Just 86 stocks accounted for half of the increase in the U.S. stock market between 1926 and 2016, according to a paper by Professor Hendrik Bessembinder of Arizona State University. His research further shows that only 4% of all stocks ended up delivering 100% of the stock market's return in that span. The main takeaway from Bessembinder's paper: It's imperative to own great businesses for the long haul. 

Where do you start? Individual investors looking to anchor their portfolio with a rock-solid business may find comfort employing a simple strategy. That is, look for stocks with a strong track record of beating the return of the S&P 500 and with healthy and visible long-term growth potential. We asked three contributors at The Motley Fool for stocks that fit the bill. Here's why they chose NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE), Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), and Disney (NYSE:DIS).

A utility-scale solar installation.

Image source: Getty Images.

A utility that's thumping the average market return

Maxx Chatsko (NextEra Energy): Few stocks have eclipsed the 1,480% total return (share performance plus dividends) of NextEra Energy shares since the turn of the century. That's 10 times the total return of the S&P 500 in that span. That incredible run has also made it the largest publicly traded utility in the world, with a market cap of $84 billion. The company has earned its industry-leading status by preparing for the future well ahead of its peers -- an advantage that also creates enviable growth opportunities in the years ahead.

For instance, while most utilities are looking to jettison coal from their power mix and lean more heavily on wind, solar, and natural gas, the most ambitious portfolio transitions will take over a decade to complete. NextEra Energy is already there. Last year the company's power generation mix comprised 25% wind and solar, 26% nuclear, 46% natural gas, and 2% coal. Most peers have around 30% coal in their generation mix.

That gives NextEra Energy an epic head start on peers when preparing for the future. After betting heavily on low-cost wind power in the past two decades, a gamble that paid off and drove the stock's incredible gains, management is confident it can replicate that success with solar power and energy storage. The business signed contracts totaling 511 megawatts of solar for delivery in 2017 and 2018, but it already has 1,590 megawatts signed for the next two years and thinks it could add another 1,700 megawatts before all is said and done. Considering the power generation subsidiary, NextEra Energy Resources, wields tremendous experience and purchasing power, individual investors shouldn't doubt the ability to execute.

Relying on low-cost wind, solar, and natural gas provides management the confidence to make some pretty bold projections. NextEra Energy expects to deliver annual total returns of 11% for the foreseeable future to go along with annual dividend growth of 13% through at least 2020. Given the awesome track record compiled to date, this is a great stock for investors with a long-term mindset to build their portfolios around. 

A woman in a chair with a light bulb going off over her head.

Image source: Getty Images.

Fill-up on this pharmaceutical stock

Todd Campbell (Pfizer): Slow-growing pharmaceutical stocks such as Pfizer haven't been as enticing as fast-growing biotech stocks over the past few years. However, that began changing in 2018, and I think Pfizer could be a great stock to own as a core holding for most investors.

The past decade has been tough, because sales of its megablockbuster Lipitor have been falling ever since the drug lost patent protection in 2011. However, Lipitor accounts for only a small part of Pfizer's $13.3 billion in quarterly sales now, and new products, including in oncology, have put Pfizer firmly back on a path to growth.

For example, its breast cancer drug, Ibrance, posted $1.03 billion in sales last quarter, up 17% from one year ago, and sales of its anticoagulant Eliquis surged 35% year over year to $870 million in the third quarter. It also doesn't hurt that Pfizer is a leader in the emerging biosimilars market. Inexact copies that work like brand-name biologics, biosimilars could produce a lot of revenue, because biologics are among the best-selling drugs on the planet. Pfizer's first major biosimilar, Inflectra, competes against Remicade, a multibillion-dollar blockbuster, and last quarter, its sales were $166 million, up 48% from one year ago.

Income investors can also benefit from making this a staple in their portfolio, because Pfizer's improving financial flexibility allowed it to increase its dividend by almost 6% in December. Its shares currently yield a market-beating 3.4%. Furthermore, the company's dividend increase was accompanied by a $10 billion share repurchase program that should increase its future earnings per share, and the company's balance sheet could soon benefit from its recent decision to combine its consumer products business with GlaxoSmithKline to create a new company.

Overall, Pfizer has proved itself through thick and thin, and given its deep pockets and improving financials, I think it's a great stock to build a portfolio around.

A man holding an arrow pointing up.

Image source: Getty Images.

The house of mouse

Travis Hoium (Disney): Any portfolio should have some rock-solid stocks to build around. One such company is Disney, the owner of everything from Marvel Studios to Disney World to ABC and ESPN. At its core, Disney is a content company that turns content into multiple revenue streams from the box office, cable, streaming, DVDs, and theme parks. 

Disney's revenue and earnings have been growing steadily for a decade, helped by hit Marvel films and a strong theme park business: 

DIS Revenue (TTM) Chart

DIS Revenue (TTM) data by YCharts.

The biggest threat to Disney has been people cutting the cable cord, which affects ESPN's business dramatically, and the rise of streaming services such as Netflix. But that's where I think 2019 will be a great year for Disney. The company launched ESPN+ in 2018 and will add Disney+ to its streaming lineup late in 2019. The two assets will make Disney an essential streaming service along with Netflix and Hulu, which will be majority owned by Disney following the acquisition of Fox's assets. 

No matter how the media landscape changes, I think Disney is well positioned to thrive and profit for investors. The content assets from Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar are key, but don't overlook the theme parks that generated nearly as much revenue ($20.3 billion) in fiscal 2018 at media networks ($24.5 billion). That's a collection of assets few media and entertainment companies can compare to, and they'll keep Disney a step ahead for the long term. 

Maxx Chatsko has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Todd Campbell owns shares of Pfizer. Travis Hoium owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.