Martin Whitman, founder of Third Avenue Management, dies at 93

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Martin J. Whitman, the founder of New York-based investment firm Third Avenue Management and known for his “safe and cheap” value-investing strategy, died Monday evening at 93, the firm announced on Tuesday.

Whitman, who was named Morningstar’s mutual fund manager of the year in 1990, became known for The Whitman Way - a reverence for deep-value investing in unappreciated names with strong balance sheets and good long-term potential.

His Third Avenue Value Fund, which Whitman ran from its 1990 inception through 2012, had an average annual total return of 11.1 percent, compared with 9 percent for the S&P 500 Index, according to Lipper data.

“Everyone in the Third Avenue family was blessed to have had the opportunity to know Marty and learn from him. He was an extraordinary investor, an impactful teacher, and a true capital markets pioneer,” the firm’s management committee said in a statement.

The Third Avenue Value Fund, and the firm, struggled during and after Whitman’s final years in management. The firm’s assets, which reached $26 billion in 2006, sunk to $8 billion at the end of November 2015, right before the firm shut down its Focused Credit Fund - which became the biggest mutual fund blowup since the 2008 financial crisis.

And investment advisory fees at the firm’s flagship Value Fund were just $22 million in the fiscal year ending Oct. 31, 2014, down 77 percent from $97.2 million in fiscal 2007, fund disclosures show.

While Whitman loved investing, his passion was teaching.

He frequently taught at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, which was named in his honor. He was a distinguished Management Fellow at the Yale School of Management, conducting seminars for over 30 years. He also served as an adjunct professor at Columbia University Business School.

In addition to being widely recognized for his frank and insightful quarterly letters to Third Avenue Value Fund shareholders, he authored several books on investing and security analysis.

Most recently, Whitman published a best of anthology of his prolific shareholder letters, “Dear Fellow Shareholders” in 2016.

Reporting by Jennifer Ablan; Editing by Tom Brown