There's nothing better than being able to sit back and relax knowing that your money is safely invested in companies that offer products and services customers love. It is usually the case that companies with a loyal customer base and recurring sales are the best long-term investments.
The king of cash
For a long-term investment, Burger King may not be everyone's cup of tea, as at first glance the company looks expensive compared it its competitors. However, Burger King has many qualities that make it stand out from its peers, and it's a quality worth paying for. In particular, the company's cash generation and profit margin, which are second to none in the sector.
The company generated $306 million in cash during the first nine months of this year with no additional debt or stock issuance -- around 180% of net income. Meanwhile, the company's cash pile grew to $764 million at the end of the third quarter, up 58% year over year.
This impressive cash generation is in part due to Burger King's franchise model of doing business and aggressive expansion plans. Specifically, Burger King franchised its last 19 company-owned stores within Spain during the third quarter of 2013, completing its global franchise initiative. Additionally, 133 (net) new restaurants opened during the third quarter, taking the total of new restaurants opened this year to 592. I should also mention Burger King's recent expansion into France, where the company plans to create 1,200 jobs in the first year alone (more about Burger King's expansion into France here).
While you're eating that burger, why don't you watch some TV? DIRECTV is one of the faster-growing entertainment-related companies on the market. Indeed, DIRECTV added 139,000 net subscribers in the United States in the third quarter -- nearly double the gain of 70,000 that analysts had expected. Meanwhile, one of DIRECTV's biggest competitors, Time Warner Cable, revealed that it had lost more than 300,000 video subscribers during the period.
But while DIRECTV is growing its top line through subscriber additions, the company's earnings per share are surging thanks to what can only be described as an all-out assault to reduce the number of shares outstanding.
In particular, the company has been buying back shares so fast that it has reduced its total number of shares outstanding by 58% during the last five years. This has driven earnings per share up by 230% over the same period.
While the numbers above are impressive, they pale in comparison to the total value of cash that DIRECTV has returned to investors over the years. During the past five years, through buybacks funded by both free cash flow and debt, DIRECTV has returned $20.6 billion to investors, or $32 per share based on the current number of shares outstanding. It would be hard to beat this return anywhere else.
A wide moat
The owner of Budweiser, Anheuser-Busch actually has many of the traits that Warren Buffett looks for in a great long-term investment. For example, the global beer market has four main players: Anheuser-Busch, SABMiller, Molson Coors, and Heineken, while the rest of the market is highly fragmented. And by highly fragmented I mean that the rest of the market is populated by many small brewers that offer popular brands in their local markets.
However, Anheuser-Busch controls around 18% of the global beer market, and the world's top-four brewers (those listed above) plus Carlsberg now account for more than half of the global beer market. Actually, Anheuser-Busch's market dominance means that the company is the No. 1 or No. 2 brewer in the majority of the world's largest beer markets. The company also has 14 "billion dollar brands" under its umbrella, brands that have sales of more than $1 billion annually. In total, the company has well over 200 brands.
Of course, with this plethora of brands and near 20% of the global beer market, Anheuser has somewhat of a moat around its position in the industry. As I have written above, the beer market is dominated by four main companies, but as I have also written above, Anheuser-Busch is the biggest of these giants. Anheuser- Busch's sales totaled $39.8 billion during 2012, and it will be exceptionally difficult for any prospective competitors to elbow their way into the market. Additionally, any competitors would have to contend with Anheuser-Busch's multibillion dollar marketing budget.
In addition, Anheuser-Busch has plenty of room to grow in the future and has been tipped to be interested in acquiring SABMiller, creating an entity that controls nearly one-third of the world's beer market. Even if this megamerger does not go ahead, Anheuser-Busch has plenty of smaller regional peers it could bolt-on for additional growth.
So overall, these three companies look like great investments for the long term. Anheuser-Busch's market dominance is impressive and implies that the company is unlikely to see a threat to its market position anytime soon. Meanwhile, DIRECTV is returning huge amounts of cash to investors while picking up recurring subscription revenue from its operations. And finally Burger King, which is currently pushing forward with an impressive expansion plan and generating huge amounts of cash.
More long-term opportunities
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