Editor's note: As coronavirus continues to hammer the markets, now is a crucial time to revisit this classic advice from Porter Stansberry. In today's piece – adapted from its original run in the June 8, 2012 Stansberry Digest – Porter reveals the key to compounding your wealth over time. Plus, he details which kinds of stocks you should buy at crisis levels when the time is right...
Several years ago in New York City, an old friend of mine asked me a truly great question.
We were making small talk at the bar at the Four Seasons restaurant when he said, "Porter... you've been investing now, for what, about 20 years, right? What's the main thing you wish you'd known when you started, that you know now?"
I began investing in 1992. I got started thanks to a grandparent, who left me a small inheritance – $10,000. I was in college back then, and there were lots of things I actually needed, like a car. My own apartment would have been great, too.
But like most of you, I decided what I really wanted was even more money... a chance at financial security... and the knowledge that I could use my money to make even more money.
Today's essay is deceptively simple. But I assure you, this is well worth your time.
I'm about to give you the biggest secret of investing – the one thing I wished I understood better when I started investing 20 years ago...
I knew absolutely nothing about stocks back then. But that didn't stop me. I put the whole sum into shares of beverage giant Coca-Cola (KO). Coke shares had made my father a small fortune. I figured it would do the same for me. Coke rose about 30% a year between 1992 and 1997. And at the peak, I sold.
Why did I sell? Dumb luck. I'd like to tell you it was because I did a sophisticated analysis of Coke's business and realized the shares were wildly overvalued. But that's not what happened... I simply found a business I liked better – Amazon (AMZN).
I'd always been a bookworm. The moment I started using Amazon I was hooked. I bought about six months after Amazon shares began trading publicly, at around $3. Today, those shares are worth about $1,900 each. If only I still owned them...
And so... that's the No. 1 thing I wish I had known 20 years ago. I wish I had thought more deeply about the difference between trading and investing.
Trading is what most people think investing is all about. You buy stocks (or bonds, or currencies, etc.) and then you sell them. If you make a profit, you're a good "investor."
But really, buying and selling has nothing to do with being an investor.
In fact, the best investment I've ever made, I never really "bought" at all. I'm talking about my own company – Stansberry Research. My company was a great investment for me because its value has increased and I've earned a capital gain... But that's far from the only reason. You see, I don't have to sell it to do well. It's just a good business (thanks to you, our subscribers).
We, the owners of the business, focus on earnings. That's what a real investment looks and feels like: It's a solid company with a strong balance sheet and growing earnings and dividends.
Traders, on the other hand, focus on share prices. That's because when you're trading, generally speaking, you only make a profit when you sell. But if you're actually an investor, you don't have to sell to do well. That's a tremendous luxury. That's what allows you to sit comfortably and hold on to the assets. You actually don't care about the price... unless it's cheap enough to buy more.
To view stocks this way, you either know enough about how the business continues to grow its intrinsic value... or you have to be paid a high enough yield (through dividends) that the price volatility of the shares is almost irrelevant.
These ideas are easy to grasp, but they're woefully difficult to put into practice. They require tremendous discipline and patience.
Being a trader is mostly a game of finding trends and momentum. But being a long-term investor requires real knowledge of how businesses work. It's a much more cerebral challenge... but it's not hard. (Legendary investor Warren Buffett likes to say that anyone with an average IQ can do it.)
So today, let's look at the two key parts of investing...
First and foremost, you're looking for companies with a durable competitive advantage. I try to imagine whether or not my future grandchildren are likely to be interested in the prospective companies' products and brands.
For example, it's a much better bet that 50 years from now, my grandkids will appreciate a Hershey bar more than an iPad. That's not to say that Apple (AAPL) won't be around in 50 years, but it's certainly much more likely that Hershey will be. People love chocolate. Hershey has a great brand and a stable corporate culture. That's why I recommended it to readers of my Stansberry's Investment Advisory in December 2007... And that's one of the reasons I believe it will end up being my best stock pick of all time.
The second key to successful long-term compounding is a little bit trickier to understand. You need to find companies that can grow their sales, earnings, and dividends without having to spend much money on capital investments.
I call these kinds of companies "capital efficient." Buffett uses a fancier word. He says these companies possess lots of economic goodwill. That is, they possess a valuable economic trait that doesn't show up on the balance sheet.
Because these firms don't require much capital to grow, they're able to pay out increasing amounts of their profits to shareholders. Not just in nominal amounts, but in relative amounts... that is, as they grow, the percentage of their sales that winds up being paid out to their owners actually increases.
This is the real magic. When you find a business like this, you want to own it forever – assuming you can buy it at a cheap price.
This part is important. I only started buying stocks for the long term back in November 2008... near the bottom of the financial crisis. I even wrote my closest friends and family to tell them that I was buying stocks to hold forever because for the first time in my career, dozens of the world's best long-term investments were selling at prices that would enable me to compound my wealth at decent rates (more than 10% annually).
Most of the time, when stocks are expensive, trading is the best way to add to your net worth.
But... from time to time... the market will give you the opportunity to grow your wealth permanently. Don't miss those opportunities.
Figure out which stocks you'd like to own for 20 or 30 years. And figure out what price you're willing to pay. Then... all you have to do is wait. As more and more of your capital winds up getting allocated to permanent holdings, you'll find yourself doing less and less trading... but making more and more money every year.
Most folks want a stock that's going to go up as soon as possible... and as far as possible. I understand the desire. I love trading, too. And I've been successful with lots of great trades. But I have to admit... I wished I'd focused more on understanding what makes for a great business when I first got started.
Why? Because it's almost impossible to beat the long-term impact of compounding returns in great, dividend-growing stocks. Or even simply being an owner of a company whose intrinsic value grows tremendously... year after year.
Editor's note: Tomorrow at 3 p.m. Eastern time, Porter will sit down with our Director of Research Austin Root for a can't-miss online event. He'll share what he's doing with $1 million of his own money right now... what he believes is next for the markets... and what he recommends subscribers do to grow and preserve their wealth. Learn how to tune in for free right here.
"How much do you know about the value of what you've bought?" Porter asks. The greatest investors in the world all focus on understanding value when they consider purchasing a security. And following their lead can help you beat the market... Learn more here.
You might not think it's possible, but if you know how, you can outperform even some of the largest investment firms. Following the principles of some of the world's investing legends can lead to life-changing gains... Read more here.
Buying fantastic companies at a discount is one of the best ways to grow your wealth. And these kinds of companies tend to have two traits in common...
THIS OFFICE LANDLORD JOINS THE CORONAVIRUS SELL-OFF
Today's chart shows a company in parts of the country hit hard by coronavirus...
Since last week, we've been focusing on stocks that have fallen hard due to the deadly pandemic. Those include the obvious victims like cruise lines and airlines, along with other businesses that suffer when the economy slows down and folks stay at home. Take a look at this office landlord...
Boston Properties (BXP) has more than 50 million square feet of high-end office space focused in five big U.S. cities: Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Normally, that's a great business setup... But today, those cities are hit hard by the coronavirus. Office workers are telecommuting, and many tenants will likely cut costs or go out of business entirely.
BXP's exposure to these cities sent investors running... Shares are down more than 40% over the past month to multiyear lows. With many office workers staying at home for weeks – and some businesses deciding they can't afford or don't need so much pricey office space – the effects on Boston Properties may stick around...