Methods to Flip $3,000 Into $41 Million: Investing Classes From a Century


Dow Jones Industrial Average

and the

S&P 500

have returned about 10% a 12 months for a century. These returns imply $3,000 invested on the finish of 1920 could be value roughly $41 million at this time.

Barron’s took a take a look at the numbers as a result of we’re turning 100. It was partly an train in nostalgia, but in addition an enchanting stroll by means of the tangle of mergers that’s American company historical past. Extra essential, trying on the market over an extended span gives classes about methods to put cash to work.

Like investing itself, digging into century-old knowledge isn’t easy. We tried to calculate 100-year returns for the indexes, in addition to for some outstanding corporations which have been traded repeatedly for a century.

For the indexes, the value ranges are straightforward. The S&P closed at about 6.8 in 1920. The Dow completed that 12 months at about 72. The S&P closed out 2020 at 3,756 and the Dow closed above 30,000.

That works out to common annual good points of 6.5% and 6.2% respectively. That’s not 10%. However about 40% of complete inventory returns traditionally are in dividends. And getting a listing of dividends for 100 years is tough.

For corporations, calculating 100-year returns is almost inconceivable, although we managed it for just a few. Lots occurs to corporations in a century together with mergers, spins, inventory splits, and title adjustments. And getting dividends for corporations for a century is tougher than getting them for an index.

Gathering the information, primarily, requires inventory tables printed in Barron’s and The Wall Road Journal a long time in the past. The businesses we began had been no assist.

They included:


(ticker: MO), the previous Philip Morris;

General Electric


Union Pacific

(UNP); and

Honeywell International

(HON), amongst others. Honeywell, as an example, simply celebrated its a centesimal anniversary of buying and selling on the New York Inventory Trade.

Nonetheless, neither Honeywell nor the change might reply the query: What’s the 100-year common annual return of Honeywell inventory?

They will’t actually be blamed. A century is a very long time. And Honeywell is a melding of Allied Chemical & Dye—which finally turned AlliedSignal—with the Minneapolis Honeywell Regulator Firm, which finally modified its title to Honeywell.

Allied Chemical was fashioned in 1920. Minneapolis Honeywell was fashioned in 1927. Then Allied and Honeywell merged in 1999, creating what buyers now know as Honeywell Worldwide. Extra not too long ago, Honeywell has spun off just a few corporations, together with


(ASIX). Preserving monitor of the spins is an extra headache.

In the long run, Barron’s discovered that

United States Steel

(X) has returned about 5% a 12 months on common over the previous century. GE has managed about 9%. Union Pacific has outperformed the Dow by a little bit bit at about 11%, whereas Altria takes the cake, returning roughly 15% a 12 months.

Outperformance provides up. Ten % a 12 months on $3,000 turns into $41 million. Fifteen % on $3,000 turns into $3.5 billion. That appears inconceivable. However Altria has additionally spun out


(MDLZ) and

Philip Morris International

(PMI) which collectively have a market capitalization of about $290 billion. It might be a really giant firm at this time.

What’s extra, the mum or dad agency has paid out nominal dividends value thousands and thousands over 100 years primarily based on an preliminary $3,000 stake.

The $3,000 determine wasn’t chosen at random. That was the average household income in 1920, in keeping with the Inside Income Service. Not many People can commit a 12 months’s wages to the inventory market suddenly, however the progress nonetheless illustrates the ability of compounding returns.

The ability of compounding is among the largest investing classes from the 100-year-return train. However there are others. Progress, market share, and business construction all the time matter to shares.

Electrical energy demand has grown at about 4% a 12 months on common since many People had been studying by candlelight. That boosted GE’s enterprise.

The overall miles of railroad monitor within the U.S. hasn’t grown in any respect, however the freight shipped over them has. What’s extra, it’s laborious to construct a competing railroad from scratch. Union Pacific helped present the world the advantages of network effects—the problem of difficult an incumbent with huge money move, experience, and infrastructure that’s troublesome to copy—a long time earlier than Google’s mum or dad Alphabet (GOOGL) dominated the search business.

Shopper merchandise, in the meantime together with addictive ones, are often secure investments. And commodity industries can be hard, as U.S. Metal’s returns point out.

What can also be clear is that dividends, in the long term, are big. And even the good progress corporations of way back—GE and U.S. Metal had been FAANG stocks of their day—finally paid dividends.

And that’s a part of the reply to the query: Methods to flip $3,000 into $41 million? Put money into the inventory market, reinvest the dividends, and don’t contact the cash for 100 years.

Corrections & amplifications: When you invested $3,000 on the finish of 1920 and earned 15% a 12 months for 100 years, it will be value $3.5 billion. An earlier model of this text incorrectly stated $3.5 trillion. 

Write to Al Root at [email protected]

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