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Your portfolio is a living, breathing thing

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

While buying and holding is a great investment approach turning a blind eye to what's in your portfolio can be a recipe for disaster.

I love the idea of buying and holding. In fact I structure all of my investments on this basis. I aim to buy well and hold for an extended period of time to create substantial wealth accumulation. It's been a proven recipe for long-term investment success.

However that doesn't mean I turn a blind eye to what's in the portfolio and what happens to the individual components within the portfolio. I think many people fail to realize that companies are living and breathing things with their own defined lifecycles. While it's true that companies can continue to perpetuity, there are discrete growth phases that all companies go through.

Companies start out in a hyper growth stage where revenues typically go through the roof but profits can be subdued and cash flow seems hard to come by. They then go into a more steady, consistent profitable phase that produces consistent cash.

Finally companies typically go through a process where growth slows down to a level that is slightly above inflation and cash flows are significant but returned back to investors as growth opportunities are exhausted.

Each of these phases of a company's journey brings risk to the investor. The hyper growth companies in the early phases run the risk of never generating profits and consistent cash flow.

Those companies that are a little more mature run the risk that they'll never be able to scale up their execution to achieve that next phase of the growth. Finally, the most mature companies run the risk of being disrupted by early stage businesses in the hyper growth phase.

It's a cycle of the company's life that repeats itself with every business.

Not thinking about your portfolio and the companies within your portfolio as living, breathing entities can leave you exposed to being blind to each of these unique company stage risks.

Buying and holding has never meant to just set and forget.

It's super important in my view to be vigilant and monitor your company's progress. Now I don't mean sweating it out over each quarterly release but rather being aware of the macro trends and developments within your company's space.

The retail sector is one area where I think investors are going to be needed to be hyper aware and hyper focused in the coming years.

Online is chewing up in-store retail at a much faster rate than I think most expected just a few years ago. You're seeing the death of the great American mall.

Traffic to retail stores is increasingly lower and retailers are struggling to compete with online competitors who don't have to rent a storefront, don't need to stock physical inventory and are open 24 -7 at the convenience of the customer.

That's a really tough business proposition to compete against. Blindly buying and holding these in store retail businesses may turn out to be a recipe for disaster in the future.

Just ask those folks that are wedded to their investments in the newspaper business. I'm sure Warren Buffett has questioned his investment in the Washington Post more than a few times over the years.

But even beyond specific holdings or specific sectors, investors need to think about their portfolios as living and breathing just to prevent portfolios getting stale.

What can happen over time with a buy and hold strategy is that you end up with a lot of very similar businesses in the same stage of a growth cycle. That typically tends to mean many businesses are ex growth and are growing at the rate of inflation.

If you need these businesses to last you the next 20 or 30 years in time, you run the risk of getting an income that barely exceeds inflation, or more alarmingly being stuck with a collection of businesses that run the real risk of being disrupted.

That could make for a recipe for disaster. See in the corporate world, no company tends to rest on its past successes. There is a product planning cycle that typically has the more mature successful cash flows in a business funding development in new concepts that have the potential for longer-term success.

That's vitally important to corporate planning, because it means that the company is trying to ensure its success and its longer-term viability over many years.

Resting all your hopes on a moneymaker product is a sure fire way to see yourself out of business in the medium-term. If companies can invest for growth and regeneration, why shouldn't we as individual investors look at doing the same thing with our portfolios?

It's good portfolio planning to have a set of mature companies that generate consistent and regular profitability and good cash flow. It's also prudent portfolio planning to think about having some companies at the earliest stages of their growth journey that are seeing good steady growth and have a window for continued growth over the medium-term.

What that means is that these early stage companies can pick up the heavy lifting for your portfolio when your more mature companies have gone ex- growth. That will give you the best chance to enjoy a healthy retirement with a growing income stream.

Now when I say early stage businesses, I don't mean those companies with no clue about revenues, profit or cash flow or companies that have no clue about execution.

The types of early stage businesses that I'm talking about are ones with a proven track record and that are achieving strongly going revenues, cash flows and profits but are in the early stages of the business journey.

As dividend investors there is a tendency for us to pursue those companies that give us meaningful yield today. That typically means that we overlook some of these early stage highly, promising businesses in favor of the portfolio that's chock-full of these more mature next growth businesses that pay out substantial yields.

This is something that we should all be aware of when reviewing our own portfolios and planning for retirement that could stretch 30 or more years from now. Remember that your portfolio is a living breathing thing with businesses that will atrophy, businesses that will go ex growth and businesses that will occasionally die.

Investing in the regeneration of your portfolio and treating it as a living breathing thing is something that should benefit all of us as investors

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