In his 1988 letter to shareholders, Warren Buffett eloquently laid out the rationale of buy-and-hold investors when he said, “Our favorite holding period is forever.” And for the vast majority of investors out there, that says it all. You’re not looking to spend all day watching the market and researching so you’ll know exactly when to hop in and out of different stocks; you want that stable of safe bets that will be just as likely to serve you well in 2050 as they are today.
Of course, there are absolutely no guarantees in that regard. Apple or Microsoft might seem like safe bets to still be going strong 30 years from now, but good luck finding an analyst 30 years ago who wasn’t ready to say the same thing about Eastman Kodak. No, unfortunately, the nature of stock markets is such that there’s just no magic bullet that will assure you that a company is not going to go down in flames 10 or 20 years later for reasons that no one could have anticipated.
However, while there are no sure things, there are some investments that will probably come as close as you can get to a sure thing. The best long-term stocks aren’t necessarily going to offer blockbuster returns, but they are in stable industries and look to offer the sort of steady gains that won’t make you rich but will keep your money growing.
Granted, the market for smartphones and tablets is, relatively speaking, an extremely young market. However, it’s also one that is so well-established at this point that it’s difficult to imagine it going anywhere anytime soon. And while Apple is almost certainly never going to achieve the sort of growth it did while it was, well, creating that market, it’s also hard to see it ever falling out of the top three or four spots in smartphone sales. Throw in a massive cash reserve, a modest dividend and a history of spending cash on share buybacks and this would appear to be a stock that gives you as much reason to believe it will be worth owning in 30 years as it is today.
Microsoft might seem like a blast from the past to some, but the software company has actually positioned itself well for strong legacy businesses. Its software suite is virtually indispensable to many (if not most) businesses, it has a toe in the social media pool with LinkedIn, it’s in the video-conferencing game with Skype and its Azure cloud computing services are duking it out with Amazon for domination of an all-important, fast-growing market space. All told, Microsoft has a variety of strong verticals, all of which look to be a key piece of the increasingly digital, service-based economy.
Granted, including a stock on this list that’s not offering a dividend is a little iffy — the best dividend stocks tend to offer a little more confidence over that long time frame. But Alphabet’s combination of a rock-solid business that’s completely dominating internet search alongside its investments in forward-looking “moon shots” could create the sort of massive disruptive value to take it beyond its current mega-cap status. And, given that it’s still a relatively young company, the odds seem good that it will start offering a dividend (or at least investing more in share buybacks) at some point in the not-too-distant future.
JP Morgan Chase (JPM)
Here you have a business that’s so essential to the American economy that when its major players do a truly horrendous job of it, the federal government will step in to lend the company hundreds of billions of dollars to ensure it stays in business. And as far as safe bets go, that makes the largest investment banks a pretty solid option. Businesses and consumers alike are always going to need banks, the economy grinds to a halt without them. And as such, the largest banks are likely among the safest bets for companies that aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future.
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)
Including healthcare companies on a list like this has to be considered at least a little dicey given the current political conversations surrounding a single-payer healthcare system. Sure, it might remain a pretty big long shot, but when you extend your time frame to three decades, it has to make you at least consider the possibility that private healthcare companies as we know them might not even exist by that point.
However, Johnson & Johnson is a healthcare company developing new treatments in addition to being a massive consumer goods conglomerate with a huge portion of its business in the sort of consumer staples that are likely always going to be around. Is it possible that the days where people are no longer paying huge bucks to private companies for their prescription drugs are going to end? Sure. Will those people still need to buy baby oil and mouthwash? Almost certainly.
Bank of America (BAC)
Another massive bank with a huge footprint in commercial banking, Bank of America might not stand out as an especially sexy investment, but it’s likely one of the safer ones in the long term. Again, much of its business is backstopped by the federal government and the need to stash or move around money is pretty consistent from decade to decade. No matter how disruptive that flashy new tech company might be, it’s still going to need a bank.
One of the biggest selling points for telecom stocks is usually the dividend, and Verizon doesn’t disappoint with a yield over 4%. If you’re reinvesting that over time, it can develop into a pretty significant chunk of your nest egg even if the stock’s market value underperforms over time.
However, it’s also worth noting that Verizon and other wireless companies are in a pretty strong market position due to the enormous value of the wireless spectrum they own, which could make it a smart investment. With a limited amount of spectrum available for carriers — and the enormous cost of acquiring it — the business is not one where plucky young upstarts have much chance, if any, to challenge the status quo. So, Verizon might continue battling with AT&T, Sprint and others for market share, but it also seems pretty unlikely that the major players in that realm are going to change up entirely.
What’s one way to prevent disruptive new internet companies from undermining your business model? Be the business that supplies people with their internet connection. That’s clearly just one piece of AT&T’s business — it also owns WarnerMedia and DIRECTV, among other properties — but it’s another example of how high-dividend telecom stocks could be among the better bets for a stock that will be worth owning for the next 30 years.
The Walt Disney Company (DIS)
There aren’t many companies in the media and entertainment space you would normally consider for this sort of list. After all, consumer tastes are fickle and you never know where the next hit might come from. However, Disney would be the exception that proves the rule. With a firmly established brand, a wide variety of additional media brands under its umbrella, a brand new streaming service and the combined media libraries of Disney and Fox now under its control, Disney’s position in the American media landscape appears to be secure enough to survive the shifting sands of people’s taste.
The Procter & Gamble Company (PG)
Legendary investor Peter Lynch is often attributed with the saying, “Go for a business that any idiot can run — because sooner or later any idiot probably is going to be running it.” It’s hard to imagine sounder advice for picking stocks with a 30-year time frame, and one such business that could fit the bill might be Procter & Gamble.
Operating in consumer staples is a great business model to start with as the demand for your products isn’t really going anywhere. And when you consider the sheer volume of different popular household brands under the P&G umbrella — Old Spice, Pantene, Crest, Vicks, Tide, Mr. Clean, Swiffer and Pampers, just to name a few — it’s hard to envision an idiot big enough to sink all of them at once.
Wells Fargo & Company (WFC)
One response to the barrage of scandals hitting Wells Fargo in recent years could be, “Wow, could this get any worse?” For many, the answer is no and they want no part of the stock. But maybe that’s worth rethinking, especially if you’re planning on holding the stock for the next 20 or 30 years. Because if this is as bad as it gets, it’s really not all that bad.
Once again, massive banks have a lot of built-in advantages that make them pretty stable over the long term. Every company will have its share of ups and downs over the years, it’s the companies that have manageable downs that will survive in the super long term.
Yes, another bank. But again, it’s hard to overlook the fact that this is a business where the company’s solvency is guaranteed by the federal government. You have to accept that of the Dodd-Frank Act might limit some of the profitability, but it also helps make banks among the safest bets to still be going strong a quarter century from now.
United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS)
The rise of online retail has meant a huge increase in business for parcel delivery, a trend that doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon. The loss of brick-and-mortar retail is a gain for companies like UPS, which looks to be occupying an increasingly lucrative space between consumers and their stores. And of course, UPS was doing just fine with the parcel delivery business before Amazon and the like, so this is one company that appears more than likely to still be chugging along as we close in on 2050.
NextEra Energy, Inc. (NEE)
As investments go, there are few sectors as stable as utilities. While you’re not going to get rich owning them, you’re also really unlikely to go broke. Operating a legally-defined monopoly in most places, utilities don’t really have any competition to speak of. And given that people will always need electricity, that makes a company like NextEra Energy with its 10 million customers a pretty safe bet to still be rolling along in 30 years.
Materials companies occupy an enviable place in the supply chain, providing the various chemicals and base materials necessary to keep a wide range of other businesses in operation. In DowDuPont’s case, that includes operating in segments ranging from agriculture to synthetic materials. Even if you’ve never heard of DowDuPont, it would be almost impossible to live in America without coming into daily contact with something it played a role in bringing to market.
Morgan Stanley (MS)
One more time with this broken record: America’s largest banks are as likely as any company to continue producing returns over a 30-year time frame. They’re essential to the economy and protected by the government. And while Morgan Stanley is a bit different in that it doesn’t have a commercial banking arm, it’s still in the realm of companies that you shouldn’t expect to be going anywhere. After all, it’s been in business since 1924.
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Market data accurate as of market close on April 25, 2019.
This article is produced for informational purposes only and is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. Investing comes with risk to loss of principal. Please always conduct your own research and consider your investment decisions carefully. The author holds shares of Verizon and AT&T.
About the Author
Joel Anderson is a business and finance writer with over a decade of experience writing about the wide world of finance. Based in Los Angeles, he specializes in writing about the financial markets, stocks, macroeconomic concepts and focuses on helping make complex financial concepts digestible for the retail investor.