All investors love growth. This is a natural affinity: Absolutely huge scores of money are made by buying companies that grow relentlessly for years. And plenty of investors subscribe to the growth style of investing. They latch on to the next big thing -- sizzling fields such as biotech, nanotech, or the Internet -- in the hope that such stocks will soar.
But when I talk about relentless growers, I'm not talking about companies like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) . Apple might turn out to be a relentless grower -- and many people believe that it will -- but I don't feel comfortable calling it one because, historically, its results have been too inconsistent.
No, I'm looking at stocks such as Wrigley (NYSE: WWY ) . Founded in 1891, Wrigley sells a simple product -- chewing gum. Fifteen years ago, it was already well known and dominant. In fact, you might think there would be no way that a 100-year-old company could still be a good investment. But it has been. Back in August 1990, you could have bought shares at a split-adjusted price below $7.50. If you still held that investment today, you'd be sitting on a 16% annual return in price appreciation alone. If you reinvested dividends, the annualized return would be closer to 20%.
How great is that? If you have $10,000 today and invest it in stocks returning 20% annually for 25 years, you will have almost $1 million by the end. What's that? You're 30 years old and have 35 years until retirement? Well, in that case, that $10,000 will turn into a sweet $5.9 million.
Where are these stocks?
These sorts of opportunities are all over, and you probably know many of their names. Some of them are obscure, but many are not. Back in 1990, pretty well every 7-year-old had heard of NBC -- the TV station that carried The Smurfs -- and any adult could look around the house and find appliances manufactured by General Electric (NYSE: GE ) . At that point, you could have bought GE and realized an annual 19% return over the next 15 years, even before taking into account its dividend.
Relentless growers can also be found in the financial industry. Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) was hardly an obscure company 15 years ago, but there was still a huge opportunity to profit. Even if you don't count its hefty dividend, Wells Fargo has returned 19% annually since then. Compounding those rates, it doesn't take long to become wealthy.
In each case, I'm simply looking at a 15-year record and not attempting to cherry-pick a purchase date when the stock was undervalued. I admit that I'm picking strong companies with impressive growth records -- but that's the point. You find these sorts of stocks by looking for companies that have a history of crushing smaller competitors on the way to inexorable growth. If I'm betting on a fight, my money's on Lennox Lewis, not Mary Poppins.
And none of these companies are tech companies. Although there are some relentless growers in technology today -- Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU ) , and Adobe (Nasdaq: ADBE ) among them -- technology changes so quickly that these seemingly unstoppable firms may be rendered obsolete in a few years. While many tech companies have high short-term growth rates, few can sustain that growth to the extent required to be considered relentless.
Buy what brokers hate
Another great trait these stocks have is that they're often one-decision stocks. Because they have a strong brand, a dominating manufacturing division, or a natural monopoly, they won't fold the minute decent competition surfaces. In other words, you never have to make another decision -- you never have to sell.
Of course, this isn't what Wall Street would like you to do. The Street wants you to trade frequently, based on the latest news and its habitually incorrect short-term recommendations. In the Street's ideal world, you'd turn over your entire portfolio several times a year. After all, financial firms make money when you trade, both through commissions and the bid-ask spreads. They make almost nothing if you grow wealthy by holding great companies.
The next step
After you've identified these dominant, relentlessly growing companies, the next step is to pick them up when they're dirt-cheap.
The most common misconception about value investing is that we just buy boring companies for less than their intrinsic value and wait for them to return to their fair value. Maybe that's how your grandfather invested, but that's not how we work. Value investors love the huge win as much as growth investors do. Buffett became a billionaire by buying relentless growers at cheap prices.
At the Motley FoolInsideValue newsletter, we dream about purchasing relentless growers when they're on sale. We know that buying a company's assets at 50 cents on the dollar is a bargain, but we also know that it's much more of a bargain when that company is able to grow those assets worth $1 today to $10 over the course of a decade.
As a result, more than half of our recommendations at Inside Value are relentless growers priced at a discount. And the strategy works. In his first year, Inside Value chief Philip Durell scored gains of 12.37% for subscribers, more than doubling the S&P 500 return of 5.77%.
If you're interested in joining the Inside Value team in our search for relentless growers priced at a discount, click here to try a free 30-day trial. We pick through the market to recommend two extraordinary companies a month. By signing on, you can look at all of our research, including every recommendation we've made since we began the publication. If you don't see the value in what we provide, leave during the free trial with no worries and no hassles.
This article was originally published on June 28, 2005. It has been updated.
Richard Gibbons, a member of the Inside Value team, knows he's not supposed to love stocks, but he's at least in lust with some relentless growers. He does not have a financial position in any companies mentioned in this article. Intuit is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.