This article will not focus on a particular company or even a single industry or sector. Rather, this article is an introduction to a series of articles that I will write over time. That series is called "Investments To Grow Old With" or ITGOW. Sure, my former English teachers would want me to call it "Investments With Which To Grow Old," but IWWTGO just didn't have the same ring to it.
I am 24 years old and I have time on my side. But naturally I still want to pick investments that will do well in the short, medium and long term.
The following is a list of investment themes that I will focus on in the ITGOW series as well as a little bit about why. This list will grow and I might even take items off of this list if I see that my thesis has changed. These items are in no particular order.
1. Data - Ever seen the show "Hoarders?" Just about everyone I know is a digital hoarder in some form or another. I personally do not delete e-mails from my Gmail account and have thousands of digital photos. Am I alone? Absolutely not. Whether you consider the massive explosion in the creation of spam, medical images or any number of major sources for data generation, information stored in the "cloud" is really just stored in massive server farms somewhere in the world. Some companies do a good job of interpreting this "anonymized" data and using it for productive purposes, as in the case of Google (GOOG) and its successful advertising platform. Apple (AAPL) has brought data hoarding to the masses with its iCloud service and Carbonite (CARB) makes it easy for consumers and businesses to back their data up. Others have yet to figure out how to monetize it. One thing is certain, though. As our ability to create data increases exponentially so will our need to store it.
2. Cyber Security - Stuxnet, need I say more? Click the link if you haven't heard of it. Better yet, watch this. Stuxnet was the first documented example of a computer virus "subverting" physical industrial systems, in this case slowing the progress of Iran's nuclear program. Similar attacks could be used to cripple any number of the vital systems that rely on web-based networks or the cloud. The power grid, telecommunications networks, even access to the Internet itself. Protecting intellectual property, private data and these vital systems is not only good business, it's also vital to our national security. There are three major areas to look for opportunities here: protecting consumer data and systems, protecting corporate data and systems, protecting national security and the data and systems that the public rely on.
3. Brazil - I like the emerging markets in general, especially when you look at the significant headwinds facing industrialized nations today. Brazil, however, is extremely resource rich, largely business friendly, has an exploding middle class and has shifted away from reliance on foreign oil to a domestic (and more renewable) energy source. Plus, there are massive oil reserves just off the coast of Brazil and Brazil is positioning itself to be a major supplier of resources to China. Brazil has certainly overheated before and some experts believe that its currency, the Real, is overheated or that the country may be headed for massive inflation. While the country faces some other headwinds it is hard for me to imagine that in 50 years growth in Brazil would not have been greater than that in the United States.
4. Africa - Sure, we don't hear of much going on there now ... but give it time. There will be, and it will be huge. Africa will be (and already is) a huge market for companies like Coca-Cola (KO) and Wal-Mart (WMT). In fact many major companies are racing to enter the African market. With over 1 billion potential consumers and tremendous natural resources, much of Africa is ripe for growth.
5. Natural Gas - As we've seen with the recent collapse of Chesapeake Energy (CHK), sometimes investing in the companies that find the commodity doesn't work out so well. Investing in the companies that move the commodity and companies that make the machinery and apparatuses that the Nat Gas actually powers seem like much less risky options. Look for focus articles on the Master Limited Partnerships like Kinder Morgan Partners (KMP), (KMI), (KMR) and nat gas engine maker Westport Innovations (WPRT). Stepping back a bit, why do I like natural gas over renewables or oil? First of all, oil is getting harder to find and use both physically and politically. Natural gas is cleaner, domestic and cheaper than it has ever been relative to oil. Plus, the leap from oil to natural gas is much easier than the leap from oil to, say, hydrogen both logistically and from the perspective of what the public is willing to adopt. Hydrogen powered cars in the next 20 years? Maybe. Natural gas powered trucking fleets in the next 20 years? Definitely.
6. Water - There is nothing that we as humans need more than water. We can go as much as a month without food. But a week without water? Dead. Investment ideas would include companies that will create new water/sewage infrastructure in the third world, companies that will replace the now-crumbling infrastructure in the developed world and companies that treat, collect and transport water. Among others, look for articles on Brazilian water and sewage utility Companhia de Saneamento Basico (SBS), American Water Works (AWK) and companies involved with treating and transporting the water byproducts of our addiction to dirty energy. I have been watching Heckmann (HEK) for a little while and will definitely write on this company.
7. Defense Is the Best Offense - I'm not talking about defense contractors or arms makers. I'm talking about bricks and mortar companies with decades of steady growth and increasing dividends. Warning, these companies are often REALLY boring. Utilities certainly fit the bill so water, energy or other utility companies will definitely be a cornerstone of this series.
8. Prolonged Income Disparity in the United States - While the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, I see an environment where luxury goods companies like Tiffany (TIF) can thrive right next to companies like Family Dollar (FDO), Dollar General (DG) and AutoZone (AZO), which help stretched consumers stretch their dollars. Even Wal-Mart will likely thrive in this environment as the middle class shrinks and the scale that the big box stores use to bring consumers cheap goods becomes even more important to consumers.
9. Digital Payment - Taking out a checkbook and paying for groceries is NOT something that my generation will be doing. To be honest, I haven't written a check in at least a couple of years and I don't even know if I have a checkbook anymore. Major players in digital payment include Visa (V), Mastercard (MA), Discover (DFS) and eBay's PayPal (EBAY). When you consider that the only function your credit card serves is to tell the card reader a series of numbers via the magnetic strip, the whole idea of carrying around credit cards seems, well, obsolete. And for the record, I feel largely the same way about cash except I expect it to hang around longer than checks. I see a not-too-distant future where a device like the iPhone is not only your camera, cell phone, music player, newspaper and gaming device but also your wallet and bank.
10. Healthy Food - As the correlation between the United States' obesity and diabetes epidemics and the bad food we eat becomes clearer, what was once seen as "health food" or even "hippie food" will become more mainstream. While I'm sure that purveyors of these healthful foods - Whole Foods (WFM) being the best example - will do quite well, I would also look to companies like TreeHouse Foods (THS) for massive growth in this area.
11. Cheap Food - Despite everything mentioned in the paragraph above, the companies that can crank out food as inexpensively as possible should also do well in both the distant and not-too-distant future. This would also fall in line with the theme above of income disparity. While McDonald's (MCD) has been shunned by investors over the past month or so, the company remains poised grow its business abroad and will use the healthy food trends to recapture some of the share it has lost to companies like Panera (PNRA), which I also expect to do well.
12. Food In General - I like food. You like food. In fact, everybody likes food. Not only do we like food, we need food. For this reason I like what Kraft (KFT) is doing with its spinoff later this year where its domestic business and international business will become two separate entities. Frankly, I like both but will probably prefer the new entity, Mondelez (no ticker yet), since it will offer pretty significant growth prospects. I also like the major food distribution companies. I currently work for one of the few major food service conglomerates and can personally vouch for how much of our product comes off the back of a Sysco (SYY) truck. Currently we rely on local and regional distributors for some of the local, organic and fair trade foods that our clients and consumers are beginning to demand (and get). However companies like Sysco are picking up on this and will ultimately win out to the little regional distributors since they are preferred by the large food service companies (like mine) because of the procurement "relationships" that they have on a national level. I am hesitant to even mention United Foods (UNFI) in the same paragraph since they really don't offer the same type of products, but they do offer products like one of my generation's favorites, Annie's Mac n Cheese (BNNY), which fall into the category of "healthy food" above that I expect to do quite well.
13. Environmental Cleanup - Fukushima Daiichi, gulf oil spill, byproduct water and chemicals from fracking and other energy production, etc. These are just a few examples of when our technology hurts the earth ... and our health. And whether through regulation or litigation, companies will end up paying dearly for their clean up. So who exactly does this clean up? Companies like Clean Harbors (CLH), US Ecology (ECOL) and Waste Management (WM) are called in. More on them to come.
14. Generic Drugs - As life expectancies grow, the cost of healthcare continues to skyrocket, Medicare and Medicaid continue to face pressure and many seniors' retirement accounts are still feeling the effects of the financial crisis, generic drugs and inexpensive medical supplies should do quite well. Perrigo (PRGO) and Teva (TEVA) are two successful companies in this space.
While I am sure that there are more on my list, these 14 should be more than enough to get me going on my series. Stay tuned for articles on these themes.
Additional disclosure: I have no plans to trade out of these positions in the next 72 hours but may add to them. I also own Call options for TIF.