Every indicator is telling those that track the stock market that the last year has been an anomaly, and we could be headed for a sizable sell-off. The VIX volatility index, which tracks the implied volatility of S&P 500 index options, has had an average reading of 11.54% this year, the lowest on record. Add in the fact that the market has not witnessed a 5% pullback in over a year, the longest streak in over 20 years, and it could spell trouble.
So what are investors to do? Selling everything and going to cash is a very expensive proposition at most brokerage firms. Putting on a complex hedge by buying puts, or buying an inverse exchange traded fund may work, but the size needed to protect an entire portfolio could also be expensive.
One idea is simply to move to ultra-safe stocks, especially the ones that are way out of favor. We screened the Merrill Lynch research universe for stocks rated Buy, that pay dividends, and have the firm’s lowest volatility risk.
We found four that fit the bill perfectly. It might also stand out that each of these picks are members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average for beverages, big oil, consumer products and telecom.
The Coca-Cola Company
This company remains a top Warren Buffet holding and offers not only safety, but a strong worldwide brand. The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) is the world’s largest beverage company, refreshing consumers with more than 500 brands. Led by Coca-Cola, one of the world’s most valuable and recognizable brands, our company’s portfolio features 20 billion-dollar brands including Diet Coke, Fanta, Sprite, Coca-Cola Zero, vitaminwater, Powerade, Minute Maid, Simply, Georgia and Del Valle. Globally, they are the number one provider of sparkling beverages, ready-to-drink coffees, juices and juice drinks
Through the world’s largest beverage distribution system, consumers in more than 200 countries drink the company’s beverages at a rate of more than 1.9 billion servings a day. With coolers still getting packed for picnics and vacations, you can bet that they will be stuffed with products from this iconic American company. It’s also important to remember that Coca-Cola also owns 16.7% of Monster Beverage (NASDAQ: MNST), which continues to deliver big numbers.
Coca-Cola investors are paid an outstanding 3.31% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target for the stock is set at $48, while the Wall Street consensus price target is set at $45.68. The stock closed Monday at $44.73.
This company remains a top Wall Street energy pick. Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE: XOM) is the world’s largest international integrated oil and gas company that explores for and produces crude oil and natural gas in the United States, Canada/South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia/Oceania. It also makes and markets commodity petrochemicals, including olefins, aromatics, polyethylene and polypropylene plastics, and specialty products; and transports and sells crude oil, natural gas, and petroleum products.
The company posted solid first-quarter results, and the Merrill Lynch team recently raised the stock back to a Buy rating, as the analyst believes it’s an outstanding place for investors to put money now, and is the firm’s top major idea. They also cite the ability of Exxon to maintain and cover the cash dividend at lower oil prices as a key positive.
The stock is an excellent buy for investors looking to add energy to their portfolio, but leery of the recent weakness in the sector. Shareholders are paid a 3.75% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target is posted at $90, and the consensus is set at $85.17. The shares closed Monday at $80.86.
The Procter & Gamble Company
The company offers a very solid dividend and safety. The Procter & Gamble Company (NYSE: PG) is one of the world’s largest consumer products companies, operates under five segments: beauty, grooming, health care, fabric and home care, and baby and family care. Brands include Pampers, Tide, Bounty, Charmin, Gillette, Oral B, Crest, Olay, Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Ariel, Gain, Always, Tampax, Downy, and Dawn.
The company posted solid earnings last quarter and many on Wall Street think that the new focus on a slimmed- down product portfolio will help spur earnings growth and return the company to its long-time premium consumer staples multiple. P&G actually is innovative in its product development process and uses that to help ensure future growth and cash flow. This should provide investors years of steady growth and dividends. While currency headwinds have weighed on earnings and projections, a weaker dollar scenario like the one we are currently experiencing could bode well for the future.
Shareholders are paid a 3.15% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price objective is $98, and the consensus is at $91.59. The stock closed Monday at $87.55.
This is a top telecommunications company that has been the worst-performing stock in the Dow Jones Industrial Average this year. Verizon Communications, Inc (NYSE: VZ) is a global leader in delivering the digital world. Verizon Wireless operates America’s self-described most reliable wireless network, with 109.5 million retail connections nationwide. Verizon also provides converged communications, information and entertainment services over America’s most advanced fiber-optic network, and delivers integrated business solutions to customers worldwide.
The company recently completed the $4.48 billion purchase of Yahoo in an attempt to increase content delivery and Internet exposure. The assets acquired from Yahoo will be combined with AOL brands under a new subsidiary called Oath that will house more than 50 media and technology brands. The new company will be headed by former AOL Chief Executive Officer Tim Armstrong, and many on Wall Street are positive on the deal.
It should be noted that Merrill Lynch recently downgraded AT&T Inc (NYSE: T) to Neutral from Buy, citing the potential for $40 billion in equity being issued for the purchase of Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX). They also cited lower positive catalyst visibility, specifically corporate tax reform and potential technical headwinds.
Verizon investors are paid an outstanding 5.3% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target is posted at $50, and the consensus is set at $49.50. The stock closed Monday at $43.66.
Despite the Wall Street’s ongoing bullishness, the market needs a breather, and a 5% sell-off would provide just that. With President Trump pushing hard for more jobs and higher exports, the economy could be poised to grow next year, especially if tax reform and a new health-care plan are implemented.