Volume 91 No. 10 - October 2020
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that things can and will change, including things whose permanence we take for granted. We are aware of the pandemic, the Presidential elections, that the economy is being supported by government stimulus, and countless other risks and opportunities in the current market and economy. However, this month, we are going to step back from the troubling news of the day and explore the concept of change.
When examining the composition of the US economy, it is easy to overlook fundamental change. The components that drive the US economy shift and change over time. In the 1950s, the largest and most dominant companies were titans of the manufacturing industry. Companies such as General Motors, US Steel, and General Electric were three of the largest. Today, these companies have been replaced at the top by technology companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon. While a small sampling of companies is not an exact representation of the entire economy, this change at the top displays stark contrast in the landscape of the US economy in the 1950s compared to today.
Long-term investing with a buy-and-hold strategy is the foundation of ICI portfolios. This strategy must be accompanied by constant monitoring and research as the economy and its underlying companies change.
Manufacturing Moguls of the 1950s
While it remains one of the largest car manufacturers in the world, General Motors does not exhibit the dominance it once did. GM once held a 50% market share in the US and was the largest automaker in the world for more than 75 years until 2007. It filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
During World War II, US Steel employed more than 300,000 employees and grew so large that federal government intervention was explored as a way to contain the steel producer’s influence on the mid-century US economy. It was one of the original members of the S&P 500 but was removed in 2014.
GE drove so much change within US society in many areas that it remained one of the 30 companies forming the Dow Jones Industrial Average for more than a century until 2018. Today, its stock price has declined nearly 90% from its all-time high in 2000.
Technology Titans of Today
Apple designs and manufactures a diverse offering of technology products and services that are consumed across the world. Its market share and presence are undeniable and has become a household name. It made history in 2018 when it became the first company to reach 1 trillion-dollar market capitalization. It reached another milestone in 2020 when it became the first company to reach 2 trillion-dollar market capitalization.
A long-standing software company, Microsoft has had a rebirth in the past decade. It has also become a household name across the world and reached 1 trillion-dollar market capitalization in 2019. According to Microsoft, over 1 billion devices are currently utilizing their Windows 10 software.
Although it is listed in the consumer discretionary sector, much of Amazon’s competitive edge stems from the success and proliferation of its online platforms. Surveys have concluded that roughly 60% of Americans are subscribed to its Prime membership. Its dominance in the consumer space has led to consistently strong revenue growth year over year.
“The only constant in life is change.” – Heraclitus, Greek philosopher. This adage rings true with the American economy. While General Motors, US Steel, and General Electric are all still publicly traded companies, their positions at the top have been taken by tech giants of today. Although these companies do not represent the entire economy, they give an indication of the change of the times.
In 1955, Fortune released its first Fortune 500 list. Only 60 of the original 500 (12%) remain on the list today. Sometimes change happens fast and other times slow. Some companies take several years to wind down, others evaporate overnight. Sometimes slower growth or revenue declines show cyclicality and other times significant competitive issues or obsolescence. As the companies which make up the US economy change, they must also be monitored and evaluated on a consistent basis.
General Motors, US Steel, and General Electric were owned in most portfolios in the US at one time. These companies have been replaced by Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon. At ICI, despite the growth of the technology sector and its recent success, we continue to diligently research and monitor each company we own.
Since ICI’s founding in 1929, our combination of constant research and long-term investing strategy has formed the bedrock of many successful portfolios. While we do not make trades based on short-term events, we constantly monitor each company in your portfolio. It is as important to stay current as it is to demonstrate patience. Our buy-and-hold strategy, but with constant monitoring, enables your portfolio to invest for the long-term and withstand changes in the overall economy.
Investment Counsel Inc. is a registered investment adviser. Information presented is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered specific investment advice, does not take into consideration your specific situation, and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any securities or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and are not guaranteed. Be sure to consult with a qualified financial adviser and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein.