Since the equity markets hit a bottom in March, the bull run has been the strongest since the Great Depression, according to the Wall Street Journal. But sustaining this will not be easy. If anything, it’s probably a good idea to consider safe stocks to buy for your portfolio.
One of the risks for the markets is the upcoming election. With the novel coronavirus, there will be a much larger portion of the population that will vote by mail — and this could easily delay the results. The uncertainty could mean a spike in volatility. In fact, this happened during the election in 2000.
Next, there are signs of frothiness. Many tech stocks and IPOs have seen parabolic moves on the upside. Perhaps the most notable example of the exuberance is when Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) stock jumped because of an announcement of a stock split. Keep in mind that this kind of market action was common during the later stages of the dot-com boom.
And finally, there are signs that the economic recovery has stalled out. The lack of a stimulus agreement will also likely weigh on growth.
OK then, in light of all this, what are some of the safe stocks to buy now? Well, here’s a look at seven:
- Visa (NYSE:V)
- Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO)
- Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)
- Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO)
- Nike (NYSE:NKE)
- McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD)
- Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ)
Safe Stocks to Buy: Visa (V)
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Founded in 1958, Visa’s future still looks bright. It certainly helps that the company has built a powerful platform with significant barriers to entry and network effects.
It’s true that the pandemic has weighed on the company. In the latest quarter, earnings dropped by 23% and payments volume was off by 10%. A big reason for this was the steep fall in travel activity. But keep in mind that Visa has been able to offset some of this through improvements in other parts of the business.
For example, the volume of activity for card-not-present transactions — such as for those online — jumped by 25% each week since the start of April. This is a doubling of the growth rate compared to before the pandemic. For the first half of this year, Visa issued over than 80 million contactless cards in the U.S.
In the meantime, the company has been paring back its expenses. This has been largely due to lower spending on advertising and marketing.
Visa has also been investing aggressively in fintech technologies. Earlier in the year, the company shelled out $5.3 billion for Plaid, which is a top integration platform for connecting to third-party financial systems. And with V stock fetching a valuation of $450 billion and a hefty cash balance, there is plenty of resources to continue the deal-making.
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When it comes to safe stocks to buy, Coca-Cola has the essential factors. The company’s moat includes over 500 strong brands and thousands of different products. There is also a massive distribution footprint in over 200 countries. Consider that Coca-Cola provides over 1.9 billion servings a day of its beverages.
Although, the company has definitely not been immune from the impact of the pandemic. Of course, there has been a fall-off in business from restaurants, theaters and stadiums.
But for the latest quarter, Coca-Cola’s management did indicate that it appeared that the worst was over. There was also talk to accelerate the transformation efforts of the company, such as with increased investments in digital technology and even artificial intelligence.
Another advantage of KO stock is the dividend. There has been an increase for 58 straight years.
Safe Stocks to Buy: Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)
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The healthcare industry definitely has many safe stocks to buy. The industry continues to grow and there are long-term secular trends like the aging of populations across the globe.
One of the safest healthcare stocks is Johnson & Johnson, which has been around since 1886. The company’s platform is massive and covers the main categories of healthcare:
- Consumer: These are personal, beauty, oral care and wound products. Some of the brands include Aveeno, Sudafed, Nicorette, Neutrogena, Listerine and Pepcid.
- Pharmaceuticals: They cover areas like immunology, infectious diseases, oncology and pulmonary hypertension.
- Medical Devices: The products are for surgery, eye health and orthopaedic procedures.
Last month, JNJ started its first human clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine and the plan is to have a large Phase 3 trial in September. The company has invested in its infrastructure to be able to manufacture as much as 1 billion doses for next year.
Something else: With relatively stable cash flows, JNJ stock has been a solid dividend payer, with the current yield at 2.7%. The company has increased its dividend payout for 57 consecutive years.
Cisco Systems (CSCO)
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The tech sector has plenty of safe stocks to buy. But there’s a problem: The valuations have gotten a bit excessive.
Yet there are still some interesting value plays, such as Cisco Systems. The stock recent took a hit because of the delays in sales due to the pandemic. But the result is that the valuation is much more reasonable, with the price-earnings ratio at 16x. The dividend on CSCO stock is also at 3.3%, which is one of the highest for the tech industry.
Note that the company is taking swift action to reduce its cost structure. The goal is to realize savings of $1 billion. But Cisco is also looking at ways to increase its growth.
To this end, the company expects to ramp up its research and development on cloud computing as well as security solutions. CSCO is also seeing a spike in interest in Webex, which is a leading video conferencing platform. According to Cisco CEO Charles Robbins: “We expect this momentum to continue, as we have begun to see the conversion of free trials into paid subscriptions.”
Safe Stocks to Buy: Nike (NKE)
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Nike’s move was another indication of why the company has been so successful — that is, it is always looking for ways to innovate and be creative. And by selecting Donahoe, there was a clear sign that digital transformation would be critical for the future.
And yes, Nike has already benefited from this expertise. When the coronavirus hit, Donahoe acted swiftly to bolster the company’s e-commerce platform. The result has been that — during the latest quarter — there was a 75% spike in the business.
True, there was still an overall drop in the sales. But the e-commerce sales did soften the blow. Besides, another key advantage for NKE stock is its highly valuable brand. Its icon swoosh is recognized across the globe and commands premium pricing. As Donahoe said on the latest earnings call: “Nike’s leadership position will become even stronger in the future as sport continues to resonate with consumers, amid a global shift toward health and wellness.”
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When Ray Kroc came on board McDonald’s in 1954, he had big plans. He set out to transform the restaurant industry and be the leader in the emerging fast-food category. And it did not take him long to do this.
Fast forward to today: McDonald’s has over 36,000 locations across more than 100 countries.
Building this empire has included a variety of innovative strategies, such as with creating an efficient process for cooking food, coming up with creative menu items and keeping costs low. But the company has also been smart with its business model, such as by relying on franchises.
While the pandemic has depressed sales — which has been the case throughout the restaurant industry — MCD has been finding ways to deal with the challenges. The company has been able to quickly make operational changes to its chain of locations, say with safety measures, new menus and contactless systems. There has also been material improvements to the speed of service for the drive-thru business. During this period, customer satisfaction has actually increased.
Then again, McDonald’s has the benefit of a trusted brand as well as a rock-solid balance sheet. There is also an attractive dividend. Note that the yield on MCD stock is roughly 2.4%.
Safe Stocks to Buy: Verizon (VZ)
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Verizon is the No. 1 mobile carrier in the United States, with 119.9 million subscribers. And even with the pandemic, the company has continued to grow its base. In the latest quarter, VZ added roughly 173,000 postpaid phone connections. Then again, for millions of people, their smartphone has become a necessity.
But in the next few years, VZ should benefit from the megatrend of 5G. This technology will supercharge the speeds of mobile networks — spurring the creation of innovative apps for consumers and businesses. Technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality and the internet of things will become more pervasive.
To capitalize on this, VZ has recently acquired Blue Jeans Network, which operates a videoconferencing platform. Of course, this market has seen a surge in growth because of the pandemic. But 5G will be another important catalyst.
VZ stock is currently trading at attractive levels as the price-earnings ratio is at 12.7x and the dividend is at 4%. The company also has a reasonable debt load and continues to crank out strong cash flows, which have come to nearly $16 billion for the past year.
Tom Taulli (@ttaulli) is an advisor/board member for startups and author of various books and online courses about technology, including Artificial Intelligence Basics, The Robotic Process Automation Handbook and Learn Python Super Fast. He is also the founder of WebIPO, which was one of the first platforms for public offerings during the 1990s. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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