One of my favorite kinds of story here at the Fool is when we revisit a list of stocks recommended in a financial publication. The results are not always pretty. Here's an example. Back in 1999, Fortune magazine (which I subscribe to and like a lot) offered its forecast in "10 Stocks for the Next Decade."
Well, the TickerSense blog has helpfully reported on how those stock picks have been faring so far. Check out these results, referring to the percentage change between July 19, 2000, and Dec. 7, 2005:
Catastrophe or opportunity?
You, dear reader, might examine this list, shake your head in sadness, and move on. Not me, though. I'm a savvy, experienced investor. I look at the list and see opportunity! After all, the prestigious Fortune magazine recommended these fine companies -- who am I to scoff?
Sure, they're down an average of 44%, but the "next decade" is only half over. There are still five years to go. If these companies are going to double or triple (or more) in value from 2000 to 2010, they'll be covering more ground getting to those target prices from their current lower levels. In other words, nine of the above 10 stocks (I'm excluding the one stock that's in positive territory) must be even more attractively priced than they were before!
OK, just in case you're a very green investor who doesn't realize I'm joking, permit me to call you back from the phone as you prepare to call your broker and place nine "Buy!" orders. Let's review some of the lessons here.
The twelfth of never
Ten years is a long time. Things change, especially with companies involved in emerging and developing technologies. Steering clear of most such companies helped Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett come through the great Internet bubble smelling like a rose, while many investors (such as myself) smelled of fouler stuff.
Still, while it's silly to think of buying into a company and blindly holding on for a decade, 10 years is a reasonable holding period to shoot for. Many of the ordinary people I've read about who turned thousands into millions did so by patiently hanging on to stock in great companies over the long haul. The trick, it seems, is to find those outstanding companies. (We're taking our best stabs at that in our investing newsletters. They're doing pretty well so far -- try them for free and see for yourself.)
Where to find winners
So where might you find these outstanding companies? Well, despite the list above, you don't have to look among players in the latest technologies, or companies developing new drugs. Sure, some of them will do very well. (Our Rule Breakers newsletter service is out to find terrific dynamos with immense potential and is off to a great start.) But it can be hard to figure out which companies will make it and which won't, especially if you're not a technology buff or a molecular biologist.
Fortunately, many companies with very solid long-term performances are ones most of us are familiar with. Think, for example, Wal-Mart, Motley Fool Inside Value pick Home Depot
At MSN.com recently, Jon Markman listed the top-performing stocks of the past six years (roughly the same period of the Fortune list). He noted: "The leading stock over the past six years, according to my calculations, makes just about the least exotic product you can imagine: soda pop. It's Hansen Natural, which is up 3,739% since Jan. 1, 2000. The next four best aren't exactly household names, either. They are: KCS Energy, a Houston-based natural gas producer, +3,251%; IRIS International, maker of automated urinalysis systems, +3,248%; Amedisys, a home nursing-care provider, +3,181%; and Quicksilver Resources, a Texas-based natural gas producer, +2,929%."
How would you have found gems like these? You probably wouldn't be aware of most of them, unless you worked in the natural gas industry, or in health care. But if you drink tasty carbonated beverages, you would have had a chance of spotting one of them. And if you had been curious enough, you'd have paid attention to see how many people were reaching for Hansen drinks over other options, and you'd have looked up the company's financial reports. Just noticing a newly popular company isn't enough -- you need to assess many factors. Revenues might be surging, but if the firm isn't turning them into rising profits, that's not good enough. A growing cash pile is good, but how does it compare to the firm's debt level? You get the idea. (Rex Moore introduced Fool readers to Hansen more than a year ago.)
Another way to discover hidden gems is, ironically enough, through financial publications. Yes, I know that this article isn't painting a pretty picture of "top stocks" lists. But actually, TickerSense looked at some other periodicals' best 10 ideas for the current decade, too. Fortune's list was the least impressive, but other lists, from the likes of Forbes, for example, did beat the S&P 500. (And Fortune has offered plenty of more productive lists in the past.) You just shouldn't buy blindly based on any list. If you're going to look at a list of stock picks, take some time to research the companies further. Smaller companies can be great performers, as they have so much room to grow. If you'd like a bunch of recommendations from us, try our Motley Fool Hidden Gems newsletter for free -- some of its recommendations have doubled and tripled in value in just a year or two, or less.
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Charities for the next decade
And while we're at it, why not look for charitable organizations you might like to support for the decade ahead? I know it's easy to write a check and forget about it, but supporting the same outfits for many years can be more rewarding, as you become more familiar with their work and watch them grow.
We're in the midst of our ninth-annual charity drive, Foolanthropy. As we've done for years now, we're raising money together to support five impressive organizations. Please take a few minutes to at least learn about this year's featured organizations. (They'll truly be delighted just to have more people familiar with them and their work.) And then consider joining us in contributing a little something to them. Together we've raised more than $2 million in our past campaigns -- thanks to the participation of many Fools. Learn more about Foolanthropy.
Selena Maranjian's favorite discussion boards include Book Club, The Eclectic Library, and Card & Board Games. She owns shares of Wal-Mart, Home Depot, PepsiCo, and Berkshire Hathaway. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written: The Motley Fool Money Guide and The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens . The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.