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In Search of the Next Berkshire Hathaway

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The story of how Warren Buffett took Berkshire Hathaway from a broken-down textile company in the 1960s to a multibillion-dollar portfolio of securities is the stuff of legends. Make no mistake: There will never be another Warren Buffett.

I'm also quite certain that there will never be another Berkshire Hathaway. However, that has not stopped me from looking. I've been on the hunt for several years to find companies that could be the next Berkshire. The secret to Berkshire Hathaway's success has been highly effective capital allocation, and no one has done that more effectively than Buffett.

A few decent-sized companies have drawn comparisons to Berkshire Hathaway in recent years, including Loews (L) and Leucadia National (LUK). Both own an interesting mix of businesses and securities. One of Leucadia's businesses is a joint venture with Berkshire Hathaway called Berkadia Commercial Mortgage. Still, they are simply too large and well-developed for me. I'm looking for smaller names that are not well-known.

PICO Holdings

I thought I'd found the right stock several years ago, and it's one that I still own. In fact, at one point I dubbed it the "poor man's Berkshire Hathaway," although it has not yet worked out as I'd hoped.

The company is PICO Holdings (PICO - Get Report), a La Jolla, Calif.-based mini-conglomerate that has flown under the market's radar for years. It's on the smaller side with a market cap of about $500 million, but is an interesting combination of businesses, run by a management team that is steeped in the Graham and Dodd investment philosophy that Buffett was reared on.

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PICO owns a couple of insurance companies in run-off (which means they're not writing new business, just managing existing policies), and the associated investment portfolios that generate income for the company. PICO also owns a water business that holds significant water rights, a real estate business that buys and sells distressed properties, a position in technology company Spigit, and the newest venture, a canola oil processing facility in Minnesota that is expected to come online later this year. If successful, the factory should generate significant earnings for the company.
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