After a sometimes rocky ride in 2015, the S&P 500 stock index finished the year down 2%, so investors were hoping for a fruitful 2016. So far in the new year, things have been anything but.
If the first fortnight of trading is a harbinger of the rest of the year, investors should be worried. Since the start of 2016, the S&P 500 has already slipped 9.9% amid worries ranging from China's anemic economic growth to slumping crude oil prices.
All this volatility has investors scrambling for less-risky investments such as bonds and high-quality dividend-paying stocks. However, uncertainty about interest rates has created some doubt about the ability of those investments to provide solid returns.
For those who wish to stick with equity investments, it is now a good time to pick low-beta stocks.
For the uninitiated, each stock has a beta, which is indicative of its volatility. The beta of a stock is considered in relation to that of the broad market: The lower the beta, the less volatile the stock. So a stock with a beta of less than 1 is considered to be less volatile than the market, while a stock that has a beta of more than 1 is more volatile than the market.
We have scoured the market for three low-beta, high-performance stocks that look promising for the future and can safeguard your portfolio against risks. These stocks belong in your dividend portfolio.
With a beta of 0.576, convenience food company Campbell Soups looks like it can shut out the volatility of global markets to a large extent. The fact that 80% of its sales comes from the domestic market itself makes it less vulnerable to concerns about slowing growth overseas.
For at least the last four quarters, Campbell has either met or exceeded analyst expectations on earnings per share. In fact, in the most recently reported quarter, which ended in October 2015, adjusted EPS came in at 95 cents, blowing the doors off analyst expectations of 76 cents.
Analysts are pretty optimistic on the financials of the company going forward as well. For 2016, analysts expect adjusted EPS of $2.82 which would be an increase of 14% from the $2.46 expected for 2015. This compares with a negative growth estimate of -1.60% for the S&P 500 for the same period.
With improving free cash flow over the years and net and operating margins that have been better than the industry average, Campbell looks strong enough to weather a storm in volatile markets. The current dividend yield is 2.3%.
Shares of the biggest publicly traded water and wastewater utility company, American Water Works, gained 12% last year, while the S&P 500 lost 2%.
Apart from its low beta of 0.35, the stock has a dividend yield of 2.23%. American Water Works has had a history of increasing dividend payments since at least 2008, putting it among a group of solid dividend payers you should consider in 2016. Even in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008, American Water Works continued to increase its dividend. In the eight-year period, quarterly dividends have grown 70% from 2 cents a share in 2008 to 34 cents a share today.
Going forward, the company is on track to achieve its goals with management announcing higher earnings guidance on a year-over-year basis. For 2016, the company issued earnings guidance of $2.75 to $2.85 per diluted share, which is quite an improvement from the 2015 guidance of $2.60 to $2.65 per diluted share.
Net operating cash flows, which rose 12.3% year over year in the quarter ended September 2015, bolster the company's acquisitions and growing dividends payments. In 2015, the company successfully completed seven acquisitions, and early this month it competed its purchase of Environmental Disposal Corp.
The latest buyout will give American Water Works access to 5,300 customer accounts in New Jersey.
Even though the stock has traded close to 52-week highs, analysts see further upside potential.
Skittish stock markets mean the spotlight is on the defensive income generators, and this includes utility companies such as WEC Group Energy.
With beta of 0.226, WEC Group Energy not only has the lowest beta among the three stocks mentioned but also offers a higher dividend yield than the others, at 3.74%. WEC has also paid dividends consistently for the last 29 years, though not the same amount in each quarter of the year.
WEC boasts three-year average revenue growth of 3.7% compared with 2.1% for the industry. Going forward, analysts continue to remain bullish on the company's revenue-generating ability. For the fiscal year 2015, analysts expect a 33% percent rise from the fiscal 2014's revenue figure of $5 billion. A further spike of more than 40% is expected in 2016.
With steady dividend payments and promising future prospects for revenue growth, WEC Group Energy can be a much-needed balance for your portfolio.
While the stocks listed above fall in the low-risk bucket, there are some big companies out there with a beta significantly higher than 1. In turbulent times like these, it seems like a good idea to stay away from the likes of Tiffany and Autodesk
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You see Jim Cramer on TV. Now, see where he invests his money and why Campbell Soup stock is a core holding of his multimillion-dollar portfolio. Want to be alerted before Jim Cramer buys or sells CPB? Learn more now.