Indolent investing

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Indolent investing.

Warren Buffett claims he hardly works; his investing philosophy is about picking good companies and letting them do all the hard work. This approach has been successful and made a fortune for Berkshire Hathaway shareholders and for Buffett himself.

Indolent investing, or set and forget, or buy-and-hold, or whatever you want to call it, has always appealed to me in preference to the frenetic trading investors traditionally favour, staying one step ahead of market news and happenings.

I recently saw further proof that buy-and-hold investing works — putting to bed any suggestion Buffett's success is an aberration and impossible to replicate.

An American mutual fund, the Voya Corporate Leaders Trust, is now in its 81st year and has beaten the Standard and Poor's 500 stock index for 15 years. According to researcher Morningstar, the Voya fund is up an average 7.75 per cent a year versus 5.58 per cent for the S&P 500.

Actually, its success spans longer than 15 years with the Voya website proclaiming the fund has beaten the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones indexes "for over 40 years".

Beating the market for such a long period is a marvel in itself but the story is more fascinating because of the approach Voya has chosen to take.

Voya Corporate Leaders was born in 1935 — in the middle of the Great Depression — and its mission was simple. The founders figured that, if a company could survive and even prosper during the 20th Century's worst economic downturn, it could probably survive many more years. So the fund bought the 30 largest companies in 1935, ruling out banks and financial companies due to the lingering distrust of the sector at the time.

The rules of the fund were simple (but most unusual): no stock could be sold unless it stopped paying dividends or became de-listed from the market. No stocks could be added either, except through mergers and spinoffs.

Original names in the fund included companies like Du Pont, General Electric, Procter & Gamble and AT&T.

The fund clearly had some lucky breaks — Standard Oil, one of the original line-up, became ExxonMobil which has been a huge investment, growing dividends each year for the past three decades.

Warren Buffett's company Berkshire Hathaway also entered the fund when it bought the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway.

The fund has trucked along for 81 years doing what Buffett says he does — not a lot — and has become a real testament to the value of long-term investing.

The notion of buying a good investment and holding on to it for as long as it remains good is common sense really.

Various experts over long periods of time have said the same thing or variations thereof.

Nobel economist Paul Samuelson said: "Investing should be dull. It should be like watching paint dry or grass grow. If you want excitement, you should go to Las Vegas."

Albert Einstein once opined: "There is no greater power known to man than compounding." What he means is, as your investment earns a return, leave it alone and it will earn a return on that return, and again the following year, and so on.

To those who prefer buying and selling over buying and holding, legendary investor Peter Lynch once said "If you spend more than 15 minutes a year worrying about the market, you've wasted 12 minutes."

Invest well in the first place — and spend all that extra time doing...not a lot.


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