Here at The Motley Fool, it's no secret we advocate a long-term approach to investing. In fact, we often unapologetically state that any money you need in the next five years simply does not belong in the stock market.
I suppose, then, the title of this article should come as little surprise. Even so, an entire decade may seem more like an eternity to some in today's world of up-to-the-minute news, high-frequency trading, and incessantly short attention spans.
While month-to-month fluctuations in the stock market can be admittedly unsettling, however, there's no denying that stocks over 10-year periods become much more predictable and -- for those of us willing to stick it out -- profitable.
With this in mind, here are three great stocks I think any long-term investor could be happy to hold for the next decade:
Gearing up for smarter homes
First up, consider shares of network hardware specialist Netgear (NASDAQ: NTGR ) , which got absolutely clobbered last month after earnings missed estimates, largely thanks to continued weakness in Europe and a shift in profits to the Americas, which unexpectedly raised the company's tax bill.
Even so, Netgear remains solidly profitable, and its long-term prospects have never been stronger. As I noted last month, management remains confident it can increase the company's annual revenue 57% to $2 billion by the end of next year, with much of the near-term growth expected to come from new products resulting from Netgear's recent acquisition of Sierra Wireless' Aircard business last year.
What's more, Netgear's product portfolio puts it in the perfect position to benefit from the rapidly growing market for "smart home" products, including networked multimedia players, home camera systems, A/C Ethernet devices, and Wi-Fi hardware. In fact, Netgear CEO Patrick Lo recently stated that he believes the smart home product market is poised to maintain a 28% compound annual growth rate and should represent a $25 billion industry by 2017 -- a claim that makes plenty of sense considering less than one-third of the world's 7 billion people had access to the Internet by the end of 2011.
Deliciously profitable expansion
Next, maybe Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM ) can satisfy your hunger for long-term growth. After all, as the owner of three iconic brands in Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC, Yum! has managed to grow its earnings per share by at least 13% per year for each of the past 11 years, largely thanks to its continuing mind-boggling pace of location expansion both in the U.S. and abroad. To be sure, even in the seemingly saturated U.S. market, the company built 100 new Pizza Huts and 15 Taco Bells in the fourth quarter alone.
China, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal for the company. In 2012, Yum! Brands managed to open an eye-popping 889 new restaurants in the region, with 369 of those locations finished in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, following a food scare from two KFC suppliers in China, the brand took a hit toward the end of last year. However, just this week the company announced better-than-expected sales from the chain, signaling the worst may already be over thanks to a concerted effort by KFC to reassure consumers that it will enforce even tighter controls for food safety in the region.
In the end, long-term investors can enjoy collecting Yum! Brands' 2% dividend while also looking forward to years of growth. In its most recent quarterly earnings conference call, CEO David Novak reiterated that he hopes to eventually nearly triple the company's number of units in China to at least 14,000 to serve the country's already massive and continuously growing number of consumers.
Driving long-term gains
Finally, why not hitch a 10-year ride with Ford (NYSE: F ) ? After all, thanks largely to the adept leadership of CEO Alan Mulally, the 109-year-old automaker managed to successfully weather our most recent brutal recession while its primary American competitors Chrysler and General Motors ended up in bankruptcy. When all was said and done, then, Ford had earned itself significant long-term consumer goodwill, the importance of which can't be overstated.
And while Ford's epic recovery may seem old hat, the company now stands as strong as ever in North America and continues to build momentum in Asia's massive auto market -- where competitors like GM and Volkswagen are already deeply entrenched -- thanks to investing more than $5 billion to date to build operations in the region. Luckily, Ford's efforts seem to be bearing fruit as evidenced by last week's announcement that Ford China sales are up 46% for the year. In the end, Ford management still has no intentions of resting on its laurels as it continues to reiterate its aggressive goal of introducing 15 new vehicles to China by 2015, with further plans to double retail and production capacity there.
One note of caution, however: As fellow Fool Blake Bos pointed out last week, in addition to the obvious threats posed by broad auto industry weakness in Europe as well as Ford's rejuvenated (read: no-longer-bankrupt) American competition, long-term investors will still want to keep an eye on the company's massive pension obligations to be sure they won't become a problem over the next several years.
Ford has been performing incredibly well as a company over the past few years -- it's making good vehicles, is consistently profitable, recently reinstated its dividend, and has done a remarkable job paying down its debt. But Ford's stock seems stuck in neutral. Does this create an incredible buying opportunity or are there hidden risks with the stock that investors need to know about? To answer that, one of our top equity analysts has compiled a premium research report with in-depth analysis on whether Ford is a buy right now and why. Simply click here to get instant access to this premium report.