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Justin Fox

Need a Hot Stock? Buy Booze and Smokes

New technologies transform the economy, but the best stock-market investments are often low-tech.
An investor's dream.

An investor's dream.

Photograph: Media for Medical/UIG via Getty Images

It would be really cool to know which industries are going to thrive and grow and create jobs in the future. It’s also really hard to figure that out ahead of time. If you’re just interested in which industries will deliver the best stock-market returns, though, history seems to point to an easy shortcut -- invest in companies that sell addictive stuff.

I learned this dubious lesson by reading, in quick succession, two big new reports: the Brookings Institution’s analysis of the 50 “Advanced Industries” that are supposed to drive job and income growth in the U.S., and Credit Suisse’s annual "Global Investment Returns Yearbook." The Brookings report tries to look into the future by measuring investment in technological progress by industry -- and although most of the 50 advanced industries it identifies are what you would expect, there are some surprises. In the 2015 Credit Suisse yearbook, meanwhile, Elroy Dimson, Paul Marsh and Mike Staunton of London Business School examine 115 years of stock-market returns by industry, and while they document a lot of technological upheaval, the two biggest winners for investors turn out to be decidedly low tech.