Invest In This Solution To The Water Crisis
We all know the constant struggle between the bulls and the bears on Wall Street. Some investors are always convinced that we sit on the edge of a cliff, that the enemies are always ready to storm the castle. Others take a rosier view.
I’m with the latter crowd for two reasons.
#-ad_banner-#First, I love business, and I love people who leverage their passion to Do Something and build an enterprise that serves a need or even creates one. One day a fellow named Lonnie Johnson was sitting around, thinking about heaven knows what, and he decided to build a better water gun. The SuperSoaker is now a staple of the top 20 toys since its release in 1989. Sales have surpassed a billion dollars.
I learned about Johnson — an African American who has some 80 patents to his name — a decade or so ago. He was the subject of a student essay I was helping judge for Black History Month. The SuperSoaker was a game-changer — such to the point that it has become a part of our language. It’s not like the world was clamoring for a better water pistol, but Johnson had an idea, and I just think that’s one of the greatest things about our country.
Second, I know from statistics and economics that the long-term trend in the equity markets and in our gross national product is favorable. Sure, there are going to be years when the market takes a drubbing. Other years will be lackluster. Some will be average and a few will be spectacular. I believe in hyperrationality, yes, but I’m not a Vulcan. I’m a happy optimist.
Not All Game-Changers Are Good
That said, not everything that happens in the world is positive. Not all game-changers are good. And that is certainly the case with the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
The gist of the story is this: In April 2014, Flint changed the source of its water supply from the Detroit River to the Flint River. Unfortunately, the water in the Flint River had not been adequately tested. It turned out that the water had properties that made it corrosive, which caused lead from existing pipes to leech into the water. Between 6,000 and 12,000 kids were exposed, and now some 5% of them have elevated lead levels in their blood. Lead is a metal with many uses, but it is one of the worst things for the human body.
Flint is, unfortunately, just the tip of an unpleasant iceberg. The Environmental Protection Agency says 10 million U.S. homes and other buildings are served by water lines that have some lead content. Most are in the Midwest and Northeast.
“Unless and until those pipes are removed,” Jerry Paulson, emeritus professor of pediatrics and environmental health at George Washington University, said in a media interview, “those communities are at some degree of risk.”
In early April, The New York Times reported that the schools in Newark, N.J., had tested positive for heightened levels for the past six years. Water fountains in 30 of those schools have been turned off. I could fill the rest of today’s essay with additional examples. Chicago, Cincinnati, Tacoma — the list just keeps growing.
The Wall Street Journal says it will cost $55 million just to replace the pipes in Flint.
The Senate recently introduced a measure to help fund a national replacement effort. The price tag: $70 billion. Anyone who thinks a government project of this magnitude will come in under budget, please raise your hand…
And here’s the part that will just make you crazy. From the Detroit Free-Press: “In an age of digital technology, including GPS mapping, many communities including Detroit, Lincoln Park and Southfield still keep their water service connection records on manila-colored index cards, handwritten in pencil by installation crews decades ago.” Most cities just don’t have any idea where the pipes are.
Governments are supposed to be great at keeping records. It turns out that they aren’t. But there is a company that has more detailed information about these pipes than any other, and selling this information is, in fact, its business.
The name of the company is Verisk Analytics (Nasdaq: VRSK). It provides information to insurance companies so they can more accurately price the risk of insuring a given piece of property. The U.S. government, for instance, doesn’t have even a ballpark guess as to how many fire hydrants are in the country. Verisk knows the exact location of each one. Access to hydrants is a key element of determining the potential risk of fire.
Verisk is a great company. My wife and I own shares. So does Warren Buffett, though admittedly a few more than Jen and I do. It’s a great company that’s solidly profitable, has a great balance sheet and a bright future. It also has a deep moat around its ability to generate future profits — no one else has the data resources that it has amassed.
If I ran communications for Verisk, I would camp out on the CEO’s front lawn until he agreed to let me announce that the company was giving lead pipe data away. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. If you’re interested in the company for the main part of your portfolio that should be dedicated to index funds and blue chips, take a look.
Over time, I think Verisk will be a favorable investment, but it is not the stock I recently recommended to my premium Game-Changing Stocks readers for making truly outsized gains from the water crisis in America. If you’d like to get the name of that pick, then I encourage you to check out my newsletter. If you click here, you’ll learn more about my newsletter, along with 10 bold predictions for 2016 and picks that have the potential to gain 100% or more over the coming months.