Warren Buffett is considered the paragon of long-term value investing. That's why many investors closely follow his investments and his rules of buying shares of well-run companies with low valuations and healthy cash flows.
A tech stock Buffett should love
Leo Sun (Cisco): Warren Buffett avoided tech stocks for most of his career, but that changed this decade with Berkshire Hathaway's investments in Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Oracle (NYSE:ORCL). Another mature tech stock that could catch Buffett's eye is Cisco, the world's largest maker of networking routers and switches.
Cisco's core hardware business is a slow-growth one, but its dominant presence among large enterprise customers enables it to cross-sell new products and software services -- including its higher-growth wireless, cybersecurity, and collaboration products -- which widens its moat against its rivals.
Top- and bottom-line growth accelerated significantly this year. Demand for its infrastructure products rose on enterprise campus and data center upgrades, as the expansion of its software application and security units significantly increased its higher-margin software subscriptions revenue, which accounted for 57% of its software revenue last quarter.
Cisco was also a major beneficiary of corporate tax reform, enabling it to repatriate $67 billion in cash held overseas at a lower tax rate. Most of that cash is now earmarked for buybacks, dividends, and domestic acquisitions, which will reduce its valuations, attract income investors, and expand its business.
Analysts expect Cisco's revenue and earnings to rise 5% and 17%, respectively, this year. That's a stellar growth rate for a stock that trades at just 16 times this year's earnings estimate. It also pays a hefty forward dividend yield of 2.8%, and it's raised that payout annually for seven straight years.
Insurers of a feather flocking together
Dan Caplinger (Markel): One of the things that made Warren Buffett so successful is that he's been able to tap into investing capital at a low cost. The insurance business is a natural place to use the premiums that customers pay and invest it until it's needed to pay out claims, and Markel has joined in Buffett's footsteps in using the same financial holding company structure to generate gains.
Fundamentally, Markel has looked solid lately. The company's managed to get through some difficult times, including catastrophic events like hurricanes in North Carolina and Florida and wildfires in California, while still reporting positive net income. In fact, Markel's been confident enough in the market that it's expanded through acquisition, with some key purchases boosting its overall premium volume and assets under management.
Long-term investors now have an unusual opportunity to buy Markel shares at a discount. The stock dropped in early December when the insurer said that regulators in the U.S. and Bermuda were investigating loss reserves at its Markel CATCo Investment Management subsidiary. Some fear that the episode could damage the insurer's reputation, but it's premature to conclude that the investigation will find anything of merit. Unless that happens, Markel's business model remains intact, and it's likely to keep generating the long-term returns that investors like Buffett love to see.
A Buffett-like pipeline company
Matt DiLallo (TransCanada): Warren Buffett tends to look for three things in a stock: good risk management, a wide economic moat, and a "forever" business. One company that checks all those boxes is Canadian pipeline giant TransCanada.
TransCanada has focused on reducing its risk in recent years. The company has sold assets that generate less-predictable cash flow in favor of those that produce steady cash. As a result, more than 95% of its earnings come from predictable sources like long-term, fee-based contracts. At the same time, the company has also maintained a top-tier balance sheet with a conservative financial profile to ensure that it can grow its earnings and its dividend without putting undue stress on the business.
TransCanada operates one of the premier natural gas pipeline networks in North America, moving 25% of the continent's gas each day. The size of its network gives it a major competitive advantage over peers. In many cases, TransCanada operates the only pipeline system in an area, which enables it to earn high returns. Meanwhile, the scale and complexity of its network give it a leg up on the competition when it comes to building new pipelines since it can seamlessly integrate them into its system to offer customers greater market flexibility.
Finally, the world will continue demanding greater access to natural gas in the coming years. According to the International Energy Agency, global energy demand will grow another 30% by 2040, with gas joining renewables as the key source in meeting that demand. Because of that, TransCanada not only operates an enduring business but one that should continue expanding.
Those factors should enable TransCanada to continue delivering market-beating returns in the future -- which it has done since 2000, generating a 12% total annual return over that time frame -- making it a stock that Buffett would love.