10 Changes in 10 Years

Change accelerates -- it compounds like money -- as time goes by, and that old adage seems especially true now that we're in a technological age. In the 10 years since 1993 -- the same 10 years since The Motley Fool began as a newsletter with 40 subscribers -- so much has changed so rapidly that, if you're like me, today you take for granted dozens of things that did not even exist 10 years ago.

Ten years ago (just 3,653 days, or 88,000 hours ago) virtually nobody was online. E-commerce? Forget about it. Email in 1993? Only some nerds had it. In fact, as of January 1993, the world only had 50 known Web servers. Heck, even cellular phones were a novelty then. Now when you walk down a city street, often more people are on the phone than not.

Palm Pilots, MP3s, or flat-panel monitors in 1993? Not a chance.

In the midst of relentless change, we need to make a conscious effort to pause and remember where we came from, because by doing that, we appreciate where we are. In that spirit, and in celebrating The Motley Fool's 10 years, we'll look at 10 positive changes (most investment related) that came to fruition in the last 10 years.

And then there was change
In August 1993, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 3500 compared to 9300 today; the S&P 500 was 450 compared to today's 1000; and the Nasdaq Composite traded at 700 against today's 1780. Since '93, annualized returns for the Dow and Nasdaq have been well above the historical average, meaning it was a strong decade for long-term investors in leading companies or, simply, in indexes.

On top of strong gains, investors were virtually "thrown the whole world" the last 10 years when it came to brokerage choices and investment information. How things changed....

Change 1: Discount Brokers. There was no such thing as deep discount stock brokers as recently as 1990; you needed to pay a considerable sum to trade a stock, and you needed to speak to a broker to do it. Pioneered by Schwab (NYSE: SCH  ) and dozens of others, including the acquisitive Ameritrade (Nasdaq: AMTD  ) , investors today can buy or sell stocks with a "click" and pay just $8. And we have choices -- as the Fool's brokerage center highlights.

Change 2: The Rise of Index Funds. Vanguard launched its first index fund -- designed to mirror the S&P 500 by buying each company in it -- in 1975, but it wasn't until the late 1990s that index funds became a common phrase in the individual investor's lexicon. The Motley Fool Investment Guide, published in 1996, spent chapters highlighting the benefits of low-cost, managed-mutual-fund-beating index funds.

Eighty-percent of actively managed funds lose to the market indexes each year, meaning that over five years almost all managed mutual funds manage to lose to the index. Investors got wise (or actually Foolish) and now index funds are offered by almost every investment house in America. What a great change for all of us.

Change 3: SEC Filings. These absolutely essential company filings have existed for decades, but most investors could not easily get them until recently. Now investors can read these quarterly and annual reports online as soon as they're released. I don't know of any better resource for stock investors than to study their companies' SEC reports. Fool Quotes & Data offers the filings.

Change 4: Conference Calls. Once the privy of analysts alone, company conference call access has exploded the past 10 years thanks again to the Internet, to discount brokers, and the rising popularity of investing on your own -- and thanks to the Fool. The Motley Fool was the first company to make a practice of summarizing conference calls online for readers, and the Fool beat the drum for years to tell investors they should be listening to the calls.

Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) was just one company that didn't allow individual investors to listen (let alone pose questions) as recently as 1998, until the Fool wrote about it, persuading Starbucks to change the policy. Now, public conference calls are common practice. Bravo for investors everywhere.

Change 5: Worldwide Community. This applies to much more than investing, but Internet communities have given every investor the chance for a voice and access to thousands of other investment opinions. Those opinions include local and personal research, the likes of which made many Motley Fool readers buy Iomega (NYSE: IOM  ) early, after board posters previewed the new Zip drive (and monitored Iomega's employee parking lot traffic) in the early '90s.

Granted, with many message boards the content is worth what you pay for (that'd be nothing), but on actively managed discussion boards with a giant community of smart people, the investing content can often be excellent. And on Motley Fool discussion boards (free trial required, and you'll get what you pay for: the best boards on the Web), content ranges well beyond investing.

And then there were new companies
I honestly don't remember how I bought airplane tickets before the Internet, so maybe that's why I drove everywhere. ("It's 2,300 miles? Heck, I'll just drive for a few days.") Let alone, how did I find books, new music, or learn about faraway cities? Our next changes of the last 10 years are, mainly, companies that were born in the decade -- and our short list alone is amazing.

With the emergence of the Internet in the last decade, we have witnessed the birth of what I believe will be some of the most enduring companies and brand names we'll ever see. Although that's an enormous statement, I don't think it's outrageously bold. Just bold. Look at the brands we've seen created in the last handful of years. It's almost hard to believe.

Change 6: eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) . Public in 1998, the colorful four-letter moniker of eBay is becoming one of the better-known names around the world. Obviously, I don't need to tell you what service this company provides, but its sales have risen from $86 million in 1998 to more than $2 billion this year. Incredible.

Change 7: Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) . Public in 1997, I'll argue that Amazon is the strongest retail brand name since Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) -- or at least it's becoming that. From a mere few hundred million in 1997, revenue is nearing $5 billion this year.

Change 8: Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) . Public in 1996, and even with a stumble in 2001, Yahoo! is still the world's biggest draw for Internet traffic on the Web.

Change 9: Starbucks. All right, Starbucks has been around in one form or another since 1971, and went public in 1992, one year before our 10-year timeframe, but it only had 270 locations in the country as of 1993. Today, it has 6,500 locations around the world and there's little question you've heard of it, likely been there, and maybe even stop by every morning. Coffee has never been, and will never be, the same. (A Fool portfolio bought shares in 1998.)

Change 10: Biotechnology. We couldn't reminisce about 1993 to 2003 without mentioning the (second-generation) boom in science, specifically biotechnology. In the last decade, Amgen's (Nasdaq: AMGN  ) two blockbuster drugs made it an $85 billion company -- even 120-year old Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) is "only" worth $145 billion. Amgen has helped save the lives of millions of cancer patients. Talk about job satisfaction.

Elsewhere, Millennium Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: MLNM  ) was founded in 1993, raised $2 billion in committed funding by 1994, and had an important cancer drug approved this year. Celera Genomics (NYSE: CRA  ) was founded in the late 1990s and sequenced the human genome. Those are just a few of the dozens of big biotech stories since 1993. We've come a long way -- thank you, scientists and doctors.

The next 10?
What will the next 10 years hold for investors? History suggests the market will be considerably higher come 2013. The strongest companies are likely to get stronger, although there are no guarantees (we didn't look at all the failures, even of giants, the past 10 years, because we've had such an abundance and who wants to get depressed again?). Finally, people who invest regularly in indexes or leading firms will likely be well rewarded. As long as you have fun along the way, what more could you ask?

Your turn
What other changes have made their mark on your life over the last 10 years? What big changes does your Foolish crystal ball foresee in the next decade? Take it to the News & Commentary board and let us know.

Thanks for celebrating the Fool's 10th anniversary with us all month. If you haven't, what're ya doing? To repent, see10 Ways to Make More Money Now. Of companies mentioned, Jeff owns shares in eBay, J&J, and Millennium.The Fool hasa disclosure policy.


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