You might buy and sell hundreds of stocks over your lifetime, but it only takes one extraordinary stock to build lasting wealth. That one amazing stock can make the difference between a comfortable retirement and the one you've always dreamed about.
There's just one problem: These extraordinary stocks don't come along all that often. But they do exist, and the key to finding them is to find an industry ripe for disruption. The company that figures out how to turn an industry on its head is more often then not the one that delivers market crushing returns.
Stocks that dreams are made of
These are the stocks that make investing legends. For Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B) CEO Warren Buffett, it was GEICO. He started buying the insurance company in 1951 when he was just 20 years old. By 1995 he owned 51% of the company, having paid just $45.7 million for that initial stake. He ended up buying the rest of the company for $2.3 billion, valuing the whole at $4.7 billion -- an increase of $2.35 billion over his original ownership stake. That's a gain of more than 5,000% that has only continued to grow since that day.
Buffett was originally drawn to GEICO because it was disrupting the insurance agency. It bypassed agents, sold directly to consumers, and concentrated on lower-risk drivers. This approach saved the company money twice, as it did not have to pay agents or pay out large claims by insuring risky drivers. That allowed GEICO to offer low-risk customers really low rates, helping the company gain market share and grow profits, making Buffett rich. This is why Buffett says that when he counts his blessings, he counts GEICO twice. His investment in GEICO helped him earn market beating 22% annual returns over the past 40 years.
Now, odds are that you don't have $45.7 million to plunk down into the next GEICO to turn it into billions. But you likely have $457 that you could invest. Investing that into a future 5,000% gainer like GEICO would make you $23,000 richer. Make that investment $4,570, and we're talking about almost a quarter-million bucks from one great stock.
Again, though, we're back at the same problem we started with: finding that one great stock. For that we need a stock like GEICO that has the potential to disrupt an industry.
Disrupting Warren Buffett's dream stock?
One of the reasons GEICO was able to make so much money was that it focused on providing insurance to drivers who carried the least amount of risk. However, that gravy train is at risk of being derailed, because there may come a day when drivers pose little risk to insurance companies -- because cars won't need drivers.
That might sound like a bit of make-believe, but self-driving cars are on the road today. They have the potential to completely disrupt the profitablity of the insurance industry by drastically reducing a driver's potential to cause an accident. Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) self-driving car has driven more than half a million miles without so much as a fender-bender. That's twice as far as the average American goes between accidents.
That's an incredibly disruptive technology -- one that Warren Buffett called a "real threat to the auto insurance industry" at Berkshire's latest annual shareholder meeting. He said that self-driving cars could "reduce accidents dramatically," which would be "very good for society and very bad for auto insurers."
In addition to being very good for society, the technology behind self-driving cars has the potential to be very good for investors. It's this type of disruption that could yield one or more "dream stocks." These are the stocks that turn an investment of a few thousand dollars into hundreds of thousands, crushing the returns of the stock market over the long term. When self-driving cars move from concept to mass-market, it will drive huge demand for the technology that's under the hood. While that won't be tomorrow, it could come before you know it.
Disruptions are all around
Self-driving cars are but one example of a disruption that appears on the cusp of making the leap from a novelty to mass market. The world is full of disruptions just starting to take hold. Electric vehicles are starting to make inroads into our gas-guzzling society. Clean, renewable energy is finally starting to push out dirty, finite energy sources. New technologies are making their way into our homes, connecting all our our devices into an "Internet of things." The list, while not too long, is long enough that you should be able to find at least one market-beating stock that's ripe for the picking. While not all disruptions will pan out, when one does, it could turn your portfolio from average to legendary.
Matt DiLallo has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Berkshire Hathaway, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.