Path to Value Investing


So I am wanting to eventually work for a value investing fund, but right now I am uncertain on the best path to take. Currently I have been working in sell-side equity research for about two years, and right now most of the positions that are being brought to me are multi-strategy market neutral funds. Right now I am trying to either go directly to a value fund or get my MBA and then go straight to a value fund post MBA. I have not been considering these market neutral multi-strategy funds because to me they seem much different than what I am interested in, but should I change my approach and start considering these jobs as a stepping stone to a true value fund? What do you guys think the best path for me is to eventually make it to a true value investing fund? Any help is much appreciated.

Comments (90)

Most Helpful
Jul 8, 2020 - 1:02pm

I think you'd be surprised how many of the market-neutral funds operate. Just because they dont carry the "value" label does not mean they like to buy expensive stuff. Also, some focus very much on near-term earnings, but a ton don't. Also, do the value funds you seek buy a stock they think is going to miss earnings and cut guidance next quarter? Market neutrals are no different.

Finally, I'm always bemused by the intellectual superiority complex many of these value guys have. They claim you need to patient, giving ideas 10yrs to work is the key to success etc. Well, if that is true, do you deserve to get paid 2+20 for just asking your investors every year to "be patient"?

Guys at market neutral shops that lose money one year are pissed at themselves and know they're not performing. They feel the urge to turn the ship around. Value guys underperform for 5 years and their excuse is you need to wait until year 10 to get the full picture. Then they light another cigar, while they keep charging their fees. How this charade keeps going on is beyond me.

Unpopular opinion, but a lot of "long-term oriented, value focused" investors just dont like to be held accountable for horrible performance and seek refuge in the everlasting excuse of "need more time".

  • Analyst 2 in HF - EquityHedge
Jul 8, 2020 - 1:32pm

Spot on. If you really, truly, believe in long term investing, you would have already transitioned to a more growth/quality oriented investor looooong time ago. Valuation becomes exponentially less important the longer your time horizon gets.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Jul 8, 2020 - 2:25pm

this is dumb but can you explain why valuation becomes exponentially less important the longer your time horizon gets ?

  • Intern in S&T - Other
Jul 8, 2020 - 6:33pm

I want the opposite of the op. Because I am someone that prefers short-term projects, has the ability to quickly find solutions to a complex problem. I like to think about catalysts / what move the stock in the ST and I tend to focus on the big picture. I prefer a fast-paced, high pressure, competitive, environment. What HF strategy or HF would suit me?

  • Analyst 3+ in HF - Other
Jul 9, 2020 - 2:29pm

Completely agree with the above. One other thing that I think is relevant is people (especially the so called value HFs) tend to sorely overlook the importance of risk management. Alpha from my perspective is relatively commoditized - everyone graduates from the same schools, looks at the same names, attends the same conferences. Do you really think your view on some mid/large cap name XYZ is really differentiated from the rest of the street? Probably not.

MMs tend to focus on the risk management side of things much more heavily than any other styles of HF. PMs at MM learn how to manage a portfolio, quantify their risk, and insulate their book from events that you have no control over. IMO that is the main skill needed to succeed in HF. Most people can learn how to pick stocks, how to structure your book to make money from your views is a much rarer skill.

Jul 9, 2020 - 8:54pm

What you said is very spot on. That's my evolution too. I used to buy a "deep-value" stock, knowing it's cheap, but the stock did not "work" for 2 damn years because it's not a good business and my thesis hinges on statistically cheap book value, I did make money in the end when the sector cut capacity and cycle turned, but in client's opinion I did not create value for those two years because I could have bought other stocks that have been going up.

Especially when you are paid 2+20, you should be working very hard at identifying when stocks will start to "work" to maximize IRR instead of holding deep-value stocks that can be "dead money" for many years. Catalyst is necessary IMO, unlike some old school die hard value investors.

  • Senior VP in HF - Other
Jul 10, 2020 - 4:40pm

Eh, think this is an over simplified and negative view. I'm not defending under performance; however, if there is a true turn around story that does in fact take a long time (years) to cycle through with ebbs and flows along the way. Should private equity not be paid a management fee while their companies are in the hold period? Likewise, if PE guys where held to the whims of MtM they'd have huge volatility too. If someone never actually has their thesis play out of course that is horrible and they should lose investors. However, harping over quarterly earnings for a long term play is more trading than investing - not that that is wrong, just different.

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jul 8, 2020 - 1:46pm

Thanks, these are all helpful. But if I work at a multi strat fund am I just going to be whipping around stocks in and out of earnings or does it more just depend on the team? What you guys are all saying is true, but I am more interested in fundamental long-term research than trying to figure out who is going to beat/miss earnings this quarter.

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jul 8, 2020 - 2:12pm

Gotcha, so are you saying what all of those multi-strats do is just trade in/out of earnings pretty much? I know there are some value hedge funds (Baupost Group, Joel Greenblatt used to run Gotham), what about funds like that? Those are not long-only but are very well known value investors.

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jul 8, 2020 - 11:08pm

I understand that, but I don’t want to spend years at a MM, then b school and not be where I want to be for five years or so. If I go straight to bschool would you say it’s still possible to jump to a long term value spot with only sell side research?

Jul 13, 2020 - 1:56pm

Something to keep in mind is how competitive recruiting for these positions is. Others saying to get buyside experience is very relevant. I was recently in an M7 MBA program and even qualified people had a hard time when it came to full-time recruiting. It's possible you could find yourself unable to get a decent buyside job at all out of B school. That being said, a lot of FT recruiting comes down to how good your pitches are and how well you fit with the fund, both in terms of investment philosophy and cultural fit. The latter you can't control beyond just being a nice person. The pitches you can control as well as how good your background and experience is.

Also, food for thought, not being exactly where you want to be for 5 years is not really a big deal. If you're good and you enjoy it, your career could span 30 years or more. Active public equity is not in great shape these days. Lots of people just trying to hold onto seats.

At the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you. Just some things to think about.

(Sorry if this was said elsewhere. I didn't read all the comments.)

"Successful investing is anticipating the anticipation of others". - John Maynard Keynes
Jul 9, 2020 - 10:51am

You should be aware that value is currently very out of favor so it will be very difficult to get a spot. Most middling value managers are bleeding assets which only makes the seats for the stellar value managers more competitive.

B School won't help you. MM's won't help you. Try to go to a long only or a IB then PE. If you can make the IB transition possibly a move to a Distressed or Special Sits fund will interest you as well.

Jul 10, 2020 - 10:59am

Long-only has its own headwinds but I have to assume they are hiring from somewhere and I would assume sellside equity research is a natural fit. If you are at a BB bank with an asset management arm, try to make an internal move to buyside equity research.

That said I’ve never pursued that route so I can’t say with confidence that LO’s hire from sellside equity research... but that seems like it would be a natural transition to me

Jul 9, 2020 - 11:46am

What if op went to a grad school program like Columbia’s that is focused on value investing? I know the program markets that you need to be passionate about value investing first and foremost and don’t necessarily need prior buy side experience. This seems like it could be a potential pathway.

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jul 9, 2020 - 2:40pm

I would like to hear more opinions on this. This is the option I am currently pursuing the most aggressively, would love to hear if people think this is a bad/great idea. My guess is everybody will probably say how its still super hard but would love to hear more opinions. FWIW coming to my current position was a challenge given where I was previously, and this feels a lot like when I tried to make that transition, that is everybody was telling me how slim my odds were and how competitive it is but I made that work....

Jul 9, 2020 - 1:32pm

As an individual who is very interested in value investing and have been reading books on the topic for the past two/three years, I'd say first and foremost, ignore those who say "value" is dead. WSO is not a great site to discuss value, as most people simply do not get it. Value investing is inherently contrarian and it's not an easy place to be in for 99% of the people.

If you study Buffett, Munger, or even Bill Ackman, they always preach that work for someone you admire and that investing is one thing you cannot learn from school. Honestly, in my opinion, an MBA has no value when it comes to pursuing a career in value investing. Even CBS value investing program nowadays does not cut it... you can search on YouTube for a lecture video back in 2006 where Li Lu went back to CBS; pretty interesting that he showed his disappointment during the lecture.

Jul 9, 2020 - 2:05pm

You are exactly the type of person I had in mind. You tie your identity to value investing, it defines who you are. Along the way, peeps like you forgot that the point of the whole game is to make money, not to be 100% pure a certain method, ideology, or cult.

You just can't help mention Buffett, or come up with a Munger quote, etc. Every. Single. Time. You guys forget that we have all read the same books. We know what Buffett stands for. We respect it, but we are pragmatic and open-minded because -again- we are focused on making money.

Jul 9, 2020 - 2:20pm

Champ, I wouldn't compare myself to Buffett. I wasn't even born when he started investing.

But I would definitely compare my track record versus people like you that keep buying garbage because it's the only thing you can find trading under 10x P/E. And you still have the nerve to tell the world "we dont understand".

  • Analyst 3+ in HF - Other
Jul 9, 2020 - 3:03pm

You didn't answer the question. I think the distinction is we have investing careers and you don't. Therefore we have a realistic view on the industry and aren't college kids in banking that watch CNBC and get off to Berkshire annual reports

  • Analyst 3+ in HF - Other
Jul 9, 2020 - 2:47pm

The term value investing is a farce. Everyone who trades is a value investor. Do you think high frequency firms buy a stock expecting it to go down and sell stocks expecting them to go up? No they don't. If you buy/sell a stock by definition you think it is undervalued/overvalued currently, no matter how long you hold it for.

All of the evidence has pointed to the so called "value" investors being terrible at assessing the value of securities. Why you would want learn how to assess value from people who clearly don't know how is beyond me.

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jul 9, 2020 - 3:59pm

This post is evidence that most of you guys don’t know what you’re taking about when you refer to value investing. Value investors buy stocks they think are trading below what they are ultimately worth. Whereas many in hedge funds will buy stocks because they think they will go up for different reasons, say this quarter they will beat earnings. The latter can also be done successfully but to say that is value investing is a farce, an investor in that scenario doesn’t give a shit if the company is trading at 5x the intrinsic value, they just care if the company beats earnings and the stock will go up so they can sell out at a profit. Not saying that’s bad, a lot of people make money that way consistently, but not value investing.

Jul 9, 2020 - 4:10pm

Dude, YOU are missing the entire point. You and your kindred keep pontificating about academic disquisitions and hi-5ing each other how good the See's Candy purchase was 40 years ago. Meanwhile, you've been underperforming the market year in year out for a decade and counting.

Less talk, more results. Eod

  • Analyst 3+ in HF - Other
Jul 9, 2020 - 4:23pm

This is so wrong it's laughable. You said it yourself "Value investors buy stocks they think are trading below what they are ultimately worth.". Replace "Value" with "All investors" and you will start making sense. Why would anyone buy a stock they think is trading above what it is ultimately worth? Maybe you would because you clearly aren't in the industry.

So if you are a value investor and you buy a "cheap" stock and the next second it goes up to your price target are you just going to keep holding on to it because you are "long-term"? Honestly you probably don't have a price target because you are a value investor. Value investors don't have a monopoly on time horizon. You use the term "Ultimately worth", why do you get to determine what "ultimately" means. Ultimately can easily be 1 week later just as much as it can be 1 year later.

You and "Value investors" think that you are smarter than the market. Sorry to burst your bubble dude but the market determines the price and therefore the value. So no matter how much work you've done determining what the "intrinsic value" (whatever that means) is of a stock, if Mr. market prices it at 5x that value you are still wrong. No amount of crying and blaming the algos/fed/crowding will change that fact. If someone at a MM buys a stock before earnings and it jumped after and they sold, they certainly are better assessors of value than a "value" investor holding onto a losing position for 10 years.

Jul 9, 2020 - 6:40pm

Another rephrase/way of looking at it: I'd argue that value and growth are just screening techniques. Goal is the same for both camps - beat the benchmark. Back in the day, you could find more opportunities in the "value" bucket using the Buffet methodology, but as the market gets more efficient and more markets become winner-take-all, it's hard to make the case for not adapting the approach. Seems like we still have a generation of investors that haven't figured out how to implement that.

I think the most important distinction that Buffet makes is investing vs trading. Not sure what MMPM thinks of this, but from my experience most of the MM PM's in my sector are really research-backed traders (which is incredible if you compare to prop traders - hard to do across a whole book and that's why they're paid so well for good performance). Investors emphasize business models long-term, MM guys spend less (but still a substantial amount of) time on that and more on contrasting those business models + current & expected outlook with their own expectations and finding the gaps that make money over a period of time that justifies upside (I've seen guys take long(er) term bets for bigger upsides mixed in with the fast stuff).

I challenge anyone who drinks value kool-aid to be open minded and read some growth books. Vice-versa with the growth ppl too. Try seeing the overlap. It's grown quite large.

It's like Fox vs MSNBC. Often both sides miss the point.

Don't forget buyside is really just a service that fits a certain need that a pension/endowment will pay you for. That's why MM platforms are arguably most worth their fees - they are pretty consistent in generating a 6-10% return uncorrelated every year like they are supposed to. Can most LO funds say the same? Like MM HFs, they have one job - and it's different (beat a benchmark that does effectively the same thing with as they do without a human) - but they often fail to do it.

Jul 9, 2020 - 8:38pm

Punchline up front: try not to go MBA route - just know you will be competing with your classmates who have worked at a legit Long-only and a smaller value fund for a few years, and please don't ask me why those people even do an MBA and vulture good roles from people who want to use MBA to career change - cuz I don't f**king get it either.

Second, don't go to market neutral pod, just don't. If you don't enjoy listening to your boss chatting with the "pod people" on client calls debating whether margin is 31% or 33% next quarter, you will be miserable even if you do get a job there.

Your best path is networking. DM me if you wanna chat in detail.

Read my article: Q&A And Yet Another Post On How To Break Into The Buy-Side

  • Analyst 2 in HF - EquityHedge
Jul 12, 2020 - 12:03am

Alright.. I felt compelled to comment because I work at once of these long term value shops..

1) we describe the strategy as having a bias towards lower valuations (fcf, EV/ebitda, etc), but if something especially compelling / we can justify it with fundamental analysis, we will look at other opportunities / special situations. Lots of tech stocks were actually very cheap if you view marketing spend as Capex that is flexible in a weak environment... suddenly a lot of these stocks screened cheap at 2-3x sales with normalized/LT fcf earnings power higher than people were willing to give credit for

2) I think long term investing is easier than short term investing, and therefore warrants a lower fee structure inherently. You get paid for alpha, if the certainty of that alpha is lower, then your fees should reflect that uncertainty. Most new/small/good long term guys I think have lower fee structures, high water marks, etc, which make consistent underperformance really hard incentive-wise to catch up from

3) work for someone you admire, if the PM is open minded, he will be flexible to listen to ideas that aren’t “traditional value”. But frankly, the LPs that give money to value-biased investors want them to invest with that mindset for allocation to that when cycles shift (TBD on how this cycle turns out for value). Also If you are a good value investor you tend to try avoiding buying cyclical turds unless they are stupid cheap... some guys haven’t figured this out yet (einhorn)

4) some pod shops do very rigorous fundamental analysis and they take more bets on names with risk parameters and if you are good at that, it’s a perfectly fine way to make a ton of money With theoretically lower risk. However, I have found that some multi PMs are chart readers / macro sentiment traders vs fundamental analysts, which is how you should trade in some sectors. That strategy is really not how I want to invest for my own sanity / I think computers eat away at this over time (maybe I’m wrong on that but that’s my perception)

5) there are lots of value guys in mutual fund land who just aren’t good. Those funds will die, do not work for them just because they are “value focused”. You can get fundamental analysis exposure at larger, more shorter term shops if you can deal with the pressure. You can then move to a long only shop, or an in between (probably best for w/l balance and returns IMO, sure ppl will disagree).

Hope that helps

  • Research Associate in HF - Event
Jul 13, 2020 - 2:47pm

an easy analysis you could do is download all the graham newsletters which typically list out all the Columbia students in that club (list of the editors + list of students giving stock pitches in every other issue), then linkedin search to see where they were before and where they went after. Take maybe an hour but gives you your answer without people throwing hypotheticals / "value is dead this or that".

  • Analyst 2 in HF - EquityHedge
Jul 13, 2020 - 5:53pm

Many people in the industry view MBA as a waste of time unless you are pivoting from something random... best experience is investing experience even at a small shop IMO and for many others. That being said, if you cant do it post banking or are pivoting / need an extra bump, you can go get an MBA...

I always tell people, go talk to 50 people in the industry first, then go think about getting an MBA, youll know if you need it or not

Jul 30, 2020 - 11:05pm
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