Investors have just been reminded that the stock market can finally have a formal correction. A drop of more than 500 points on Friday has put the Dow Jones Industrial Average down just over 10% from its highs, and the S&P 500 is down over 7% from its highs. While selling trends had been in place prior to this past week, 6% of that 10% drop, or 60% of the total correction, took place last week alone.
The trend that has survived in the past four years or so now is that investors have bought each and every stock market pullback. This week’s dismal end also came on what was the last Friday of summer for many families in America, so lots of would-be buyers were simply not around to have an interest in the market, whether it was going up or going down.
24/7 Wall St. is looking for those stocks that may avoid much of the carnage. These are defensive stocks rather than news-influenced stocks that may have risen due to headline bias. If the market keeps sliding, or if it gets real ugly, then there may be no safe place and it should just be assumed that these defensive stocks likely would still lose money. We have also warned readers this weekend that analyst price targets in the big stocks are likely to starting getting slashed by analysts because their formal price targets now just imply too much upside.
All risks and caveats aside, these five defensive stocks should avoid the serious market carnage for the most part. These all have yields that are above the 10-year Treasury, they have all held up from highs or held up better than the broad market in the latest carnage, and they are all large-cap stocks that are well known to the investing public.
Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO) is defensive due to it being tobacco, and it is also the domestic tobacco play for its core business. Altria has little to fear from currency valuations, it does not have to worry about China and it does not have to care what is happening in Europe. Its stock was down 1.4% at $53.94 on Friday, but its shares were positive for much of the day. Altria was down about 3% on the week, but it announced yet another dividend hike on Friday for a new yield of about 4.2%. Analysts have a consensus price target of $58.89, and the 52-week trading range is $42.43 to $56.70.
American Water Works Inc. (NYSE: AWK) is the nation’s top water utility. You can get into a market correction or even a bear market, but consider yourself formally dared to try to live without your water utility. It is not possible for probably nine out of 10 households. This stock was down only 0.5% this past week, and most of that was from the 0.3% drop on Friday. It was even positive for much of the day. It is spread out enough that it can even tolerate its California risks. At $54.02, investors get a 2.5% dividend yield here. It has a consensus price target of $58.00 and a 52-week range of $47.58 to $57.48. The stock made our list of 10 to own for the next decade for a reason.
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is highly defensive, even if there is a price war happening. The stock has been weak since the DirecTV merger took place, but it was still down just less than 2% last week. In fact, it would have been down the least of all fellow Dow stocks had it not been replaced in the index by Apple. Its stock was down 1.7% at $33.38 on Friday, versus a 3.1% drop in the Dow, so it had withstood the selling up until then. AT&T has a 5.5% yield, a consensus analyst price target of $37.05, and a 52-week range of $32.07 to $36.45. We recently featured three analysts calling for at least $40 in AT&T shares ahead, and Warren Buffett may now own AT&T shares due to owning DirecTV shares.
Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK) may be almost as defensive American Water Works. It is the largest utility in America, its stock already has pulled back massively ahead of August due to Fed rate hike concerns, and now it is fairly priced. Its dividend yield is 4.3%. The stock closed down only six cents at $76.71 on Friday, after having been up almost all of the day. Duke is already down over 13% from its 52-week high, its consensus analyst price target is $79.65 and its 52-week range is $70.24 to $89.97. Duke is now an alternative utility in our 10 stocks to own for the next decade.
McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) is hard to revisit because of all the controversy around the company. Still, when times get tough it is a place that a family of three, five or more can get stuffed on the cheap. Its stock has not just recovered in 2015, it is up 6% year to date. That 2.6% drop on Friday to $97.13 did not really feel defensive, but McDonald’s shares were down the least of all Dow stocks at -2.2% in the past week. McDonald’s also has a consensus analyst price target of $102.78 and a 52-week range of $87.62 to $101.88. It almost feels bad thinking that investors would flock to McDonald’s again, but sometimes business is business, and it isn’t even in booze or tobacco.
The goal with defensive stocks is simple, even if there are almost no stocks that will avoid price pressure in a recession or a true bear market. It is to be in safe companies with stable businesses that customers use whether they are having hard times or not. It is also to collect a hefty dividend from that defensive income stream.
Again, massive stock market sell-offs will hurt even the best and most defensive stock prices. If the market starts to stabilize and hunt for value or defensive strategies, these are just five of the companies that would fit the bill. There are others. If investors are truly worried about this being the start of a bear market or the next recession, they are just going to have to hide out in short-term Treasury bills and notes.