Bet on the Horse and the Jockey

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One has to wonder if valuations really matter anymore. Mr. Market doesn't seem to care about whether a stock is trading at a P/E of 10, 7 or 4. If earnings continue to drop off a cliff, a price to earnings ratio doesn't do investors any good at all.

Yet fundamentals do ultimately matter. A company that can navigate through this environment with a lean operating structure and a strong balance sheet has a very good shot of surviving the storm. And as businesses shut down due to the difficult economy, those that endure could find themselves among a handful of participants in a particular industry.

However, fundamentals alone should no longer be enough for investors. Now more than ever, investors need to focus on the jockey steering the horse. This combination offers the greatest probability of not only getting through this economic catastrophe, but also a high chance of future stock price recovery.

Leucadia ( LUK) is a quality horse and jockey bet. Chairman Ian Cumming owns nearly 10% of the shares. I wrote about Leucadia last week when shares were trading in the $13 to $14 range. Today the shares trade around $12 and not much has changed. The company reported a huge 2008 loss but that was due primarily to income tax expense. The company's mark-to-market losses on its securities were large, but that was expected given the market selloff.

But the company trades at a significant discount to the value of its assets even at today's prices. And the company has announced that it is now authorized to retire the company's outstanding indebtedness when management deems appropriate.

It's also interesting to note that some of Leucadia's biggest investments, iron ore miner Fortescue and farming company Cresud ( CRESY), are commodity-related. These are the types of businesses you want to own when the dollars that our government is pumping out begin to have an inflationary effect.

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