Finding great stocks to buy and hold for the long term is the hardest part of investing. One great place to start looking for great stocks is in industries with disruptive trends underway that will provide a tailwind for decades.
Looking at the market today, real estate, cloud computing, podcasting, software as a service, and renewable energy are growing trends that I want to be invested in. Here's why these five unstoppable trends are so exciting.
1. Real estate disruption
The $36 trillion residential real estate business has been relatively stagnant for over a century following a business model where brokers generating high fees to simply connect buyers and sellers. But companies like Zillow Group (NASDAQ:ZG) (NASDAQ:Z), Opendoor Technologies (NASDAQ:OPEN), and Redfin (NASDAQ:RDFN) are a few of the companies expertly disrupting the status quo in real estate.
There are some broad trends underway that are now locked in in real estate. First, information is being democratized, and both buyers and sellers can get home value estimates with a few clicks on apps like Zillow. Second, the buying and selling process is changing with all three of the companies mentioned building out businesses to buy homes directly. This will give sellers the ability to sell a home quickly, on their own timeline, and without the hassle of staging and selling a home themselves.
Over time, companies like Zillow, Opendoor, and Redfin could become more efficient and push indirect fees low enough that they'll be a more economical way to sell a home than going through a traditional real estate broker. That would change the way real estate transactions happen, which could be great for homeowners and investors.
2. The cloud's disruption has just begun
The disruption the cloud has had on business is only getting started. It began with the ability to stream small audio files, then Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) showed it could stream video files, and quality and available content have improved. But that's just the start. In time, there's no reason more computing won't be pushed to the cloud, and we could be streaming video games, augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) content, or even the local map in self-driving cars.
Devices have adapted to changes in streaming as well. As audio and video streaming has become more popular, the need for large hard drives on smartphones has decreased, and we're seeing companies put a focus on optimizing processor speeds and battery life over hard drive space. As new devices like AR glasses enter the market, there could be a similar trend, doing more work off-device and streaming the crucial content to devices.
We've only begun our shift toward the cloud, and a decade from now we'll have devices as an interface to interact with cloud services, where most computing will take place.
It wasn't long ago that it took a large infrastructure to build any sort of audio product, whether it was music, radio, or even podcasting. There was the talent, of course, but behind the scenes, companies needed engineers to make talent sound good, sales staff to sell ads, and a place to distribute content. Those walls are falling down as audio production is democratized.
Barriers to entry in the music business have been coming down for years and will continue to. What I'm most excited about is the disruption taking place in podcasting. Production is getting easier with Spotify's (NYSE:SPOT) Anchor or a new app called Callin. Monetization is also becoming possible with Spotify's Ad Network pairing listeners with targeted ads as content is streamed.
The internet has allowed all kinds of content creators to reach mass markets, and companies like Alphabet's Google have allowed them to monetize their products without their own sales infrastructure. Similar disruptions are coming into podcasting, and I'm very bullish on the trend.
4. Software as a service (SaaS)
SaaS has been a trend for more than a decade, and it won't be slowing anytime soon. Over the next decade, anything that can be digitized will be, and the companies that can aggregate services are going to be very powerful.
A perfect example of this trend is Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM), which was able to build sales tools that companies lean on to turn leads into revenue. With the acquisition of Slack, the company has added a key communication tool for businesses large and small, adding to its own sales leads.
SaaS stocks are attractive to investors because, as they reach scale, a company can incrementally add customers with very little incremental cost. That's how successful SaaS companies become extremely profitable as they grow, earning high valuations in today's market.
5. Renewable energy
Renewable energy has exploded in interest in the 21st century, and wind and solar energy are now the lowest-cost new electricity options throughout much of the world. And with costs continuing to come down, there's no indication that renewable energy is slowing down.
There are a number of ways to invest in renewable energy today, starting with manufacturers of energy products to the long-term owners of energy generation projects. First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) is a great way to invest in renewable energy growth. Given the company's profitability and plans to double production, it has a bright future.
In the long term, the most stable way to invest in renewable energy is through the owners of renewable energy assets. Brookfield Renewable Partners (NYSE:BEP) and NextEra Energy Partners (NYSE:NEP) are two of the largest renewable energy asset owners in the world and use the cash generated from operations to pay a steady dividend. The current yields on the stocks are 3.1% and 3.3%, respectively, and that will likely rise over time as they invest some cash flow into growth projects.
Tailwinds are behind the renewable energy industry, and stocks like First Solar, Brookfield Renewable Partners, and NextEra Energy Partners are a great way to ride the industry's growth.
Investing in macro trends can be a great way to find great stocks, and I don't see anything stopping the disruption coming from real estate, streaming, podcasting, SaaS, and renewable energy. Tailwinds in these industries are definitely in investors' favor.