Building wealth through stocks doesn't have to be complicated. You can stack the odds in your favor by investing in companies with established records of growth built on some kind of competitive advantage like a recognizable brand. Brands can be very powerful as consumers tend to stick with products (or services) they know and love, which ensures more reliable revenue growth for investors.
Over the next decade, I believe people will still be watching Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) movies and visiting its theme parks. I think Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will still be selling tens of millions of iPhones every quarter (and whatever other products the company dreams up), fueling sales of apps and generating more mobile transactions through Apple Pay. I expect millennials to still be playing video games and watching esports events produced by Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI).
Below, I'll discuss what makes each one tick, and why investors should consider tucking away these stocks for the next decade.
Disney prepares for a digital future
For nearly a century, Walt Disney has produced countless hit movies, creating beloved characters that span across generations. This content creates a steady revenue stream for the company, as successful movies go on to spawn feature attractions at theme parks and create additional sales opportunities in consumer products. While the market has punished the stock for subscriber losses related to cord-cutting, Disney's real value stems from its studios segment.
As long as the Disney magic is driving success at the box office, the value of the brand should continue to grow. Disney has never been stronger at the box office. In 2016, Walt Disney Studios became the first-ever movie studio to reach $7 billion at the global box office. Since the beginning of 2017, Disney's run of box office hits has continued, with Beauty and the Beast (2017), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), Black Panther (2018), and Avengers: Infinity War (2018) each generating more than $1 billion at the box office worldwide.
This isn't to brush aside the weakness in Disney's media segment. After all, media revenue makes up 41% of total revenue. However, management is already taking steps to transition Disney to a digital future away from traditional media channels. Next year, the company is planning to launch a new Disney app, and the addition of Twenty-First Century Fox's entertainment properties will give Disney 60% ownership of Hulu.
The performance of the media segment has weighed on the stock over the last few years. However, investors are too focused on the media story, ignoring the performance of the other 60% of Disney's business. The market is making a causal connection that just isn't there: that the decline of traditional distribution channels amounts to a one-for-one decline in the value of Disney's original content.
While cord-cutters have caused a 2% to 3% annual drop in Disney's cable channels over the past few years, attendance at its theme parks has posted positive growth worldwide. Box office success and theme park attendance better reflect Disney's brand value. Further, Disney's Hulu investment and app development might allow the company to unlock brand equity that is currently obscured by the declining media segment. With the stock trading at a modest 15 times forward earnings multiple, this could be a great time to buy shares before the market realizes its mistake.
Apple is a services company
Apple has one of the world's iconic brands. Over the last decade, strong sales of iPhones and other products helped deliver more than 700% gains for shareholders. The hundreds of millions of customers who have bought an Apple device are spending billions every year on various services the company offers, and it's becoming a big part of Apple's business.
The revenue generated from Apple Pay, Apple Music, iTunes, iCloud, AppleCare, and the App Store grew 31% year over year in the last quarter to $9.5 billion -- an annual run rate of nearly $40 billion, which is fast approaching 20% of Apple's annual revenue.
Fueling services growth is the increasing number of apps in the App Store, which now totals nearly 30,000. Additionally, the company is seeing strong growth in subscriptions, which includes subscriptions to iCloud storage plans and Apple Music, as well as subscriptions to third-party services within Apple TV. In total, Apple and its third-parties now have over 300 million paid subscriptions, an increase of 60% year over year.
The best thing about the growth in services for investors is that it builds a more predictable stream of revenue for Apple, and it's also less capital intensive than hardware, which should enhance Apple's ability to generate free cash flow. The iPhone maker generated $57 billion in free cash flow over the past year, and it has a net cash balance of $147 billion. That spells long-term dividend growth, more share repurchases -- and a huge war chest to invest in anything Apple's talented team of engineers dream up next.
Esports is going mainstream
On July 27, 2018, a sold-out crowd packed into Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The fans didn't come to watch a concert or to see the Brooklyn Nets play; they came to see 12 professional gamers compete for a $1 million cash prize in the inaugural Overwatch League Grand Finals. Not only was there a live audience, but the first day of the two-day match was also broadcast to a primetime TV audience on ESPN, with a highlights show that aired a few days later on ABC (yes, the real ABC network).
Esports is going mainstream, and Activision's Overwatch League Finals has been the most talked-about esports event of the year. When you add up all the money the company has already made from selling teams, broadcast rights, sponsorships, and merchandise, it totals nearly $1 billion. This is just the beginning. Activision plans to sell more teams for future seasons. The game maker has already had success growing Call of Duty World League, and there could be other esports leagues launched over time.
The great thing about Activision is that the company doesn't really need esports. Even if esports were to suddenly vanish, the company has several best-selling franchises spanning every platform (PC, console, and mobile) that helped generate $7.3 billion in revenue and about $2 billion in free cash flow last year. Esports are icing on the cake, but they're looking like a multibillion-dollar opportunity.
Investing in durable brands
Disney, Apple, and Activision Blizzard each have leading brands in their respective markets, and have demonstrated a long track record of revenue and earnings growth. What I like about these companies is that, not only are they leaders at what they do, but each is still on the move and I would feel comfortable building a long-term portfolio around all three.