Not everyone wants to be an investor who is constantly reading financial news and calculating their next stock buy. Some just want to own low-stress portfolios that will stand the test of time and only need to be checked periodically. Considering how much people's emotions are the biggest deterrent to investor returns, most of us would likely benefit from this strategy.
Building a portfolio that is the financial equivalent of one of those "set it and forget it" ovens from the '90s means you have to have different selection criteria. You have to find businesses with wide economic moats and management teams that have proven themselves to be good stewards of shareholder capital. Three stocks that fit the bill are communications infrastructure real estate investment trust (REIT) American Tower (NYSE:AMT), trash collector Waste Management (NYSE:WM), and uniform rental company Cintas (NASDAQ:CTAS). Here's why they stand out as stocks you can safely own for a decade or more.
Own the infrastructure of the wireless world
Wireless communication becomes further entrenched in our lives every day. I don't just mean people in the U.S., either. The penetration of cell phones and smartphones is still growing rapidly around the world. As a result, data consumption continues to grow at a breakneck pace. Meeting the demand for all this data transmission means companies need to have more and more broadcast equipment to handle the traffic, and that means more and more equipment on structures like cell towers and rooftop spires.
This is where American Tower fits into the puzzle. The REIT is one of the world's largest owners of towers and other structures designed to hold telecommunications equipment, which telecom companies rent space on. For telecom companies, it's beneficial because they don't have to lay out the capital to build the tower or buy land. And American Tower can lease space to multiple clients on the same structure. This has been a very lucrative arrangement thus far, as the company has grown funds from operations (the figure REITs commonly use to report bottom-line results) by 16% annually over the past decade.
American Tower has two major growth catalysts it can ride for the next decade or more: the shift to 5G wireless networks and global growth in the industry. Of the company's 170,000 or so communication sites, only 40,000 of them are in the U.S. Management is investing heavily in fast-growing markets such as India and Nigeria, where wireless data usage is up 235% and 738%, respectively, since 2010. Also, as more mature wireless networks like the one in the U.S. start the commercial rollout of 5G, it's likely going to mean telecom companies will rent more space on existing infrastructure. Combined, these two trends should give American Tower an incredibly long growth runway.
Your garbage is gold to this waste handler
Waste handling in the U.S. has to be one of the highest barriers-to-entry industries out there. The capital requirements and the political and regulatory hurdles mean that anyone trying to enter this market is in for a Sisyphean challenge. For those that are already established in this business, though, it is essentially a license to print cash from the stuff in people's garbage bins.
Without a lot of competition and near-geographic monopolies in the markets it operates, Waste Management has quite a bit of pricing power for its waste-collection services and tipping fees for third parties to use its landfills. Since the company isn't opening new landfills every day, the ability to increase prices is essential to revenue growth.
Calling Waste Management's revenue growth modest is a generous statement. So keeping costs under control and generating high rates of return are critical for Waste Management's success. Fortunately, management has delivered on that end. The company has maintained high returns on equity over the past decade that have translated into impressive stock gains and dividend increases.
Looking out over the next decade, there aren't a lot of significant threats to Waste Management's business. It's really hard to change human habits like consumption and waste, and we haven't arrived at a point at which all of our products can be manufactured from biodegradable materials. Without a significant threat to its business on the horizon, Waste Management should be able to crank out decades of earnings and cash for investors.
The OG of the "___-as-a-service" industry
Just about every hot tech company wants to have an "X-as-a-service" business model because it provides a recurring revenue stream and relatively high margins. Cintas has been employing that same business model for close to a century; it just calls it uniform rentals -- which, surprisingly, is an incredibly durable business.
Companies like uniforms, but they hate the laundry. In most instances, it doesn't make much financial sense for a company to have an on-site uniform laundry, which is perfect for Cintas, as it can consolidate uniform services of several businesses in a single facility. Cintas has leveraged its network of central facilities and distribution network to branch out into other office services such as providing safety and security equipment and commercial and industrial cleaning services. These services tend to have surprisingly high margins -- gross margins for the most recent quarter were 45.1% -- and revenue tends to be steady as it obtains new clients and expands its service offerings to each client.
Equally impressive is management's ability to take this business and make it an extremely shareholder-friendly stock. It produces loads of cash flow that management has used to acquire competitors, buy back stock, and grow its dividend.
The threats to Cintas' business are anything that translates to fewer people requiring Cintas' services, whether that be rising unemployment rates or automation replacing humans in many everyday jobs. These are real threats, but it will still be several years before they make a significant impact on the bottom line at this company.