What Is Value Investing?

Value investing is a strategy based on buying stocks at bargain prices.
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Value investing definition

Value investing is a stock picking strategy where you buy stocks that you think are worth more than their current price. Value stocks are companies whose share prices are lower than they “should” be, judging by metrics such as earnings per share.

Some value investing strategies involve buying stocks that have fallen out of favor with investors, in the hope that their strong financial fundamentals will propel a rebound in their share prices.

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How do you find value stocks?

Value investors use a variety of metrics to identify bargain-price stocks. Chomiak says that the price-to-earnings ratio, or PE ratio, is one of the most important.

A stock’s PE ratio is its share price divided by its earnings per share over the last 12 months. “The higher the number, the more expensive the [stock] would be,” he says.

Chomiak says that value investors typically look for stocks with PE ratios below 14, which is a bit less than the S&P 500 index’s historical average PE ratio of 15.98.

He says that positive free cash flow, another measure of profitability, is another good thing to look for when identifying value companies.

“Positive cash flows give them the opportunity to reinvest in the business, to do buybacks, and to increase dividends,” Chomiak says.

Other signals that value investors look for include low debt-to-equity ratios and high return-on-equity ratios. All of these metrics can be found on an online broker’s stock screener, or on a website like Yahoo Finance.

Should you start searching for value stocks?

Whether or not you should invest in value stocks depends on your investing goals and how much time you have. Value investors are bargain hunters who use metrics like PE ratio and free cash flow to identify cheap stocks with long-term potential.

This kind of investing often involves a lot of time-consuming research. It also usually means buying individual stocks, which can be pricey.

A different approach could be investing through funds. Index funds are baskets of stocks included in one investment, and they may offer steadier returns with less maintenance and a lower upfront cost. You can even find value index funds that focus entirely on value stocks.

Do rising interest rates benefit value investors?

Historical data suggests that value investing has been especially profitable when interest rates are high — and they're currently very high. The Federal Reserve increased the federal funds rate four times last year. At the start of 2024, the rate was 5.25% to 5.50%.

“This is a time for value stocks. With interest rates rising, the cost of capital becomes much more expensive,” Chomiak says. “Typically, growth companies are borrowing at a much higher level than value companies,” Chomiak says.

“The value trade has certainly picked up a lot of steam, and for good reason. It’s a safer place to be in volatile times,” he says.

That being said, some experts disagree. Dartmouth College finance professor Kenneth French said in an email interview that he’s not sure if interest rates affect value investing returns.

“We can’t tell whether [changes in value investing returns] just happened by chance, or there was a fundamental change in the economic environment,” he said.

Value stocks vs. growth stocks

Value stocks are often contrasted with growth stocks, whose appeal is based on rapid increases in earnings or revenue.

“Generally, value stocks have better fundamentals than growth stocks,” says Michael Chomiak, an investment manager and financial advisor at Access Wealth in East Hanover, New Jersey.

“They’re usually more mature businesses that pay steady dividends, and that have free cash flow,” he says.

» Value ETFs? Check out some of the best ETFs in terms of long-term returns.

Given its focus on consistent fundamentals and comeback stories, value investing tends to be more long-term-oriented than growth investing. Legendary value investor Warren Buffett once wrote that “our favorite holding period is ‘forever.’”

» Berkshire Hathaway's stock picks: Check out the so-called Warren Buffett stocks

Chomiak agrees. He says value stocks “are more of a consistent grower over time than growth stocks.”

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