The Wisdom of Time: Long-Term Investment Ideas for Savvy Investors

Time.

You can't beat it.

You can't fight it.

You can't even hope to contain it.

But that's OK. You can make time work for you.

Investing in the stock market is all about time, patience, and persistence. And no, I'm not talking about timing the market. As any seasoned investor will tell you, market timing is a gamble at best. The better approach is to have a long-term mindset and take your time. The more of it, the better. That's how you get the magic of compound growth to boost your wealth.

Time in the market beats timing the market. That means you have to accept and endure short-term volatility in exchange for long-term gains. Master investor Warren Buffett doesn't even try to predict short-term market moves because reality is way too unpredictable. In fact, he famously said, "Our favorite holding period is forever." This mindset has served him well, and it can serve you too.

Giving established giants time to prove their worth

Take Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), for example. It has been around for over 40 years and has only gotten stronger with time. The Redmond, Washington-based tech giant is the second-largest company on the U.S. stock market nowadays, trailing only Apple. It pivoted toward cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI), and its revamped business plan is paying off. Its intelligent cloud segment, where Microsoft reports financial results for its cloud-related business operations, has become its largest revenue generator:

Infographic showing Microsoft's revenue, expense, and profit streams in Q3 2023, where 42% of sales came from the intelligent cloud segment.

Microsoft's Azure cloud platform is a leader in the space, and the company's investments in AI are starting to bear fruit. With a solid foundation in these high-growth areas -- not to mention a titanium-clad balance sheet -- Microsoft is prepared to weather any short-term storms and emerge even stronger in the years ahead. And its multidecade growth story isn't over yet. Far from it.

Patience in the face of risky ideas

But investing isn't just about picking the right company. In a larger sense, it's really about having the right mindset. Patience and persistence are key virtues in the stock market, and they're especially important when it comes to long-term investing.

The Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) story illustrates what I mean. The video-streaming giant was a stock market darling for years, but it hasn't always been smooth sailing. The company faced a backlash in 2011 when it tried to spin off its DVD rental business into a separate company called Qwikster. Netflix shares lost 61% of their value that year, despite a strong start. And if you picked up Netflix shares on the cheap at the end of 2011, because you saw the game-changing value of going global with a digital streaming service, and have held on since then, I can only applaud your brilliant insight and saintly patience. If you had invested $31,000 in Netflix back then, that holding would be worth more than $1 million today:

NFLX Chart

NFLX data by YCharts.

More recently, Netflix has faced increased competition from new streaming services, and it's knee-deep in an unpredictable economy. The company lost more subscribers than it gained during a couple of last year's reporting periods, and the market's response to those issues led to it chopping 51% off Netflix's market capitalization in 2022. But despite these challenges, management has stayed the course and continued to invest in original content.

Netflix's persistent efforts to optimize subscriber growth have shifted toward a focus on profitable growth, and the cash is expected to continue pouring in from this point on. The company has 233 million streaming subscribers and reported a cool $2.1 billion in free cash flow last quarter. The unprofitable growth stock of old has transformed into an awesome cash machine.

I can't promise that the streamer will deliver another round of massive share price gains, but Netflix has proven naysayers wrong before and seems likely to do it again. Patient long-term shareholders should reap handsome rewards as its cash profits inspire higher share prices.

The beauty of diversification

Another example of an effective long-term investment is the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (NYSEMKT: VOO), which tracks the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC) index. This efficiently managed fund has been around for over 10 years and has consistently delivered market-matching returns, thanks to automated portfolio balancing and extremely low management fees. I mean, you can hardly tell the difference between the results of owning this fund or (in theory, because you can't actually do this) investing directly in the S&P 500:

VOO Chart

VOO data by YCharts.

The beauty of this investment is that you're not betting on any one company, but rather on the overall performance of the U.S. economy. And historically, the U.S. economy has always bounced back from downturns and continued to grow in the long term. So it makes all kinds of sense to put your money to work in a broadly diversified asset like the Vanguard S&P 500 fund, which lets you manage a massive basket of stocks through the convenience of a single ticker.

Don't forget about cryptocurrencies!

Of course, investing is not just about stocks anymore. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (CRYPTO: BTC) and Polkadot (CRYPTO: DOT) have emerged as viable long-term investments. Bitcoin has been around for over a decade, and keeps proving its worth time after time. With a hard limit on the number of Bitcoin tokens that can ever exist, it is touted as the ultimate inflation-beating tool in the long run.

And Polkadot, a newer cryptocurrency that aims to provide interoperability between different blockchain networks, has the potential to disrupt the traditional financial system. Actually, Polkadot was designed by the Web3 Foundation as the perfect tool to drive the next generation of the public internet. If you want to invest in that project, Polkadot is the most direct way to do it.

As with any investment, there are risks involved, but cryptocurrencies may be worth considering as part of a well-diversified portfolio for investors with long investing horizons. That applies to value-oriented crypto investments like Bitcoin as well as to the more practical bets on the expectation of increasing mass-market usage of blockchain networks, which is how Polkadot should build its value in the years ahead.

At the end of the day, time is your ally

In conclusion, investing is all about time, patience, and persistence. By taking a long-term approach and standing firm in the face of short-term volatility, you can position yourself for success. Whether you choose to invest in established giants like Microsoft, evolving businesses such as Netflix, ultra-safe S&P 500 index funds, exciting cryptocurrencies, or some combination of these options, the key is to have a solid investment thesis and stick to it.

A little luck and a lot of patience will help you protect and grow your wealth over time.

And there it is again: time -- a long-term investor's best friend. You didn't hear it here first, but I don't mind repeating this crucial idea.

10 stocks we like better than Microsoft
When our analyst team has a stock tip, it can pay to listen. After all, the newsletter they have run for over a decade, Motley Fool Stock Advisor, has tripled the market.*

They just revealed what they believe are the ten best stocks for investors to buy right now... and Microsoft wasn't one of them! That's right -- they think these 10 stocks are even better buys.

See the 10 stocks

*Stock Advisor returns as of April 24, 2023

Anders Bylund has positions in Bitcoin, Netflix, Polkadot, and Vanguard S&P 500 ETF. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Bitcoin, Microsoft, Netflix, and Vanguard S&P 500 ETF. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.