Investors used to hold stocks for years. However, with trading commissions plunging thanks to technology, it's now much easier and cheaper to buy and sell shares. That has caused the average holding period to fall dramatically, with some stocks changing hands in less than a second.
While Wall Street investors are continually turning over their portfolios, we at the Motley Fool prefer to take the Warren Buffett approach to investing. So when the Oracle of Omaha says that his "favorite holding period is forever," we want to have a similar mindset. As such, we asked our contributors to channel their inner Buffett and pick stocks they'd confidently hold for the next 50 years. They chose alcohol maker Diageo (DEO -0.55%), biotech giant Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX 1.84%), and clean energy-focused utility NextEra Energy (NEE 0.23%). Here's why.
A sweet opportunity
Rich Duprey (Diageo): In the world of alcoholic beverages, Diageo might not be a name you recognize, though you've undoubtedly heard of at least some of the brands in its portfolio: Johnnie Walker scotch whiskey, Crown Royal Canadian whiskey, Ciroc vodka, Captain Morgan's rum, Guinness beer.
What may also strike some is that those brands all carry premium pricing, and that's not a mistake but by design. Having recently sold off a portfolio of cheaper spirits, Diageo is positioning itself as the top purveyor of premium alcoholic products. And it's right on trend, because consumers are showing a determined willingness to pay up for spirits, wine, and beer, and the success of the plan is exhibiting itself in its stock price, which is up 21% year to date.
Although consumer preferences change over time -- something we see with the craft beer industry, which had been growing at double-digit rates for decades but now is only clinging to growth due to the rise of hard cider, tea, and seltzer -- Diageo's portfolio consists of brands that have stood the test of time even as trends come and go. They also command the top position or two in different markets, giving it geographic diversity as well.
And because it covers the full breadth of beverages, it is able to take advantage of changing preferences. As vodka rose then faded, whiskey, rye, and bourbon stepped forward. And wine has consistently grown over time.
The distiller trades at 22 times projected earnings and is positioned to capitalize on the trend that shows high-end spirits accounting for 62% of dollar sales and ultra-premium spirits emerging as the fastest-growing segment in the space. Whiskey sales may not dominate for 50 years, but it's a good bet Diageo will still be around to serve the beverage future drinkers are looking for.
A leading orphan-drug maker
George Budwell (Vertex Pharmaceuticals): Cystic fibrosis giant Vertex Pharmaceuticals has been nothing short of a golden goose for its early investors. Since its IPO, the company's shares have appreciated by an astonishing 3,900%. Even so, this large-cap biotech still has a lot more room to run, making it a great stock to buy and hold for the duration.
Why is Vertex an outstanding long-term investing vehicle? Vertex currently sports a virtual monopoly in the high-value cystic fibrosis market with its three FDA-approved drugs: Kalydeco, Orkambi, and Symdeko. And the biotech is poised to extend its advantage over any would-be competitors with a forthcoming triplet therapy that's forecast to haul in a jaw-dropping $5 billion in annual sales by 2024, according to EvaluatePharma. While Vertex's shares are anything but cheap at almost 30 times next year's projected sales, this top orphan-drug maker has a formidable competitive moat in its core area of expertise that arguably makes it worth the price of admission.
Vertex, though, is also in the midst of expanding beyond the realm of cystic fibrosis through a gene-editing partnership with Crispr Therapeutics (CRSP 0.42%). Vertex and Crispr, for instance, took the lead in the emerging field of CRISPR-based gene therapies earlier this year by launching human trials for patients with the rare blood disorders known as sickle cell anemia and transfusion-dependent beta thalassemia.
Although this cutting-edge science experiment might not pan out, it does show that Vertex has its sights set on being a leader in terms of developing game-changing new therapies for hard-to-treat diseases. Vertex, in turn, appears well positioned to maintain its position as one of the world's preeminent biotechs for a long time to come.
The power to deliver sustainable outperformance
Matt DiLallo (NextEra Energy): NextEra Energy has been an extraordinary growth stock in recent years. The utility has increased its adjusted earnings per share at an 8.5% compound annual growth rate since 2005, which is almost triple the average of its peers. That high-powered earnings growth has enabled NextEra Energy's stock to outperform not only all its peers but 86% of companies in the S&P 500 over that time frame. The main factor propelling the company's above-average earnings growth is its investments in renewable energy, which have turned it into the largest wind and solar power producer in the world.
The company has no plans to quit while it's ahead. NextEra currently expects to invest a stunning $50 billion to $55 billion in expanding its operations through 2022, the majority of which it will invest in new renewable generating capacity. This investment level should support a 6% to 8% compound annual growth rate in adjusted earnings over that time frame. That above-average growth rate, when combined with the company's high-yielding dividend, should give NextEra Energy's stock the power to continue outperforming the market.
NextEra should be able to continue growing its business at a healthy pace for many decades, given its focus on renewables. The U.S. renewable market opportunity alone could be worth as much as $4.7 trillion if the country completely transitions away from fossil fuels, according to an estimate by energy research firm Wood Mackenzie. That massive investment potential makes NextEra Energy a great growth stock to hold for the next several decades.