Marty Whitman and his team at Third Avenue Management [see profile] on Monday marked the 20th anniversary of the firm's flagship mutual fund, Third Avenue Value. The fund was born on November 1, 1990 and now
counts $5 billion of AUM. Whitman has managed the fund since the beginning and Ian Lapey joined him last year as co-PM.
Marty Whitman Third Avenue Management Founder
The milestone birthday has Whitman recalling the fund's genesis. The fund traces its roots to a closed-end fund called Equity Strategies Fund that Whitman had taken over. The closed-ender was later converted to an open-end fund. Because of the significant appreciation in one of its holdings, the fund lost its diversification
status and was liquidated in compliance with securities rules.
Whitman originally wanted to name the successor mutual fund "Main Street Fund," but the name was already taken. He then decided on "Third Avenue Value," a nod to the company's location in New York City.
Reminiscing about the company's choice of logo, which features the El Train, Whitman said in a press release: "I felt it was important to have something that conveyed what our firm was about – Prudential had the rock, Dreyfus had the lion and Merrill Lynch had the bull. I thought the elevated train that used to run along Third Avenue would be perfect for us. Back in the day, New Yorkers could travel on the El Train from the Bronx through all Manhattan for a nickel – now that's a great value!"
Company Press Release
NEW YORK, Nov. 2, 2010 -- Renowned value investor Martin J. Whitman, Chairman of Third Avenue Funds, celebrates two decades of stewardship as the Portfolio Manager of the Third Avenue Value Fund (TAVFX), the flagship mutual fund of Third Avenue Management LLC. The Fund was launched on November 1, 1990 and has been managed by Mr. Whitman since its inception. Ian Lapey has co-managed the Fund with Mr. Whitman since 2009. In making the announcement, David Barse, President and Chief Executive Officer, stated, "On behalf of the entire Third Avenue Organization, I wish to congratulate our founder on 20 years of superb wealth creation."
Since inception, the Fund has returned an average of 12.84% annually, ranking it number one in its current category*, for the 20-year period ended November 1, 2010. Comparatively, the S&P 500 Index and the MSCI World Index returned 9.23% and 7.28%, respectively, during the same time period.
"As one of the Fund's largest individual investors, I am most pleased by our investment team's unwavering adherence to our value philosophy over the past 20 years. The Fund's flexible mandate gives the investment team the ability to opportunistically invest wherever we identify the most value potential with the least investment risk," stated Mr. Whitman. Mr. Lapey remarked, "It is a privilege to work alongside one of the greatest value gurus and to celebrate this milestone with him."
The Accidental Mutual Fund Manager
Mr. Whitman and his colleagues found themselves in the mutual fund business by accident. Earlier in his career, Mr. Whitman led the hostile takeover of a closed-end fund. Upon assuming control of that fund, Mr. Whitman made several investments, including one in the senior debt of a bankrupt oil-drilling company. This investment was so successful that the fund's assets became overweighted in the holding and the fund was able to engineer a tax-free liquidation. Morningstar took notice of these results and named Mr. Whitman Mutual Fund Manager of the Year in 1990.
Mr. Whitman then began work to organize a successor fund. He originally wanted to name the successor fund the "Main Street Fund", as the firm's "safe and cheap" investment philosophy seemed to resonate better with average American investors saving for their retirement or their children's education, than it did with "Wall Street" professionals. Upon learning that the Main Street name was already taken, Mr. Whitman's team decided on the more prosaic name of "Third Avenue Value Fund", since the offices were located on Third Avenue in New York City and the Fund's mandate would be value investing.
Mr. Whitman remembers that, while searching for a company logo, "I felt it was important to have something that conveyed what our firm was about – Prudential had the rock, Dreyfus had the lion and Merrill Lynch had the bull. I thought the elevated train that used to run along Third Avenue would be perfect for us. Back in the day, New Yorkers could travel on the El Train from the Bronx through all Manhattan for a nickel – now that's a great value!"
The launch of Third Avenue Value Fund was Third Avenue's initial step towards becoming a global asset management firm, which today manages in excess of $15 billion for institutional and private clients worldwide, through mutual funds, UCITS, separate accounts and alternative investment vehicles.
Third Avenue Value Fund began with $6 million in assets under management. Today, Third Avenue Value Fund has more than $5 billion in assets under management and 28 analysts and portfolio managers support Mr. Whitman and Mr. Lapey.
Safe and Cheap
The Fund, and the firm that grew up around it, has adhered to the same "safe and cheap" value investment philosophy over the past 20 years. Mr. Whitman and Mr. Lapey invest only in the securities of companies that they consider "safe" because they have strong balance sheets, understandable businesses and are run by management teams with proven track records as owners and operators. To be considered "cheap", the securities must be available at a considerable discount to readily ascertainable net asset value.
*Third Avenue Value Fund ranks number one out of the 156 funds with 20-year track records that are currently included in Morningstar's World Stock category, based on 20-year average annual returns, as of November 1, 2010. Source: Morningstar Direct. Please note Morningstar categories are subject to change over time, based on portfolio composition. The Fund was added to the World Stock Category in 2008 and has been in several different categories throughout the past 20 years. The Fund's one-year, five-year average annual and ten-year average annual returns for the period ended October 31, 2010 were 15.25%, 1.18% and 6.36%, respectively. The Fund's returns should be viewed in light of its investment policy and objectives and quality of its portfolio securities and the periods selected. The S&P 500 Index returns for the same time periods were 16.52%, 1.73% and -0.02%, respectively. The MSCI World Index returns for the same time periods were 13.32%, 3.11% and 1.83%, respectively. Please call 1-800-443-1021, or visit our web site at: www.thirdave.com, for the most recent month-end performance data or a copy of the Fund's prospectus. Current performance results may be lower or higher than performance numbers quoted. M.J. Whitman LLC, Distributor.
The S&P 500 Index is an unmanaged index (with no defined investment objective) of common stocks. The S&P 500 Index is a registered trademark of McGraw-Hill Co., Inc. The MSCI World Index is an unmanaged, free float-adjusted market capitalization weighted index that is designed to measure the equity market performance of 23 of the world's most developed markets.
This publication does not constitute an offer or solicitation of any transaction in any securities. Third Avenue Funds are offered by prospectus only. Prospectuses contain more complete information on advisory fees, distribution charges, and other expenses and should be read carefully before investing or sending money. Please read the prospectus and carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before you send money. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investment return and principal value will fluctuate so that an investor's shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than original cost.