Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Long-Term Strategy

I’m a long-term trader partially by choice but also because I’m an average guy who doesn’t have time to follow the market every second of the day. I have a job outside of investing which makes day trading impossible. I came to this realization pretty early on a few years ago, and I ended up adjusting my strategy. I make about 5-7 trades a month, and they are generally on the buy side. I also remember during the economic slowdown how often long-term investing was labeled dead and in the new market you have to be consistently nimble in stocks. My post disputes this and I totally disagree with this assumption.

As the economic downturn got worse into late 2008, I became more and more interested in Warren Buffett. He is easily one of the most recognizable long-term investors in the market. A lot of what he does is considered boring and out of date, but if you look at my post on long-term trading, you’ll see the returns were actually very good for the past ten years.

So how do I invest? A major chunk of my portfolio is in stocks that have large moats, strong cash flow, and solid brands. A company like Nike which is a very common name returned huge gains over the past ten years and also paid a small dividend. Stocks like Coke, Johnson & Johnson, and Kraft all held up during the past 10 years and paid a large chunk of money in dividends. I’m not looking to make 30% overnight and not willing to take on that risk. Instead, these companies have become a core portion of my portfolio and will continue to be in the future.

My Top Three Holdings (35+% of My Portfolio)

Wells Fargo

Why are these three stocks my largest holdings? Coca-Cola has one of the strongest brands in the world and has consistently produced growth and increased their dividend. Wells Fargo survived the economic crisis and in my opinion has come out stronger than ever. They almost doubled their entire deposits by acquiring Wachovia, they have been trading near or slightly above book value for a while, and they showed a lot of discipline in the home mortgage market which actually put them in the offensive position to buy Wachovia.

Apple is somewhat of a different stock and requires a little more discipline. Even after the run-up in the stock I think it’s undervalued. Apple is generating insane amounts of cash flow, innovating consistently every year with new products, and has one of the strongest brands in the world. However, Apple is a technology stock, and things change rapidly in this type of market. Even though it is a large position for me now, I am being as nimble as possible with their stock. This is one holding I expect to change in size over the coming years. I have a big portion of my portfolio wrapped up in these three stocks because I have a lot of confidence in their businesses in good times and bad.

It’s very important I think to understand that long-term investing is not something where you pick 10-20 stocks and buy and hold. The market is doing well lately, and that strategy may have worked, but there is a big question to ask. If the market fell 5% tomorrow would you continue to hold those stocks? Do they have a strong enough moat to defend themselves and recover? What happens if you continue to hold and the market drops 15-20%? Are you still holding those same stocks? These are questions I asked myself before going into these investments.

I think a lot of losses are generated by people who panic and sell, especially in stocks that are volatile and lacking a strong moat. There are plenty of examples in the tech industry in early 2000 where companies surged and then ultimately failed a few years later wiping out billions in shareholder value. I was one of them (on a much, much smaller scale) and I don’t intend to repeat that.

The next 35%

The next 35% of my portfolio is locked up in similar stocks with strong moats, solid dividends, and growth. They are: General Electric, Kraft, Johnson &Johnson, Berkshire Hathaway, AT&T and Nike. If you look at a ten year chart of these stocks, most of these stocks are doing better than the S&P 500 over the past 10 years and even better if you include dividends. These are companies I’m comfortable holding the next day if the market drops 5%, and if the market continues to drop.

The Last 30%

The last 30% of my portfolio takes on a little more risk and uses my technology background. They are: Google, Amazon, Nvidia, Citrix, and Synchronoss to name a few. After a 5% drop in the stock market, these are the stocks I look to first to see if I need to make any changes. Some of these have performed very well over the past year, and I’ve reduced positions in these over time. I do pay attention to the price I am paying for these stocks. I recently reduced my holdings in Nvidia by about 45% because the stock has run up very fast in a short period of time, and I feel the stock is overvalued. These are not buy and hold stocks and I don’t treat them in my portfolio as such.

My Expectations and Goals

I’m never going to come out and predict where the market will be in the short-term. I think that’s a foolish game and making large bets on something that is almost impossible can put you at a lot of risk. However over the long-term I think it’s safer to say we will be higher. I have built a fairly conservative portfolio, but with a majority of stocks I believe will be higher ten years from now. My ultimate goal is to have stability while producing consistent returns from quality companies with an emphasis on value.

Disclaimer: I am not in any way recommending an exact duplication of this portfolio as your investing strategy depends on your personal financial situation.

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