UPDATE 1-Fairfax Financial profit jumps on investments

Thu May 1, 2014 5:35pm EDT

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TORONTO May 1 (Reuters) - Fairfax Financial Holdings , the Canadian property and casualty insurer run by investment guru Prem Watsa, said its first-quarter profit more than quadrupled due to strong investment gains and improved underwriting results.

The Toronto-based company said it earned $784.6 million, or $35.72 a share, in the first quarter. That compared with a year-before profit of $161.6 million, or 7.12 a share.

Fairfax, which has hedged its stock portfolio since 2010, posted net investment gains of $1.0 billion during the quarter, compared with a net investment loss of $9.4 million in the first quarter of 2013.

Fairfax Chief Executive Watsa said in a statement that the stock portfolio continues to be fully hedged due to concerns about financial markets and the economic outlook.

Underwriting profit was $98.7 million, up from an underwriting profit of $86.0 million a year earlier.

Since taking over the company in 1985, Watsa has built a reputation as a shrewd investor with moves such as betting against the U.S. housing market and then reaping huge profits when the market collapsed five years ago.

The company's latest big bet has been on the recovery of hard-hit smartphone market BlackBerry Ltd Fairfax is the top shareholder in the company. (Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by David Gregorio and Andrew Hay)

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