With the growing trade war with China, slowing economic growth in Europe and political problems here at home, there’s a lot on investor’s plates these days. That could explain why the markets have gone haywire over the last few weeks. With volatility rising and big market swings now a common occurrence, the stocks to buy these days may not be the high flyers, but those come with a hefty dose of safety.
The stocks to buy these days are those with steady revenues, big cash balances and a hefty dose of dividends. The kind of equities that could be immune to the various geopolitical and economic events that are plaguing the markets currently.
There are plenty of studies that show if a portfolio can have a smoother ride, then returns can be better over the long haul. Given the craziness and potential for doom and gloom, these less volatile safe stocks could be exactly what the doctored ordered.
But which are the safe stocks to buy today? Here are five that will help you ride out the summer with relative ease.
McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) needs no introduction. The burger joint is iconic at this point with millions of customers stepping into its restaurants daily. This flood of customers continues to produce ample revenues, cash flows and profits for MCD. The best part is that McDonald’s tends to be pretty immune to the effects of the economy. People want their Big Macs and fries no matter what.
That point alone makes it one of the best stocks to buy for the summer.
But the burger joint is now adding a touch of growth to its safety. Over the last year or so, MCD has increased its use of technology in its restaurants. This has included updating its mobile apps, increasing options for online ordering, adding self-ordering kiosks and even began offering delivery via Uber (NYSE:UBER). However, the real win has been its forays into artificial intelligence and data mining via its buyout of Dynamic Yield. All of these initiatives are designed to boost revenues and margins.
And it looks like they are working. Two years into MCD’s Velocity Growth Plan and the golden arches are much more golden these days. Both sales and profits have jumped.
With a yield of 2.32%. MCD stock is an ideal place to wait out the market’s current volatility.
Waste Management (WM)
We make a lot of trash and it has to go somewhere. Increasingly that job continues to fall toward Waste Management, Inc. (NYSE:WM). WM owns the largest network of landfills, transfer stations, and recycling facilities in the industry. It’s a massive moat that can only be matched by a few competitors. Because of this scale and virtual monopoly, Waste Management enjoys some pretty hefty pricing power.
It has been successfully able to pass on price increases to customers.
And WM keeps on getting bigger. The firm has been able to smartly use M&A to buyout smaller waste hauling operations to entrench its position in key areas. This includes its recent $4.9 billion buyout of Advanced Disposal (NYSE:ADSW). That deal — like many of WM’s buyouts — will be instantly accreditive to earnings.
This should be a boon to its operating income and cash flows. Already, the firm reported record profitability and operating cash flow for 2018. But with the addition of new customers and continued volume strength, Waste should keep the growth going. This should benefit shareholders as well.
WM has become a dividend champion and it has consistently increased its dividend for the last 15 years straight — with a compound annual growth rate of about 6% over the last five years. Currently, shares yield 1.9%.
All in all, WM has the goods to be one of the best stocks to buy this summer.
Consolidated Edison (ED)
Utilities are known for their safety and steadfast nature. After all, you have to keep the lights on and heating your home despite what the economy is doing. This makes them a prime stock to buy when the going gets rough. And none could be stodgier than Consolidated Edison (NYSE:ED).
ConEd has been providing electricity, steam and natural gas for metropolitan New York for more than 180 years. New York is a tough town, but NYC, Westchester, and New Jersey feature strong economic fundamentals and continued growing populations. This has allowed ED to “keep the lights on” for itself as well as reward shareholders.
In fact, Con Ed has managed to grow its payout for roughly five decades. The latest was another 3.5% bump at the start of the year.
And the dividends could keep coming in. ED has earmarked around $12 billion in CAPEX spending over the next two years. The key is that the vast bulk is going towards its regulated operations. That’s a key factor in determining future rate hikes and profits at a utility. With improvements on this side, ED should be able to boost its cash flows further.
In the meantime, the safety of being the utility in the biggest city in the U.S. has plenty of advantages for a rocky market. During the last downturn in 2008, ED held up better than the broader market. ED currently yields 3.38%.
The duck, its quack and those commercials are pretty iconic. But the parent company is pretty darn iconic as well. Aflac Inc. (NYSE:AFL) makes an ideal stock to buy for this summer.
AFL provides so-called voluntary supplemental health and life insurance products. This niche — and Aflac is the leader — is generally a high-margined insurance variety. This provides AFL with plenty of underwriting profits. Moreover, AFL has been very smart with its float and has used it to generate plenty of returns. Net investment income jumped 1.1% and 4% in the last quarter for its U.S. and Japanese operations, respectively. The combination of strong underwriting and gains on its float/investment portfolio have allowed AFL to up its guidance for the rest of the year.
At the same time, AFL’s conservative nature has allowed it to become a dividend machine. The duck has been paying increasing dividends for 36 years. The latest was nearly a 4% increase at the start of the year. With a low payout ratio — of less than 30% — there’s plenty of wiggle room left for AFL to keep the payout growing socially if profits keep rising.
Overall, Aflac represents a strong niche insurance agency with conservative fundamentals. It’s exactly the kind of stock to buy for a rocky market like this one.
iShares Edge MSCI Min Vol USA ETF (USMV)
The best safe stocks to buy this summer might actually be all of them. And that’s where the iShares Edge MSCI Min Vol USA ETF (NYSEARCA:USMV) comes in.
USMV tracks a smart-beta index that uses various screens to kick out high-volatility stocks in order to capture the upside of the market while eliminating the downside. With the exchange-traded fund, you’re basically buying all the stocks on this list with one ticker. And so far, USMV has delivered on its promise of providing a smoother ride for portfolios.
Since its inception in November 2011, USMV has managed to capture roughly 82% of the S&P 500’s gains, while only realizing about 56% of its losses. This past December, when the market’s imploded, the S&P 500 lost 9%. USMV only lost 7%. This highlights that the stocks to buy are safe ones in this rocky environment.
This summer, investors can swap USMV for a core index holding or use it to boost the robustness of an equity portfolio and provide a safety net for the summer. USMV features an expense ratio of just 0.15%, or $15 annually per $10,000 invested.
As of this writing, Aaron Levitt did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.