Exxon Mobil is leaving the Dow Jones Industrial Average after 92 years. They joined the Dow in 1928, and it's considered one of the bluest of blue chips – a stock to own forever. Salesforce will take its spot. It's not the first perennial holding to be substituted by a newer, swankier company. Walgreen's replaced General Electric in 2018 after a 112-year run and Apple supplanted AT&T in 2015 after 99 years. The three former Dow Jones members spent a combined 303 years in the popular index. Procter & Gamble is now the longest-tenured company in the Dow at 88 years.
For decades, shareholders of Exxon, GE, and AT&T considered themselves set for life. A portfolio consisting of these three companies turned $30,000 into $1.2 million from 1983 to 2016, generating an average annual return of 11.8% - far outpacing the S&P 500. Yet, from 2016 through 2020, this three-stock portfolio has fallen 45% while the S&P 500 is up 68%, a difference of 113%!
From 1930 to 1960, Exxon, GE, and AT&T were a few of the largest companies in the world, and AT&T held the top spot for four decades. Exxon was the largest company in the world in 2011. It's now the 34th largest company in the US.
In addition to the long-term investment success of this blue-chip triad, they generated significant dividend income over the past three decades. Exxon's dividend yield averaged 3.15%, GE's average payout was 2.95%, and AT&T paid 4.54%. These former juggernauts raised their dividends by an average of 495% during this stretch.
However, time's change and Exxon's revenue has declined 31% over the past decade, and its dividend payout ratio is 207% - an extremely high metric. Exxon's stock price has risen 68 cents over the past twenty years, and GE's stock hasn't budged a dime in twenty-eight years. AT&T has followed a similar path. Its share price is down more than 40% from its 1999 peak.
Cisco Systems is an excellent example of not getting married to a stock. Its share price soared 3,500% from 1995 to 2000. By 2002, it had fallen 85%. Over the past twenty years, it's down 42%, and it has never returned to its all-time high of $72.19 set in April 2000.
Today, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google, Microsoft, and Tesla are the largest companies, and investors plan to own them forever. And rightfully so. If you owned a basket of these high-flyers, you'd be up 97% this year! It's hard to imagine that one of these companies could follow the fate of Exxon, GE, or AT&T, but it's possible.
What should you do if you own a stock that you want to hold forever? Here are a few suggestions.
- If your company is performing well, and it's meeting your needs, do nothing. Let it run.
- If the stock becomes a significant percentage of your wealth, consider reducing it, and redeploying your capital into another company or two. What is a large percentage? When your stock approaches 10% or more of your portfolio, start paying extra attention to it. When it breaches 25%, sell some shares to drop your weighing to 10% of your account balance or lower.
- Trust, but verify. Review earnings reports and company announcements. Is the trend intact? Are they generating positive revenue, earnings, and cash flow? Is the company innovating and producing products and services people will use? If so, hold on to the stock.
- Keep an eye on management. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk are legendary leaders and visionaries. A strong management team is a crucial component to the success of a company, so keep an eye on their lieutenants as well. You can track critical employees on Morningstar or Yahoo! Finance.
- Take profits. It's okay to take profits after a strong run. Apple and Tesla announced stock splits a few weeks ago, and their stock prices have risen 31% and 47%, respectively. After a substantial gain, it's okay to trim your holdings to lock in a profit.
- Average up. Most people are comfortable averaging down, but few like to average up. What is averaging up? Let's say you purchased 100 shares of Apple at $150 in 2019, and you bought more at $250 and $350 and $450. Your average cost is $300. Apple is currently trading for $500 per share, so your gain is $200, or 67%, despite buying the stock at higher prices.
- Sell it. If your company's fortunes change, sell it, and move on to a new company. There are thousands of companies and investment opportunities, so don't get wedded to a stock.
Owning great companies is one of the best ways to create wealth and concentrating your holdings into a few stocks can magnify your returns. But, it's essential to review your investments regularly to make sure they're meeting your goals and objectives. Do not ignore fundamentals and pay attention to popular trends. Times change and being flexible to pivot to new ideas will allow your account to grow over time.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall. ~ Anonymous
August 26, 2020
Bill Parrott, CFP®, is the President and CEO of Parrott Wealth Management located in Austin, Texas. Parrott Wealth Management is a fee-only, fiduciary, registered investment advisor firm. Our goal is to remove complexity, confusion, and worry from the investment and financial planning process so our clients can pursue a life of purpose. Our firm does not have an asset or fee minimum, and we work with anybody who needs financial help regardless of age, income, or asset level. PWM's custodian is TD Ameritrade, and our annual fee starts at .5% of your assets and drops depending on the level of your assets.
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