Stocks aren't something many people consider an heirloom that they would gift to their kids or grandkids after they die. But to paraphrase Warren Buffett, time is indeed the friend of the wonderful business. And for investors who are patient enough to own wonderful companies for many, many years, having the ability to leave that wealth-building power to a loved one can be an amazing gift.
Our contributors have identified three companies -- Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS), MasterCard Inc. (NYSE:MA), and Hormel Foods Corp. (NYSE:HRL) -- as having the characteristics that make them potential "own forever" stocks. If you're looking for the best in truly long-term investments, keep reading to learn what sets these three companies apart.
A business that's built to last for generations
Jason Hall (Walt Disney Co.): While I'm a dyed-in-the-wool long-term investor, I acknowledge that there aren't many companies that can live up to the "own forever" label. After all, history has taught us that eventually every industry and technology will be disrupted in some manner, and few companies are able to stay ahead of or create that disruption or to reinvent themselves. But I am firmly convinced that Disney could be relevant forever.
I know, this sounds like a bad call from the get-go, with Disney's own cable segment -- which includes the cash cow ESPN -- struggling as streaming disrupts the cable industry. But even with this upheaval having some short-term impact on Disney's results, history is likely to prove out why the House of Mouse is built for decades and decades of profits.
And for one simple reason: The disruption in the cable industry that's affecting ESPN isn't about content. It's about content delivery, as well as the reality that most people aren't willing to pay hundreds of dollars per year for bundled content. Later this year, Disney is taking a big step in addressing this matter, with plans to offer standalone streaming for some sports programming.
Furthermore, no other company owns the kind of entertainment content Disney does. And its reach extends far beyond just sports, including (of course) Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. It's almost certain that people will still be paying good money in the future to be entertained by these same properties. How people view content may change, but Disney's franchises have the staying power to be entertaining people a century from now.
A stock with multi-bagger potential
Neha Chamaria (MasterCard): A stock that can be passed on to another generation -- one that can reap rich returns for decades to come -- must either be in a disruptive industry or possess tremendous growth potential within the realm where it operates. Credit card behemoth MasterCard falls into the second category and has what it takes to be an heirloom stock.
MasterCard earns a small fee every time someone somewhere swipes one of its credit or debit cards for purchases. Thanks to the network effects of the payments processing business that connects millions of merchants, banks, financial institutions, and customers, those small fees convert into a big margin for MasterCard. Its operating margin has stayed above the 50% mark since 2013.
You may wonder how far MasterCard can go, given that credit cards aren't anything new. Would you believe that a staggering 85% of all global transactions today still take place with cash and checks? That's exactly where MasterCard's potential lies. To give you an example, the credit card penetration in India is remarkably low for its population, but the nation is embarking on an ambitious journey toward a cashless economy, thanks to the government's recent game-changing move to demonetize high-denomination currency notes. And it's only fair to expect MasterCard to gain rapid traction in India given its CEO's association with the country: Ajay Banga is an Indian native.
India is, of course, just one of the many growth stories MasterCard could claim in the coming years as the world increasingly goes digital and adopts plastic money. If that weren't enough, MasterCard is also exploring options beyond cards to evolve into a full-service payments network. I wouldn't be surprised if MasterCard stock thumps the market in the decades to come.
Reuben Gregg Brewer (Hormel Foods Corp.): Hormel is not a household name, but some of the brands it owns are. For example, most people know the company's most famous product: Spam. But that's not all this packaged-food giant makes.
Like many of its peers, Hormel is having a tough time right now. Earnings were down 2.5% year over year in the fiscal second quarter on a 5% drop in sales. A portion of that drop is due to the market environment, and another part is related to the company's moves to adjust to current market trends. For example, it sold some assets last year, including the Diamond salt brand, hitting revenue and earnings.
But in recent years, the company has also added brands, including Wholly Guacamole, Muscle Milk, and Justin's nut butters. These brands are more in line with current end-market demand and show clearly that Hormel is making the changes needed to remain relevant with consumers.
But here's the really nice thing. Even after a string of recent acquisitions, long-term debt makes up just 5% of the company's capital structure. It can handle a slowdown and at the same time improve the core of its business. As for pricing, the stock isn't exactly cheap, but the shares are yielding around 2%. That's toward the high end of the company's historical range.
It's ultimately a good time to start a position that you'll hold for a very long time. And if the stock dips lower, pushing the yield higher, just buy more.