Last week, I wrote about how nutty it was that we continue to use bubble tops like Dow 14,000 in 2007 as our starting point to compare today's returns against. Broaden your range a little bit, I said, and stock returns don't look half bad.
The main response I got from readers was: Whatever. My brokerage account used to have X. Now it has half of X. And that hurts. Thus, you're wrong.
I still don't buy it -- the responses only reinforce my view of how trained we are to anchor to the past. But I'll play along with the idea, and still try to defend my argument. As brutal as the past few years has been for investors, here are five well-known names at (or very near) all-time highs.
The cigarette giant has mostly lived up to its status as a recession-proof company. Although smoking rates have been declining or flatlining for years, Altria's ability to raise prices is astonishing. The company's website says it all: "Altria Group's total shareholder return has outperformed the S&P 500 every year since 2000, and Altria has increased its dividend 44 times in the last 41 years."
Earlier this year I warned everyone to stay clear of Amazon because its valuation looked dear. So far, no good. Amazon's transformation from online bookstore to commerce platform for the masses has been incredible. Valuations still look dear, but as Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner would probably say, perfection is never cheap.
If you want to talk about a turnaround, try to remember what McDonald's restaurants and food were like 10 years ago, and then visit a restaurant today. It's night and day. International growth has also been a serious boon.
More than one-quarter of a billion iPods sold. Well over 50 million iPhones sold. More than 10 billion iTunes downloads. Hard to argue against Apple being the biggest success story of the past decade.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Take something really simple, do it better than anyone else, and build a cult following. That sums up Chipotle Mexican Grill's story of the past few years, and it has led to a fourfold increase in its share price since 2006.
The point of mentioning these companies' successes is not to recommend buying their stocks today. Quite the opposite in some cases. It's just a reminder that, as dismal as markets have been over the past two years, there has still been substantial opportunity. The same holds true for the next few years -- perhaps in the biggest way we've seen in a lifetime.
Fool contributor Morgan Housel owns shares of Altria Group. Chipotle Mexican Grill is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple and Amazon.com are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Chipotle Mexican Grill is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Altria Group, Apple, and Chipotle Mexican Grill. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. The Fool has a disclosure policy.