2 Stocks to Put on a Short Leash, and 2 You Can Buy and Forget in 2018

Markets Motley Fool

In this Motley Fool Money podcast, host Chris Hill kicks off the year with a 2018 preview show, joined by Total Income's Ron Gross, and Motley Fool Pro and Options' Jeff Fischer.

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In this segment, Chris asks them to pick a few stocks they still see as requiring extra care, especially after 2017's raft of record highs. Their answers: Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC)and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), for two very different reasons. Then, on the other hand, Chris asks them to pick a couple of stocks that they just aren't worried about -- the sort of safe and steady winners that don't require much -- if any -- babysitting. Their responses: speciality insurer Markel (NYSE: MKL), and social-media giant Facebook (NASDAQ: FB).

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Jan. 5, 2018.

Chris Hill: Let's move over to stocks, which have had such a great run for so long. Therefore, Ron, for one reason or another, some of these stocks out there have got to be on a short leash. When you look at the world of stocks, what do you see, and it could be in your own portfolio, that you think, I'm not giving this thing any leash at all?

Ron Gross: Well, this isn't in my own portfolio, but Wells Fargo is on a short leash for me. And I think it's a shame, because what's good for Warren Buffett is usually good enough for me. And interestingly, Buffett, who owns about 9% of the company, has recently come out and said, "Tim Sloan, the new CEO, has my faith." So, Buffett is sticking with this company, which has had a really bad 18 months, in terms of wrongdoings and lawsuits and fake accounts and mortgage problems. They've really done a terrible job to destroy their brand, which was really a favored one at one point. So, I think the culture is so negative, and it's so pervasive throughout the culture, that I'm not sure the CEO is really going to be able to turn that. And as a result, I wouldn't really want to be part of that ride with them, even if Mr. Buffett is sticking with it.

Jeff Fischer: Yeah, it's amazing, because a lot of us at The Fool sold our shares. We just couldn't see a path to owning them if we don't trust management, so let's get out. There are better things to buy. I think for us, that was the right choice, and we did buy things that have done better. But I'm fascinated by Buffett's sticking with it when integrity is so key to him.

Hill: Yeah, I was just thinking about how we're, what, four months or so away from the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, maybe a little bit longer than that. But I have to believe that a lot of the questions at that meeting are going to be specifically about this, because it's been such a big holding for so long.

Gross: Yeah, for sure. I think he did sell some stock recently, but that was only so he wouldn't go above 10%. So, really, for technical reasons there. But, he has faith in the new guy. And I think that's fair. The new guy theoretically isn't responsible for the sins of the old. But this is going to be a tough one.

Hill: Wasn't he around, though?

Gross: He was around. So, you never know how deep it goes.

Hill: Jeff, what do you have on a short leash?

Fischer: You try to only own stocks that you, of course, want to own for years and years, and even when they hit some turbulence you're confident enough to let them go. But a large company that so many people own, and it's a large holding for so many of us, that I want to keep a close eye on, is Apple. The reason, it's such an incredibly large business to keep afloat, and it's so reliant on the iPhone that if Apple does something to harm their iPhone brand or their space in the world --

Hill: You mean something battery-related?

Fischer: It could be that. It could be software-related. A very timely topic. It would be very hard, if not impossible, to replace that lost revenue if the iPhone starts to go into decline. So, that's why you have to keep a close eye on what they're doing. Now, that doesn't mean every quarter matters. iPhone sales do fluctuate, and they dip. That doesn't mean you have to run for the hills. But, if they're making the wrong moves, in your opinion, and they're potentially bringing the business to a lower level, you have to really consider what to do with your stock.

Hill: Let's go to the other end of the spectrum. Ron, what's a stock you could fall asleep on?

Gross: I never worry about specialty insurer Markel. Which we talk about a lot on the show, but I think a lot of investors still aren't familiar with Markel, which is often called Baby Berkshire Hathaway. It's such a well-run company, both operationally and culturally. Tom Gayner, co-CEO, a fantastic investor, great steward of investor capital. The stock is up 150% over the last five years. But that's not something I worry about. I think the company can continue to put up great numbers, grow book value year after year, very methodically, conservatively, by investing capital and doing a good job on the insurance side as well. And it's one I never worry about.

Hill: Jeff?

Fischer: I love this question, Chris, because every year I look at everything in my portfolio, and I ask this very question -- am I comfortable enough to keep it on a loose leash? And for the most part, that's true. Visa, Oracle, Amazon, Square. And another one in that list is Facebook. They may have a disappointing year this year perhaps, because Zuckerberg and company plan to spend a lot to try to get the content under control. But I'm going to let that happen if it happens, and wait it out. As long as traffic trends remain steady, as long as people keep visiting the site, ideally traffic goes up, then I'm just going to let Facebook go and see what's ahead in the years to come. The stock trades at 29X forward estimates for next year. So, it's not unreasonable.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Chris Hill owns shares of Amazon. Jeff Fischer owns shares of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Oracle, Square, and Visa. Ron Gross owns shares of Amazon, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), Facebook, and Markel. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), Facebook, Markel, and Visa. The Motley Fool owns shares of Oracle and Square and has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.