When I say I'm a value investor, people often look at me as though I'm crazy. I'm not. I just know how to stack the odds in my favor. And I'm Foolish enough to believe that everyone should include value stocks as a significant part of an investment portfolio.

Value doesn't always lead to quick returns (what investment strategy does?). But over the long term, it blows all other strategies away by a huge margin, and it does so with less volatility, to boot. It's no coincidence that Warren Buffett is both the best-known value investor and the world's second-richest person.

Ibbotson Associates did a study comparing the performance of value stocks, growth stocks, and the S&P 500 between 1968 and 2002. The results are clear:

Annual Return

$1,000 Becomes

S&P 500









Investors focused on value finished with twice as much cash as the growthies and four times as much as the plain-vanilla indexers. That's the difference between dog food and steak.

Beat that
That study mechanically divided the market into value and growth categories, meaning that each category included both great stocks and complete garbage. Suppose that instead of just buying them all, you focused on the best and the cheapest. Avoid the worst performers and buy the best.

That's what we attempt to do at our Motley Fool Inside Value investing service, looking for businesses with the following traits:

  1. Solid financials
  2. Strong competitive position
  3. At least 30% undervalued

We don't care what sector the stock is from -- our picks include tech companies, banking businesses, and many more. In addition, almost all our picks have significant future growth potential. We love to buy growth, as long as we can buy it at a cheap price!

That kind of pick can really outperform. Take, for example, Norfolk Southern (NYSE:NSC) in the late 1990s, when skepticism about the future of rail transportation pushed the stock down more than 40% from February 1997 to February 2000. Norfolk has rebounded quite nicely, and railroads have proven to be an economical transportation option -- investors who bought Norfolk in the dark days are now sitting on returns greater than 270%.

Buffett used a similar strategy with his purchases of Coca-Cola beginning in 1988 at a dividend-adjusted price of around $4. Over the next 15 years, he made a 10-bagger on that investment.

These aren't isolated examples. Opportunities come up again and again to investors who are both patient and alert. I'm thinking of JC Penney (NYSE:JCP) in 2000, BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP) in 2002, Archers-Daniel-Midland (NYSE:ADM) in 2003, and Loews (NYSE:LTR) in 2004.

The Foolish bottom line
These opportunities are out there right now, so make sure you look for them. If you'd like a shortcut, try our Inside Value newsletter. At this point, a number of our picks are still trading at what we consider bargain levels. You can browse through the entire list using a free 30-day pass. They may be just what you need to jump-start your portfolio's long-term performance.

This article was originally published on Sept. 20, 2006. It has been updated.

Fool contributor Richard Gibbons doesn't just know about stacking odds. He knows how to stack chairs and plates as well. He does not have a position in any of the securities discussed in this article. Coke is an Inside Value recommendation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.