her work as a nurse, the claim alleges.

The latest suit was filed last week by Catherine Riddell and her family, alleging the “sustained serious and permanent” injuries the woman suffered are the result of negligence on the part of Minassian and the rental company.

Riddell lost consciousness, suffered a brain injury, hurt her head, neck, shoulders, arms, back, legs and arms. She fractured her spine, her ribs, pelvis, scapula and suffered internal injuries including a collapsed lung, the $3.55 million suit alleges.

She lives with headaches, memory loss, difficulty finding words, dizziness, back and neck pain, loss of mobility, nausea, anxiety, nervousness, insomnia and depression, her claim alleges, noting that she now faces a life filled with therapy, rehabilitation and medical treatment.

“Her enjoyment of life has been permanently lessened and she has been forced to forego numerous activities in which she formerly participated,” the claim reads.

Minassian does not yet have legal representation in the civil matters and has not responded to the claims, according to the documents. His criminal lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawyers for Ryder, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, detailed the expected complexities in the litigation in an affadavit filed with the court.

It notes that notice has been given for 12 claims and more are expected. There will be numerous parties in the case from families of the dead to the injured and the various defendants. There will be examinations for all plaintiffs, and testimony would be expected from numerous medical experts.

“It would be safe to assume this matter will require a lengthy trial,” said the affidavit.

Kiumarsi’s lawyer, Darcy Merkur, said there will be a slew of arguments brought forward.

“One interesting question is this: is every different person hurt considered a separate accident?” Merkur said. “It’s a legal question, but also a philosophical one.”

The answer to that question will be important to the issue of potential payments, he explained.

Consolidating its insurance brands: 3 Reasons to Ride This Stock’s Exciting Rebound

The excerpreted article was written by Will Ashworth | The Motley Fool

If you look at the performance of Power Corporation (TSX:POW) stock in 2019, you’d swear it was a momentum stock. Up 30.9% year to date including dividends through April 8, that’s the farthest thing from the truth.

The reality is that POW stock hasn’t broken 30% annual returns since 2013 and 2009 before that. For most of the past five years, it’s been range bound between $25-$35. Only once as a public company has it broken through the $40 barrier.

As we head into the fourth month of 2019, here are three reasons why it might test $40 later this year, only the second time in its history.

Consolidating its insurance brands

On April 3, Great-West Lifeco (TSX:GWO), Power Corp.’s insurance subsidiary, which it controls through its 65.5% stake in Power Financial (TSX:PWF), which in turn owns 67.8% of Great-West Lifeco, announced that it was folding Great-West Life and London Life into its 100%-owned Canada Life subsidiary.

The three insurance brands will all operate under the Canada Life banner, something that should have happened years ago.

“Today marks the beginning of an exciting evolution for our organization, as we start our transition to a new brand across Canada,” said Paul Mahon, President and Chief Executive Officer, GreatWest Lifeco. “The new Canada Life brand is more than just a logo. It’s a representation of who we are as a company, what we stand for and the promises we make to our customers.”

The truth is, by amalgamating all the brands, Great-West Lifeco will save a lot of money by simplifying both the marketing and underwriting of insurance. Both customers and insurance advisors will appreciate the efficiencies under a single Canada Life banner.

Power Corp. shareholders will be glad to see as many overlaps between the three brands disappear. It’s a big step forward for both Power Corp. and Power Financial.

Let the buybacks begin

In late March, I highlighted the positives of Power Corp.’s $1.35 billion share repurchase plan that will see it buy back as many as 47.4 million of its shares from existing shareholders who want to exit their investments.

If Power Corp. maximizes the share buyback, it will have cut its outstanding share count by 11.4%, which would translate into higher future earnings per share, driving its stock price even higher.

Like Warren Buffett buying back Berkshire Hathaway stock, Power Corp. sees the benefit of share repurchases, especially below $30. I think it’s a smart move. Investors have ignored the Power Corp. story for too long.

Investors weren’t buying what Power Corporation was selling, keeping the share price artificially lower than it should have been,” I wrote March 27. “A quick and efficient purchase of its shares allows the company to put its money where its mouth is.”

Not to mention the share repurchases will help keep Power Corp. stock trading above $30 until more good news can act as a catalyst to push its shares higher still.

Wealthsimple’s ongoing innovation

Canada rarely gets innovative technology at the same time as the U.S.

Take Robinhood, the stock trading app that provides commission-free trades. It launched in 2014. Five years later, Wealthsimple (majority owned by Power Corp. and its subsidiaries) has launched a stock and ETF trading app that provides commission-free trades.

You won’t get every stock on North American exchanges, but you do get the ones you ought to consider buying, which not only makes it cheaper to trade but it also pushes investors into higher quality companies.

Companies like the ones we cover at Fool Canada.

Now in business for more than five years, Wealthsimple’s managed to gather more than $3 billion in assets under management from Canadians and Americans who are looking for good advice and reasonable fees.

If you’re a DIY investor, you might not like Wealthsimple, but if you’re someone who has a core portfolio of ETFs and invests a small amount in stocks as well, it’s right up your alley.

Wealthsimple continues to be the least known and most underrated part of the Power Corporation stable.

I expect it to be a significant contributor as POW stock moves to $40 and higher.

When you buy heavily cyclical stocks at low prices… and then hold the shares until the cycle reaches its peak… you can make a very healthy profit.

Every investor knows that. But many struggle to identify the best opportunities.

 

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