Is Markel the next Berkshire Hathaway? Not yet

Q: Is Markel mkl the next Berkshire Hathaway?

A: Although it has two classes of stock, there's only one Berkshire Hathaway brkabrkb.

Berkshire is as unique is it is difficult to describe. The company, headed by Warren Buffett, has made an art of investing the cash premiums from insurance customers to achieve high returns. The company has been extraordinarily successful and it has been the topic of many Ask Matt columns, such as this one.

A lot of investors, like you, want to find the next Berkshire Hathaway. A prominent business magazine once pointed to Edward Lampert, head of Sears Holdings shld, as the next Warren Buffett. The idea was that Lampert could use the cash from Sears and its other retail unit, Kmart, to fuel an investing empire. At first, Lampert slashed costs and things looked to be working. But as problems arose in the retail operations, Lampert turned into a beleaguered retailer, not an investor, and certainly not Warren Buffett.

Markel does have more in common with Berkshire Hathaway. Namely, it's primarily an insurance company. Markel also has a long history, since it was founded in 1930. It's also a busy acquirer, and the stock has been a big winner since it started trading in 1990. But, that's where the similarities end for now.

Markel has turned in some nifty returns the past 10 years — see the chart at left vs. Berkshire stock. But we'll have to see how the company fares over a longer period. For many reasons, Berkshire Hathaway is really a one-and-only phenomenon.

Matt Krantz is a financial markets reporter at USA TODAY and author of Investing Online for Dummies. He answers a different reader question every weekday in his Ask Matt column at money.usatoday.com. To submit a question, e-mail Matt at mkrantz@usatoday.com. Click here to see previous Ask Matt columns.

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