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“When we own portions of outstanding businesses with outstanding managements, our favorite holding period is forever.”

— Warren Buffett

The wisdom of Warren Buffett reflects a value-based philosophy about investing that says investors are buying shares in a business, and encourages strategic thinking about investment time horizon. Before placing a buy order for a stock, a great question we can ask is whether we would still be comfortable making the investment if we couldn’t sell it for many years?

A “buy-and-hold” approach may call for a time horizon that spans a long period of time — maybe even lasting for a twenty year holding period. Suppose such a “buy-and-hold” investor had looked into buying shares of UnitedHealth Group Inc (NYSE: UNH) back in 1999. Let’s take a look at how such an investment would have worked out for that buy-and-hold investor:

Start date: 12/06/1999


End date: 12/03/2019
Start price/share: $6.76
End price/share: $276.90
Starting shares: 1,479.29
Ending shares: 1,720.48
Dividends reinvested/share: $18.06
Total return: 4,664.02%
Average annual return: 21.30%
Starting investment: $10,000.00
Ending investment: $476,075.17

As we can see, the twenty year investment result worked out exceptionally well, with an annualized rate of return of 21.30%. This would have turned a $10K investment made 20 years ago into $476,075.17 today (as of 12/03/2019). On a total return basis, that’s a result of 4,664.02% (something to think about: how might UNH shares perform over the next 20 years?). [These numbers were computed with the Dividend Channel DRIP Returns Calculator.]

Notice that UnitedHealth Group Inc paid investors a total of $18.06/share in dividends over the 20 holding period, marking a second component of the total return beyond share price change alone. Much like watering a tree, reinvesting dividends can help an investment to grow over time — for the above calculations we assume dividend reinvestment (and for this exercise the closing price on ex-date is used for the reinvestment of a given dividend).

Based upon the most recent annualized dividend rate of 4.32/share, we calculate that UNH has a current yield of approximately 1.56%. Another interesting datapoint we can examine is ‘yield on cost’ — in other words, we can express the current annualized dividend of 4.32 against the original $6.76/share purchase price. This works out to a yield on cost of 23.08%.

Here’s one more great investment quote before you go:
“You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, ’cause you might not get there.” — Yogi Berra