With so much focus on short-term results in the stock market today, it's easy to forget that long-term investing is the best way to generate superior returns. And no, we're not talking about weeks or months. To reap the most impressive financial rewards, it's best to find stocks you can buy and hold for periods of years.
But where should you look? We asked our consumer goods contributors for their most compelling stocks to buy and hold for the next decade. Here's why Whole Foods Market (WFM), Wal-Mart (WMT -2.74%), PepsiCo (PEP -1.50%), and Altria Group (MO -3.97%) made the cut:
Steve Symington (Whole Foods Market): With Whole Foods Market stock down nearly 36% year to date as of this writing, I think now is the perfect time for long-term investors to pick up shares of the organic grocery chain.
Sure, the company is still reeling from a painful quarterly report just more than a month ago, with customer traffic hurt by both heightened competition and the fallout of recent overpricing allegations in some New York City locations. To Whole Foods' credit, however, management insists the issue was simple "human error" and wasn't widespread. Nonetheless, Whole Foods took immediate action to correct the problem, including improving training, and expanding third-party auditing companywide.
In any case, the negative PR should ultimately prove temporary. By contrast, the long-term trend of consumers gravitating toward healthier food is undeniable. And Whole Foods is staying ahead of the curve with a new multi-channel brand campaign -- called "Values Matter" -- which focuses on its "groundbreaking quality standards, healthy offerings and key milestones as pioneer in the natural and organic food industry."
Finally, Whole Foods' new small-footprint "365" store concept should prove effective at driving future growth. These smaller stores not only require lower capital investments and labor costs, but also enable Whole Foods to reach new markets where it was previously unable to squeeze in one of its traditional large-format stores. Even more exciting, Whole Foods management says 365 further extends their long-term vision for operating 1,200 locations in the United States. As it stood, that goal was nearly triple Whole Foods' 424 total store count at the end of last quarter.
For investors willing to patiently watch Whole Foods' growth story unfold, I think today's troubles will barely register as a blip on the radar 10 years from now.
Tim Green (Wal-Mart): Wal-Mart is facing some major challenges, ranging from higher labor costs driving down profits to the relentless growth of online retailers. The stock of the world's largest retailer by sales is down nearly 25% so far this year, as a string of disappointing earnings reports has raised questions as to whether Wal-Mart is losing its competitive edge.
Wal-Mart became the largest retailer in the world by offering the lowest prices, wringing costs out of every aspect of its business, from the stores to its vast distribution system. Wal-Mart has never been the most convenient retailer, and it's never offered the most pleasant shopping experience; but it's nearly impossible for a brick-and-mortar retailer to profitably undercut Wal-Mart on price.
With e-commerce sales growing far faster than retail sales as a whole, Wal-Mart has been increasingly focusing on growing its e-commerce business. It's a slow process given that Wal-Mart's distribution system is set up largely to feed its own stores; but Wal-Mart is not the type of company to spend wildly on growth for growth's sake.
There's no reason to believe that Wal-Mart can't succeed as an online retailer. The company is very good at removing costs from its business, and while investments in e-commerce will hurt profits in the short term, Wal-Mart is positioning itself to be the low-cost retailer of the web. It won't succeed by having the fastest shipping, or a membership program with perks, but instead, by simply offering the lowest prices. For long-term investors, the decline of Wal-Mart's stock this year is an opportunity to buy a great company at a reasonable price.
Andres Cardenal (PepsiCo): PepsiCo is arguably one of the strongest and most reliable consumer companies around. The company has an enormously valuable portfolio featuring 22 brands that make more than $1 billion each in global annual revenue. This includes traditional sodas and snacks like Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Lay's. However, the company is also rapidly expanding into healthier alternatives, a growing segment where it owns popular names such as Quaker, Gatorade, Tropicana, and Aquafina.
Consumers are moving away from sodas because of health considerations, but PepsiCo has done a tremendous job at diversifying its portfolio in accordance with industry trends during the last several years.The Pepsi brand currently represents less than 15% of total revenues, with carbonated drinks accounting for 25% of the global sales mix.
The company has a time-tested ability to reward investors with growing dividends over the years. PepsiCo has raised its dividend uninterruptedly during the last 43 years, including a 7% hike for 2015. Management intends to maintain a dividend payout ratio in the neighborhood of 60% of core earnings per share, which is quite sustainable for such a solid business.
PepsiCo is paying a dividend yield of nearly 3% at current prices, and the company plans to return between $8.5 billion and $9 billion to shareholders this year when considering both dividends and buybacks.
Bob Ciura: (MO): Tobacco giant Altria Group (MO -3.97%) is a consumer staples stock that can be bought and held for the next decade. Some investors might be surprised by this recommendation, because cigarette smoking is on the decline in the United States. But Altria is a diversified conglomerate with a wide variety of products other than its flagship Marlboro brand.
For example, Altria owns a wine business under the Chateau Ste. Michelle brand, smokeless tobacco products including Copenhagen and Skoal, and the Black & Mild cigar line. In addition, Altria owns a significant voting stake in brewer SABMiller plc, worth $6 billion.
Altria's strong brand portfolio provides steady growth. Through the first half of the year, revenue and adjusted earnings per share grew 5% and 13%, respectively, year over year. Altria enjoyed broad-based growth; smokeable product revenue was up 5%, smokeless revenue grew 3%, and wine revenue rose 7%.
Altria has raised its dividend 49 times in the past 46 years, and I fully expect that to continue for the next decade. The stock currently offers a hefty 4.3% dividend yield, and with steadily growing profits and dividends, the long-term investment opportunity with Altria is very attractive.