Another week, another dip in the market.
Disappointing news about China's economy, U.S. jobs, the
oil spill and the ongoing European debt crisis have sent major
indices to new lows and have investors wishing for better days.
But before throwing in the towel, investors should know that there
is a simple way to escape the turmoil in the market. A simple ratio
-- one that is ignored far too often -- is the key.
Simply put, beta is a measure of a stock's volatility compared to
the overall market. It's basically a way to measure the risk
involved with owning a particular security. And with the kind of
volatility we're seeing in this market, I don't think anyone should
stock without first knowing its beta.
Here's how it works:
As stated, beta is calculated by comparing a stock's return over a
certain period of time to the broader market, usually the S&P
500. So let's say, for example, the S&P gains +10% in a given
gains +15%. This would mean that Microsoft has a beta of 1.5.
Generally speaking, a stock with a 1.0 beta moves along with the
overall market. Naturally, investors looking for outsized returns
might look for stocks with high betas in a
. But when the market is tanking, that's exactly the opposite of
what we want. In this market, it's a good idea to find stocks that
have as little correlation to the overall market as possible.
To find safety from the market -- and hopefully a little price
, too -- I screened for S&P 500 stocks with a beta of 0.75 or
less since May 5th, the day of the "Flash Crash." This means the
stocks that turn up will be at least 25% less volatile than the
Here's a look at what I found:
Company Name (Ticker)
Beta (May 5th-July 1st)
Total Return (May 5th-July 1st)
Total Return YTD
|Sara Lee Corp. (
|Progress Energy (
|Newmont Mining Corporation
|General Mills, Inc. (
|Autozone, Inc. (
|Dr Pepper Snapple Group
International Inc. (
|Molson Coors Brewing
|Campbell Soup Company
|The J.M. Smucker Company
|The Hershey Company
|The Clorox Company
|Bristol Myers Squibb Co.
Plenty of food and beverage names in this list, and frankly, I'm
not surprised. What is surprising, however, is that the food and
beverage stocks in this table are up an average of about +10%. The
S&P is down about -9% in the same period. If you stuck with
defensive names like these, you're probably pretty happy.
If you think the market will remain in the doldrums, some of the
stocks on this list might make for good defensive holdings.
Here's my take on two stocks from the list that could be attractive
additions to your portfolio:
Newmont Mining (
is the second-largest gold producer in the world. The company
doesn't carry the geopolitical risks of some of its rivals, as the
majority of production comes from the United States, Australia,
Peru and Indonesia. Gold, as you may know, has been on a long,
sustained bull run -- and Newmont's shares have been a clear
Action to Take -->
Newmont's shares have remained flat while the market has
backtracked, but that's better than most. Also of note: the company
its production, so it's fully exposed to fluctuation in gold
prices. And given gold's recent run, the firm's next quarterly
numbers should be impressive.
As auto sales have declined and the public lost faith in the likes
of GM and Chrysler, AutoZone (
) has prospered. People adopted a do-it-yourself attitude and
flocked in droves to the company's 4,400+ stores during the
downturn for parts and accessories in order to save on auto repairs
or, even worse, having to buy a new car.
This is a growth stock with defensive characteristics. Sure, it's
been a good name to own during a downturn, but there are plenty of
reasons to like it even if the market turns around. For starters,
AutoZone is venturing into the fast-growing commercial market by
offering delivery of parts to garages and dealerships across the
country. It's also expanding south of the border, where there's no
national auto parts chain to speak of.
Action to Take -->
The average age of cars on the road is a little over 10 years,
according to Morningstar. Consumer confidence is low and if auto
sales remain sluggish amid fears of a double-dip recession, the
stock looks like a good name to own.
And aside from its growth prospects, the company is also a good
steward to shareholders. The company has spent more than $8 billion
on share repurchases since 1998 and more than $1 billion in the
past year alone. Another $500 million in repurchases are in the
works, so even if growth remains flat, the stock's per-share
numbers will look good.