As the late, great musician Prince once said, forever is "a mighty long time."
So when you're looking for stocks to buy and hold forever, you can't settle for just any stock. That's true even if your definition of forever when it comes to investing is really more along the lines of 20 or 30 years.
The good news is that there are high-quality stocks with solid long-term growth prospects that you can buy and hold forever -- or simply for a really long time. Here's why Corning (GLW -2.31%), The Walt Disney Company (DIS -0.51%), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ -2.62%) fit the bill.
Corning's roots date back to 1851, so the materials science company has already been around for, to use Prince's words, a mighty long time. For much of its history, Corning was known only as a glassmaker. While it's still one of the most innovative specialty glass manufacturers in the world, the company now also makes ceramic and plastic products.
Roughly two-thirds of Corning's total revenue stems from two business units: display technologies and optical communications. Corning's display technologies segment makes glass substrates for liquid crystal displays (LCDs) that are used in televisions, notebook computers, and flat panel desktop monitors. Its optical communications segment makes optical fiber and cable used in the telecommunications industry.
Two other areas have especially excited investors, though. Corning's specialty materials segment makes Gorilla Glass, which is used in most smartphones and tablets. The company also recently unveiled its new Valor Glass, a new product specifically designed to address unique challenges for pharmaceutical packaging. This new product has already generated enthusiasm in the pharmaceutical industry and could represent a multibillion-dollar opportunity for Corning.
Why buy and hold Corning stock forever? Because of its continual innovation. No other company pioneered optical fiber like Corning. No other company invented Gorilla Glass and Valor Glass. Corning has proved that it can successfully develop new products that its customers need. That's a great recipe for long-term success.
The Walt Disney Company
Contrary to conventional wisdom, it actually didn't start with a mouse for Disney. In 1923, Walt Disney founded a company to distribute cartoons about a little girl named Alice. Five years later, Mickey Mouse made his screen debut -- and the rest is history.
Disney now ranks as one of the largest entertainment companies in the world. The company makes over 40% of its total revenue from media networks, including ABC, Disney Channels, ESPN, and Freeform. Nearly one-third of revenue comes from Disney's parks and resorts, which include DisneyLand and Walt Disney World. The remainder of Disney's revenue is generated from its studio entertainment and consumer products and interactive media segments.
The company does face some challenges. Cord-cutting, a trend whereby consumers abandon cable TV in favor of streaming services, has negatively affected Disney's media network sales. Severe weather has hurt revenue for the Walt Disney World resort in Florida and for Disney Cruise Lines. The latter issue is temporary, though, and Disney is launching its own streaming services to fight the cord-cutting trend.
It would be unwise to count Disney out over the long run. The company has demonstrated an ability to roll with the punches and adapt to changing environments. I don't think Disney's magic will fade. Your grandchildren's grandchildren will probably watch Disney programs and want to go to the company's theme parks decades from now.
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson is another major company that's been around for quite a while. It was founded in 1887 by three brothers and initially focused on manufacturing sterile surgical dressings and sutures. Within a few years, J&J was selling a variety of consumer and healthcare products.
Today, Johnson & Johnson is a healthcare giant with three multibillion-dollar business segments: consumer, medical devices, and pharmaceutical. The biggest of these is J&J's pharmaceutical segment, which sells blockbuster drugs including Remicade, Stelara, and Xarelto. J&J's medical-devices segment generates the second-highest revenue, with products for hip and knee replacements, surgery, vision care, and other areas. The company is probably best known, though, for its consumer products such as Band-Aid bandages and Listerine and over-the-counter medications such as Benadryl and Tylenol.
The pharmaceutical segment is probably most critical for J&J's future success. That might be concerning to some investors, since the company reported a revenue decline for the segment in the second quarter. However, J&J has one of the best pipelines in big pharma. The company also acquired Actelion this year, which gives it even more promising new drugs.
I think investors can buy and hold Johnson & Johnson stock for the same reason Corning and Disney are great long-term picks: innovation. J&J has the financial resources to invest more into research and development than most companies do. And, as the Actelion acquisition shows, the company can buy smaller companies to enter new therapeutic areas. Investing in J&J stock is like investing in the growth of the healthcare industry. That should be a smart bet.