One Share For The Rest Of Your Life

Published in Investing on 11 July 2011

You can have one share only -- forever. What's it to be?

If you had to pick, today, one share for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

To take this strange hypothesis a little further, I'm going to add a few conditions:

  • The share constitutes your entire sum of investments.

  • It needs to pay your future pension.

  • You will need to keep adding investments into the same company (and that company only) from your earnings until your retirement.

  • It may not be a collective investment such as an investment trust.

  • You may not sell any of the shares before retirement -- when you may decide to sell off parcels to live on, and/or take the dividends.

So what's the point in all this?

Well clearly, such a policy would be ridiculous -- but it's surprising how many private investors feel confident enough to sail pretty close to such a scenario with a "bet the farm" type approach -- or are guilty of "falling in love" with a share.

But a farm bet is often more about seeing conspicuous value come out in a timely fashion -- as opposed to a long-term buy and hold forever approach.

Warren Buffett's view

My point is that if the majority of your share-based investments come reasonably close to fulfilling the requirement of being the one to have and to hold, forsaking all others, then you're probably aiming in the right direction.

If not there's a problem -- and it's one I suffer from. As Warren Buffett said 20 years ago: 

"An investor should act as though he had a lifetime decision card with just twenty punches on it. With every investment decision his card is punched, and he has one fewer available for the rest of his life."

In other words, most long-term investors will enjoy superior returns from a relatively small number of shrewd decisions. But how do you identify such shares? What characteristics would they exhibit?

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Things to look for

I would say the company you seek should:

  • be growing at a reasonable rate;

  • demonstrate basic good value credentials such as a lower than average price-to-earnings ratio, a strong balance sheet and good cash flow;

  • have a history of steadily increasing earnings and an above average yield;

  • supply essential products or services and have a "moat" in so doing;

  • be trustworthy and prudent; and

  • have a lower average enterprise value to sales ratio than its peers.

There aren't many companies around that tick all these boxes in the good times. Back in the spring of 2009, they were easy to find on very low ratings -- and many of us made hay while the bearish sun shone.

But that was more about seeing value come out than a hold forever Buffett-type approach.


For example, Carr's Milling Industries (LSE: CRM) came close to being the perfect investment two years ago. The price has doubled since then, but the company continues to meet the above criteria.

Whereas with Volex (LSE: VLX), a couple of months earlier, the inherent value was riskier and came out manifold over the following months -- but this isn't a share I'd still be wanting to hold today at 13 times the price.

Today, if I had to buy one share to have and to hold, then in reality an investment trust may be a good idea.

Individually, oil giants BP (LSE: BP) and Royal Dutch Shell (LSE: RDSB), big insurers giants Aviva (LSE: AV) and RSA Insurance Group (LSE: RSA), supermarket chains Sainsbury (LSE: SBRY), Morrison (LSE: MRW) and Tesco (LSE: TSCO), and utility stalwart Scottish & Southern Energy (LSE: SSE) would all be candidates for me -- but none is perfect.

What would be your suggestions -- let us know below.

More from David Holding:

> David owns shares in Carr's Milling Industries, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Aviva, RSA Insurance, Sainsbury, and Scottish & Southern Energy. The Motley Fool owns shares in Tesco.

>  Claim your FREE financial guides -- The Motley Fool has teamed up with a number of partners to offer our users free financial guides on topics such as tax planning, funds and much, much more. Click here to download your reports today!

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G12th 11 Jul 2011 , 9:16am

Berkshire Hathaway would be my selection!

Dylantherabbit 11 Jul 2011 , 9:44am

Good question. Out of that lot I would probably go for Shell. A large (massive) diversified energy company, SSE is a possible and maybe Tesco. But its a tough one and there are smaller companies that might be better, Halma possibly. What about a large property company? I dont see buildings going out of fashion anytime soon.

BarrenFluffit 11 Jul 2011 , 9:53am

Dylan; high street shops are going out of fashion! To me it seems a ridiculous proposition; extrapolate today's data into a managements actions over the next 30 years. The world changes.

CunningCliff 11 Jul 2011 , 11:32am

Carr's Milling Industries has a market cap under £75m and, therefore, is far too small to be considered as a candidate for a 'single-share portfolio'.

For me, the key criterion for choosing such a share would be the probability that the business would still exist, say, 30 year from now. GSK or another FTSE 100 mega-cap, perhaps?


AleisterCrowley 11 Jul 2011 , 11:41am

Unilever.. or possibly Reckit & Benkiser. AZN/GSK at a push

tux222 11 Jul 2011 , 11:52am

It quite definitely wouldn't be Shell or any large oil company for me. BP's gulf of Mexico disaster is one reason. The fact that petroleum may go the way of Whale Oil in our lifetimes is another.

Tesco neither. "All things being equal buy a company that can be run by an idiot, because sooner or later it will be". Supermarkets definitely are not in that category, and the competition is cut-throat, ready and waiting for a slip-up.

Mobile phones should get a mention. I get the impression that today's young people would have to be starving before they'd give up their mobile. Vodafone is the obvious candidate with a fair bit of global spread.

However, nothing is going to obsolete the need to generate electricity. SSE, with its Scottish hydro-electric capacity, is a decent candidate. I'd take a good hard look at Norsk Hydro SA before deciding, since it would be better-placed if oil and gas start running low. Also Iberdrola (big in renewables, and in the right part of Europe to do best out of any move to solar-electricity, but a big negative - exposed to the Spanish economy and debt problems).

Dylantherabbit 11 Jul 2011 , 11:56am

Barren, there is more to the property sector than high street shops. I reckon the need for shelter at work or at home will be a continuous human 'need' for sometime yet. Maybe we will have personal 'force fields' to provide shelter in the future but I wouldn't count on it happening anytime soon !

Dylantherabbit 11 Jul 2011 , 11:56am

Barren, there is more to the property sector than high street shops. I reckon the need for shelter at work or at home will be a continuous human 'need' for sometime yet. Maybe we will have personal 'force fields' to provide shelter in the future but I wouldn't count on it happening anytime soon !

AleisterCrowley 11 Jul 2011 , 12:05pm

However, nothing is going to obsolete the need to generate electricity. SSE, with its Scottish hydro-electric capacity, is a decent candidate.

Ah,but they may get Cold Fusion working in the next 20 years or so... :-)

ZhargofZog 11 Jul 2011 , 1:25pm

i'd buy vodafone but only when it reaches a £1

mcturra2000 11 Jul 2011 , 1:27pm

I second Berkshire Hathaway. I know Warren's getting on, and I know that its huge size hampers it somewhat, but I still think it's the best bet.

Failing that, Unilever or Reckitt. Both are solid companies and I don't see them dying before I do. They earn good returns on equity, are financially stable, and offer an inflation hedge at minimum.

I wouldn't go for supermarkets if I could only choose one investment. As tux notes, too competitive for my liking.

Niether would I like an oily. It's commodity-based, and the reserves are going to dry up eventually.

I don't especially like utilities, either, as they require immense amounts of capital, and are regulated. I'm not keen on the insurers, either. They're pretty cyclical, so I think would only be attractive on shorter-term horizons. Plus, they do go broke.

shinygoldcar 11 Jul 2011 , 1:57pm

I too would pick Berkshire Hathaway, if it qualifies. Even without Warren Buffett, it still is full of companies you would want to hold forever. But does the point It may not be a collective investment such as an investment trust disqualify it?

Otherwise, Coca-cola, or Unilever, or PZ Cussons, or the like (Reckitt Benckiser). But only at the right price. Maybe AZN/GSK. Consumer goods with strong brands!

I like monopolies or non-monopolies dominated by a small number of players or restricted by high barriers to entry. However, strong brands (rather than natural monopolies in utilities and heavy industries) are the very best because of low capex.

salmo365 11 Jul 2011 , 2:13pm

I can't imagine holding any company unconditionally for 20 years.

Most marriages don't even last that long and love is usually involved.

A dispassionate investment should never be so unconditional. With any of the above companies a throthy market may give a selling opportunity or a change in fortunes could change your view.

HousingBear999 11 Jul 2011 , 2:24pm

Could this be an example of "nominative determinism" at work? (e.g. "Arsene" Wenger being Arsenal manager, David "Holding" writing an article entitled One Share For The Rest Of Your Life...)

BarneyCowshed 11 Jul 2011 , 5:14pm

Good Game This!

Find a pin , a list of the top 100 companies, close eyes ( have a quick word with your God ) THEN JAB!!

The answer is 'Hammerson' !! Whoever they are.

Grakf 11 Jul 2011 , 6:16pm

Coca Cola - below PER 15

ANuvver 11 Jul 2011 , 6:19pm

I'd like to cheat. Split between AZN and GSK. They seem to have totally polarised attitudes to the generic issue.

If it had to be one, it would be any large diversified miner. Dr Copper, in particular, doesn't lie...

eccyman 11 Jul 2011 , 8:33pm

GSK or Diageo, if I was forced to choose one it'd be Diageo.

I assume you can't cheat by buying an IT like City of London

TonyTwoTimes 11 Jul 2011 , 9:06pm

If I was forced to choose one it would be Procter & Gamble. First dividend paid in 1891, increased dividend in each of the last 56 years, phenomenal portfolio of consumer brands, colossal economies of scale and a global distribution network so you're not too dependent upon any one country.

I'd take P&G over Unilever because it doesn't have any food interests since it sold Pringles.

re. oil. If you go for the peak oil / demand outstrips supply, look at the Canadian oiler with big interests in the Athabasca oil sands of Alberta. Suncor Energy, Cenovus Energy, Canadian Oil Sands, etc. 40+ years of reserves, though in practice a lot more.

Diageo is worth a look. Rising affluence around the world means bigger sales (alcohol is a luxury good in economic terms (as opposed to marketing terms) so sales benefit greatly from rising incomes).

If you're not put off by the merchant of death aspect, any major tobacco company such as Imperial or British American. Consumers in the developing world love their fags, if not the decreased life expectancy that they bring.

(I own shares in everything I've mentioned except tobacco)

F958B 11 Jul 2011 , 9:24pm

Morrison Supermarkets

IDPickering 11 Jul 2011 , 11:46pm

My guilty little secret is an unhealthy liking of British American Tobacco shares. They'd be my choice if I had to pick just one share. and I don't even smoke! :-)

wordofandy 12 Jul 2011 , 12:42am

I would assume the following, with point 1) containing the majority of the risk.
1) The UK will maintain good higher education allowing competitiveness in (only) high-tech manufacturing industries
2) Humans will maintain an even stronger addiction to gaining power through warfare than to tobacco
3) An increasing share of defense spending will be on technology

hence BAE systems.

Concerning oil/diversified energy companies, looking forwards, I do not believe that the fortunes of big oil will be permanently linked to petroleum. Given the investment and engineering capability that will be necessary to make the next step in energy generation (be it fusion or thorium or X or Y), today's big oil will have to be invited to the party.

DAshton42 12 Jul 2011 , 9:19am

SGI (Stanley Gibbons). Rationale: Reasonable, rising, well-covered divi. Becoming major player in China - what a growth market for a niche retailer of collectables like this. World-renowned brand in philately. Good online offering, plus investment arm. There will always be stamp collectors, no matter what the financial markets are doing, and so SGI is, in my opinion, a safe haven. Also, Noble (NBL), for very similar reasons, but this time mainly for coins. Forgot to mention autographs business for SGI. All IMHO, DYOR.

TMFKipper 12 Jul 2011 , 9:49am

I'll submit Johnson & Johnson as my Share For Life. Just love that company and have held it for years. Pays dividends too!

ScottishPound 12 Jul 2011 , 9:57am

Rolls-Royce (LSE:RR) - buy on the dips and reinvest dividend (tax free redistribution of capital) via the DRIP scheme.

RR is a propulsion provider, not just an engine company, and will be resourceful and innovative enough to continue to be at the forefront of propulsion provision - can anyone envisage a future without the need for propulsion of any sort even after oil runs out?

reinvestmentman 12 Jul 2011 , 10:53am

Very hard to choose just 1 though.

Afrosia 12 Jul 2011 , 12:21pm

I like SGI and have only very recently sold it for a solid 50% gain. I became very nervous about them though after they started to guarantee returns. This creates incalculable contingent liabilities.

I was also nervous about the huge disconnect between their operating profits and their operating cashflows. Creative accounting is happening there. It may be for good reason, but it could be to mask poor trading...

salmo365 12 Jul 2011 , 12:21pm

OK OK OK I've spent 24 hours thinking about it and I'm still unsure.

If I was American, it would be Coca Cola. I love their moat, their returns, their margins and I see no real threat. But I have to worry about the currency risk. So I'm looking for a UK listing and I'm tempted to go for a staple such as Diageo or Reckitt Benkiser but I'm still not sure.

I'm even tempted to go for a bank like HSBC.

But even though it's a game, it still sends shivers down my spine.

ShaneZuri 12 Jul 2011 , 12:24pm

TLW Tullow Oil , well run and seems to have a nose for finding oil and getting the deal to drill it.

hcidata 12 Jul 2011 , 12:25pm
sageofyork 12 Jul 2011 , 12:26pm

RIT, Merchant Trust or City of London IT.

Charleskevin 12 Jul 2011 , 12:45pm

One share for the rest of your life? It really depends on where you are in your life cycle. As someone with a bus pass I'll go for either RBS or LLOY. Massive gains to be made in the medium term and I might just make it to get some divi as well.

TomRoundhouse 12 Jul 2011 , 12:46pm

I played this game a few years ago and plumped for Weir. Pumps might not seems sexy but try running anything to do with modern civilization without them. If the job to be done is crucial, that's where you will find Weir. Better yet, they flog their kit with service contracts that run for decades!

They provide the picks and shovels of civilisation.

Smudgerooney 12 Jul 2011 , 12:48pm

Hmmmmmmmmmmm ............ For me Air Products (NYSE : APD)

gregjamer 12 Jul 2011 , 12:51pm

Only game in town Gold (phau)

salmo365 12 Jul 2011 , 12:57pm

I love Weir and they are going to make big money as the world goes after Shale Gas.

DrFfybes 12 Jul 2011 , 1:04pm

ONE share?

CTY City of London, erm, Investment Trust.

Well, technically it is ONE share :-)

Fingered 12 Jul 2011 , 1:05pm

Anyone know when Parliament is listing via an IPO?

jebutackil 12 Jul 2011 , 1:06pm

Aviva - what's not to like? Reaching it's "Buy me" price now.

AdAstra100 12 Jul 2011 , 1:10pm

They provide the picks and shovels of civilisation.

How about Fenner growing nicely and a dividend. You need the belts to drive the weir pumps!

heatingman 12 Jul 2011 , 1:12pm


Another Weir man - its engineers that will make whatever is coming possible and we shall need puimps everywhere FOREVER

AleisterCrowley 12 Jul 2011 , 2:38pm

SGI (Stanley Gibbons)?? Hmm, didn't the stamp market collapse completely in the early 80s?? I remember Len Deighton writing about it (really...)

Benatar 12 Jul 2011 , 2:39pm

This article has certainly generated plenty of comment & interest.

In recent years we have seen companies which most thought were completely safe proving the opposite (RBS, LLoyds, BP - American Banks) so no individual company would be a sensible investment. It would have to be an Investment Trust or other vehicle which had a broad portfolio of investments within it.

A recovery fund, or maybe a FTSE 250 tracker would be my choice.

jelg 12 Jul 2011 , 2:51pm

HALMA............ most definitely
..........without a shadow of a doubt.


Siwan1963 12 Jul 2011 , 3:15pm

BAT clearly. Fools will carry on smoking forever!

jtr63 12 Jul 2011 , 4:16pm

How about Pearson ?

Dozey1 12 Jul 2011 , 4:26pm

BG. Napolean chose lucky generals. BG seems not only to be extremely well managed but also lucky. Take the oil offshore Brazil. Huge gas interests elsewhere. The other thing is that BG is almost entirely ex-UK, and we're doomed I tell 'ye, we're doomed!

DAshton42 12 Jul 2011 , 6:45pm

This article was a really good idea. How about another, entitled "One share to drop from my portfolio like a hot coal...?"

("...if only I was psychologically ready to admit that buying it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life, and that it's NEVER going to recover!")

rogerthebodger 12 Jul 2011 , 7:52pm

To plumb for a single minded share is problematic. I'd go for a holding company type of share, eg a bank such as HSBC/Barclays/Standard or an insurance company, Aviva or Old Mutual even, for example.

Tykethat 12 Jul 2011 , 7:56pm

Google... massive cash, fantastic long term strategy

Accumul8er 12 Jul 2011 , 8:07pm

Berkshire Hathaway is a collective investment so technically disqualified but if we are bending the rules then I would pick RIT Capital Partners.

Otherwise, Diageo (people will never stop drinking - whether through recession or expansion), J&J or Proctor & Gamble - of course, a portfolio of just 10 shares would help in perpetuity (some oil, uranium, tobacco, supermarket, property and luxury brands would help with the balance).

What to do about technology? Microsoft, Apple, Google or Facebook? Probably none of these which is why we get back to collective funds like Polar Capital.

Accumul8er 12 Jul 2011 , 8:10pm

Sorry, forgot to mention banks... but they do have a habit of blowing themselves up! If pushed, perhaps I would add HSBC.

starenterprise1 12 Jul 2011 , 9:06pm

Great question perhaps ...Microsoft because cannot turn on your pc without them ..

snickerdoodle9 12 Jul 2011 , 9:48pm

Berkshire Hathaway . I wish that I had jumped on board when the brk.a shares were cheap more than 40 years ago . Being so young and inexperienced about investing at the time , Berkshire Hathaway wasn't a subject that was a topic of investing discussion among family and associates . So I guess I'll plan on hanging on to the 350 shares of brk.b . Beside Berkshire Hathaway I hold 516 shares of Pimco ( PHK ) high yield income , 504 Fifth Street Finance ( FSC ) and a few shares of Annaly Capital Management ( NLY ) All are heavily diversified with strong businesses and pay out handsome dividends that I reinvest . Keepers in my portfolio .

etlbajb 12 Jul 2011 , 11:18pm
psatek 12 Jul 2011 , 11:40pm

How about the London Stock Exchange Group
So long as people are trading shares it should do ok.

mackeson29 13 Jul 2011 , 9:38am

'Google... massive cash, fantastic long term strategy' - Which is what exactly ???

For me, HSBC - gonna need money in some form, forever, so there will always be banks (of some sort) & these seem the safest of all.

Although after a visit to the scottish highlands at the weekend, and seeing how many distilleries Diageo own, then they would be a big possibility. Can't see anyone taking over from the Jocks when it comes to whisky.

fellrunner100 13 Jul 2011 , 9:54am

I,d go for wal mart or tesco.
You can have your coca cola,s and your p and g or unilever and even your bat,s. etc
But all these companies need to sell their goods somewhere, and where is the best place for them.....yep at the big supermarkets.
(which are also massive petrol retailers now if you are an oily)
The big supermarkets take a little slice of all the big consumer products.

Boystown 13 Jul 2011 , 11:12am

I think I'd plump for either Sainsbury or Morrison - but think the former just edges it on a book value basis / takeover potential.

In the good times, Sainsbury does well as the poshest of the mainstream supermarkets (i.e. not incldung Waitrose) and in the bad times, it also does well as it's a step down for the wealthiest of shoppers who draw the line at anything further down the social scale - but are just about prepared to slum it at Sainsbury's.

It's also on a good rating, pays a decent divi etc.

Fingered 13 Jul 2011 , 10:27pm enough feedback from fools?

Blackboar 14 Jul 2011 , 1:29pm

I agree with the comment on Carr's Milling and I tucked a few away some time ago as a long term hold. However I prefer James Halstead which again have doubled in the last 21/2 years, but most impressive is the continual growth in sales, profits and dividends right through the recession.

GoldenSoldier 14 Jul 2011 , 3:43pm

To me, this seems a very foolish question, except in one respect. If having chosen your share you then ask yourself the question again, but this time adding the restriction that you exclude any share that you have previously chosen. You are then on your way to building a sensible portfolio.

Fool132775320 15 Jul 2011 , 10:17am

Those taking power providers as a choice must be close.
1. As essential as food for life.
2. The extreme capital costs required limits the competition.
3. Billions of humans still waiting to sign up for their share of power.
4. A prime example is in India, with Essar Energy standing by.

Fool132775320 15 Jul 2011 , 10:20am

no ! I don't have any...yet.

5753225 15 Jul 2011 , 11:39am

BATS - I was amazed just how many comments were posted before someone mentioned this... and then he called it a "guilty little secret".

BATS were for the first 100 years of their existence not allowed to sell cigarettes in the UK because of a commercial agreement. Although they can now sell in the UK, their market share is small here. That means that their products do not harm people, they harm foreigners, who as we all know aren't people at all.

[If you object to this definition of "people" at least it is wider than that used by Tony Blair who spoke endlessly of the "people's government" when he meant the Labour Party's government, and of how he wanted to make the people better off (look around you and see who is better off! Presumably he was including only the Blair family in that particular definition of the word)].

goodlifer 17 Jul 2011 , 2:12pm

Just done a very quick trawl through people's opinions.

Top of the Pops seems to be gsk, 5 votes.
Next come rb and bat with 4.
In joint 3rd place, with 3 each, are av., sbry, mrw, tsco, ulvr, azn and dge

Plenty of food for thought - some of the companies I've never even heard of must be worth investigating.

Particularly perhaps crm, nbl, grg and mggt.

Some of them - vlx, pzc, bg, tlw, jhd, essar, dge and weir - are probably perfectly decent companies but look a bit pricey at the moment; I'm very reluctant to buy anything at more than fifteen times estimated earnings, however high the yield or expected growth.

I'm afraid I've ignored anything not available on the lse.

Could this article be rewritten every three month or so?
It would be very interesting to see if, how and why people's opinions change.

Gengulphus 17 Jul 2011 , 9:44pm

[b]If you had to pick, today, one share for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

To take this strange hypothesis a little further, I'm going to add a few conditions:

* The share constitutes your entire sum of investments.
* It may not be a collective investment such as an investment trust.

I would cheat! For example, buy an off-the-shelf company, use it to run some low-risk business, issue myself more shares in it in return for my life's savings, and when I'd finished doing that (which would basically just be a matter of enough time to liquidate my current investments), turn it into an investment company by investing everything it owns in a nicely diversified portfolio of shares. It wasn't a collective investment when I bought the shares, and once bought, I'm stuck with it for the rest of my life whatever happens to it...

Sorry, but the idea of committing my life savings to a single share for the rest of my life, which could quite plausibly be another 4-5 decades, is so scary that that's the only honest answer.


SteadyAim 17 Jul 2011 , 10:27pm

Would need to be a stable company operating with relatively little debt, in a growing industry. Others have covered most of my shortlist of megacap supermarkets, booze companies and consumer stuff (except maybe SAB.L), interesting to see others' reasons for which they prefer.

I go for WMT if forced to go for one ...

but really I want the group: WMT / TSCO / DGE / SAB / ULVR / RB. / PG / Nestle

David, I hope you make a note in your diary to review this (and repeat this) in future years ...


ArabianOnyx 18 Jul 2011 , 12:05pm

BSkyB, huge cash generator, cannot buyback its shares any longer so needs to get rid of cash. Am about to convert these to DRIP


suse9 19 Jul 2011 , 12:42pm

Reckitt b and GSK are my two main investments and I have Carrs Milling and James Halstead on my hypothetical to watch portfolio but didn't buy. GRRR! Idiot!

Johnpope1 27 Jul 2011 , 2:58pm

Salmo 365. I hold for the long term. My £65 investment in1965 in one of the companies which are now part of Diageo is now worth around £9500 , after taking the dividends for much of that time. Some of the other investments have been with me for 30 years. Have confidence in a sector and a business with strong managemers to exploit the opportunities.

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