"I don't want a lot of good investments; I want a few outstanding ones."
-- Master investor Philip Fisher
With these words as inspiration, I took up the challenge to find one pretty darn compelling stock for you to consider.
What exactly was I looking for?
If you've read about Philip Fisher's storied investing career, you know he looked to buy great companies at reasonable prices and hold them for the long term.
To help identify a reasonably priced long-term play, I used three criteria. The company had to be:
- Likely to be around in 20 years
- Easy to understand, but hard to love
- A dividend payer
Why these three?
Since we're looking for a long-term play, the first criterion is obvious.
Meanwhile, the easier a company is to understand, the less likely we'll be surprised by a downside we hadn't considered. The problem is that if it's easy for us to understand, it's likely well-understood by others -- and therefore normally priced fairly to expensively. Think Starbucks
This is where the hard-to-love part comes in. Another master investor, Peter Lynch, loved boring stocks. But, he noted that "better than boring alone is a stock that's boring and disgusting at the same time. Something that makes people shrug, retch, or turn away in disgust is ideal." Why? Because the stock is less likely to be expensive due to being too popular with investors.
Finally, I made sure the company paid a dividend. Three reasons for this:
- A company committed to paying a regular dividend shows fiscal responsibility.
- Returning cash to shareholders forces management to prioritize initiatives due to a smaller budget.
- Dividend stocks have performed beautifully historically and are a great play right now.
In short, I went looking for a less well-known but equally avoided version of Altria
What I found
I'll admit it. My top two candidates are trash. Almost literally.
Together, Waste Management
Likely to need trash services in 20 years? Check. Easy to understand but hard to love? Check. Solid dividends? Check.
But the story gets better.
These companies are more than just the trucks that pick up your trash each week. On the back end, they run recycling, trash-to-energy, and landfill operations.
Believe it or not, it's the landfill operations that provide these companies with a huge advantage on their competitors. If you don't own your own landfill, you're forced to pay "tipping fees" to those who do. Since Waste Management and Republic Services control vast networks of landfills, they are able to generate significantly higher margins than their smaller competitors by charging them for the use of said landfills.
One man's trash ...
With the industry consolidated into an effective duopoly, both of these companies are in an excellent position. They provide essential services in an industry that has built-in barriers to entry (it takes three to seven years and loads of "not in my backyard" headaches to get a zoning permit for a landfill). Their duopoly also gives them an above-average ability to raise prices.
Now I promised you that I'd narrow this down to one pretty darn compelling stock, not two. In a duopoly like this where both competitors are well-run, the macro industry dynamics trump individual company differences.
For an analogue, see the credit card industry. MasterCard
One pretty darn compelling stock ... revealed
It's similar for Waste Management and Republic Services. There are differences, but they are not so vast that I absolutely prefer one versus the other. Value is my main arbiter. And by that measure, Waste Management is the stock to buy.
I'm not alone in my respect for both companies. The analysts at our Motley Fool Income Investor service have recommended both Waste Management and Republic Services, citing many of the same reasons I listed above. They believe both companies have compelling future prospects and sustainable dividends. However, for new money right now, the team does prefer one over the other; Waste Management is currently one of five stocks on their "Buy First" list. I invite you to see all five stocks on the list by accepting a free 30-day trial. Click here to get started.
Anand Chokkavelu owns shares of Altria. Republic Services and Waste Management are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. Waste Management is an Inside Value pick. Amazon.com, FedEx, and Starbucks are Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool has a disclosure policy.