Blame whatever you want. A weaker U.S. economy, a weakening and flailing Europe, a move to socialism in France and Greece, a weaker BRIC and emerging market story, commodity prices and on and on… Commodity prices and their tracking shares are getting hosed today. Why does the “Sell in May and go away!” profile often coincide with sell-offs so well?
After the weakness in the broad market has the DJIA down 140 points (or -1.1%) and the S&P 500 Index down 15 points or 1.1%, it turns out that most of the defensive stock sector leaders are holding up far better than the broad market in our go-to defensive stock portfolio. We have taken a look at each of these with share price snapshots right before Noon EST.
No matter what, you gotta drink! Pepsico, Inc. (NYSE: PEP) is down 0.5% at $66.28 against a 52-week high of $71.89; Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) is down 0.4% at $76.97 against a 52-week high of $77.82. With yields of about 3% on average, these are now challenging the 30-Year Treasury yields. The beer segment is not acting defensive as it should, perhaps because they are foreign issues now with more currency risks: Anheuser-Busch InBev SA (NYSE: BUD) and Molson Coors Brewing Company (NYSE: TAP) are not acting very defensive with price corrections of 3% and 2$ respectively.
Perhaps the most defensive you can get is water, and the top water utility is American Water Works Company, Inc. (NYSE: AWK) with a premium valuation. This water leader is down 0.8% at $33.73 against a 52-week and all-time high of $34.89.
Food is supposed to be defensive, although a drop of 1.5% in McDonald’s Corporation (NYSE: MCD) to $94.10 is causing some added stress in what was the darling of the DJIA in 2011. The rest of the defensive food segment seems to be less damaged when you evaluate the moves: Kraft Foods Inc. (NYSE: KFT) is down only 0.4% at $39.11; ConAgra Foods, Inc. (NYSE: CAG) is down 0.7% at $25.52; Campbell Soup Co. (NYSE: CPB) is down only 0.3% at $33.97; and Hormel Foods Corporation (NYSE: HRL) is down only 1 penny at $28.92 as the world is getting excited about Spam again.
Smoking is defensive again and the tobacco stocks are holding up much better than the broad market with those 5% and higher dividends: Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO) is down only $0.3% at $32.10 against a 52-week high of $32.62; Vector Group Ltd. (NYSE: VGR) is down only 0.2% at $16.88; and Reynolds American Inc. (NYSE: RAI) is down only 0.2% at $40.18 against a high of $42.81.
Shaving, diapers, toilet paper, and other consumer products are acting defensive with some gains on a weak day. Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE: PG) is trading up $0.11 at $64.36 and Kimberly-Clark Corporation (NYSE: KMB) is up $0.08 at $79.08 with KMB challenging the 52-week high. Colgate-Palmolive Co. (NYSE: CL) is down ‘only’ 0.5% at $99.10 against a 52-week high of $100.81.
Drug and medical is holding up on the consumer end with losses look far less than the broader market: Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MRK) is down 0.35% at $38.40; Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) is down 0.3% at $22.38; and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) is down the least with a drop of 0.2% at $64.65 against a 52-week high of $68.05.
Those smartphones and telephones are somewhat defensive, and those 5%-plus yields sure shield investors who are worried about chasing the hottest growth stocks. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) is down only 1-penny at $40.52 with a 5% dividend yield and AT&T, Inc. (NYSE: T) is actually up 0.2% at $33.08 with a yield of about 5.4%.
When investors want safety and when the Treasury yield is so low on the longer-term Treasury market, many investors turn to the safety of the higher dividends and safer stocks that are defensive. Greece and the rest of PIIGS may fall again, but the logic is that U.S. consumers still have to eat, drink, shave, put on deodorant, and tend to stick with their core vices as best as they can.
JON C. OGG