Over the past month, we’ve seen total chaos break out in Chinese stocks. The benchmark KraneShares CSI China Internet ETF (NYSEARCA:KWEB) has fallen as much as 50% from its recent highs. So far, at least, the selling hasn’t spread too badly into American stocks. However it’s a sharp reminder that corrections can happen quickly in the stock market. That may lead investors to wonder what are the best safe stocks to buy today.
After all, while it may be Chinese internet and education stocks getting hit right now, more risky U.S. stocks could follow suit at any time. The market has been extremely strong since last summer, and seems overdue for a correction. As such, this is a great time to be looking at defensive stocks. Here are seven safe best stocks to buy going forward:
Hormel Foods (NYSE:HRL)
McCormick & Company (NYSE:MKC)
Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE:TMO)
Consolidated Edison (NYSE:ED)
Defensive Stocks to Buy: Hormel Foods (HRL)
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Investors may think of SPAM canned meat when they think of Hormel. That’s understandable. It’s a controversial legacy brand that has had surprising longevity in this new century. Sales continue to set new record highs each and every year. However, SPAM only accounts for a couple percent of Hormel’s overall revenues.
Rather, beneath the surface, Hormel has quietly evolved into the most progressive and millennial-friendly packaged food company out there. It has developed or acquired a whole host of brands that appeal to younger consumers. Hormel produces authentic Mexican salsas, ready-to-eat guacamole, nut butters, organic meats, plant-based meat products and now Planter’s nuts among the company’s array of offerings. Hormel aims to be the protein company, and is riding a huge wave as many consumers shift from carb-heavy diets to more protein-forward meal plans.
Hormel’s earnings growth has been a little soft in recent years. However, that’s because the company was divesting underperforming brands such as Muscle Milk. It’s now gone on the offensive, putting that cash into new acquisitions such as Planter’s, which it just bought from KraftHeinz (NASDAQ:KHC). With that move, Hormel is set to jump to record levels of revenues and earnings next year.
That, in turn, will fuel more dividend growth. As it stands now, Hormel has increased its dividend annually every year since 1965. The company also has a fortress balance sheet, making this a perfect safe defensive holding for investors.
McCormick & Company (MKC)
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Like Hormel, McCormick has built its reputation on tried and true pantry staples. McCormick dominates the spices aisle; if you need black pepper, oregano, basil or other such seasonings, you’ll likely buy them from McCormick. The company even has a large private label business, so if you buy the cheaper grocery store brand, there’s a good chance it’s still coming from McCormick.
While spices may be a staid business, McCormick has plenty of other flavors in the mix. For one thing, McCormick has bet big on salsas and hot sauces. Its recent acquisition of the Frank’s Red Hot brand has performed much better than analysts had expected, leading to a sharp rally in MKC stock in recent years.
McCormick also has an enormous operation selling sauces, seasonings, and flavor mixes to restaurants. When a chain restaurant rolls out some new entrée like, say, a Southwestern Chipotle Aioli Burger, it gets McCormick to design and produce the flavor profile for that menu item. McCormick spends tens of millions of dollars a year on research and development and leads the industry with initiatives such as its annual flavor forecast.
MKC stock has pulled back a bit lately, as the cooking-at-home boom starts to fade. But with restaurants rapidly getting back to business, McCormick’s food service revenues should pull up the slack. From a longer-term perspective, MKC stock has increased its dividend 35 years in a row, offering steady income growth in addition to its delectable share price appreciation.
Defensive Stocks to Buy: Verizon (VZ)
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Verizon may not be glamorous, but for investors seeking safe dividend income, VZ stock fits the bill. That’s a marked contrast to AT&T (NYSE:T) which just shocked its loyal holders with a massive dividend cut.
Verizon is an island of stability in the telecom space because it has had a more focused approach. Unlike AT&T, Verizon didn’t get caught up in a challenging effort to build a streaming TV empire. With a cleaner balance sheet, Verizon has been able to keep profits and its dividend steady.
Analysts see Verizon’s earnings merely being flat or so over the next couple of years. Even 5G rollout is unlikely to really move the needle here. But at just 10.5 times earnings and with a 4.5% dividend yield, Verizon is a fine safe holding for conservative investors.
Kimberly Clark (KMB)
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Kimberly Clark was a standout performer for much of 2020 as people raced to stock up on toilet paper and other essential goods. Fortunately, this panic buying has ended. With it, however, KMB stock has come back to earth. Indeed, shares are actually down since the pandemic began.
With this big sell-off comes opportunity. KMB stock is going for just an estimated 20 times this year’s earnings, and 17 times next year’s earnings. Investors are warry of input cost increases. With the spike in commodities, it is lowering profit margins. We just saw this in a big way at Clorox (NYSE:CLX), whose shares tumbled after a bad earnings report.
Kimberly-Clark is also facing some headwinds from things such as higher lumber prices. However, the current headwinds create a longer-term buying opportunity.
Defensive Stocks to Buy: Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO)
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Thermo Fisher may not be a household name. But it’s quietly become a powerful force in the life sciences space. The company’s market capitalization recently topped $200 billion. That’s because Thermo Fisher just had a huge year supplying equipment to meet the need for Covid-19 testing.
It’d be a mistake to think Thermo Fisher is just enjoying a one-time bump from the pandemic, however. Over the past ten years, Thermo Fisher has grown revenues at a compounded 12% per year. Thanks to rising profit margins, it has managed 18% annual free cash flow growth annually, and more than 20% annualized earnings growth. These are simply incredible numbers for a company that is already as large as Thermo Fisher.
And despite the company’s tremendous performance, it trades at an approachable valuation. Shares are at just 25x forward earnings, which is hardly outrageous for a company with such consistent historical growth rates.
Consolidated Edison (ED)
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The world economy seems more uncertain than ever. We don’t have much of any economic precedent for a shock like the Covid-19 pandemic. Unlike an economic depression, the downturn, although severe, was short and thus the economy could overheat as things recover. This adds a new level of complexity to the future outlook.
One thing that remains a safe bet, however, is that electricity demand will remain stable. Regardless of how work-from-home and other societal trends affect our investments, power demand should be high. And, indeed, the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) could offer a large growth opportunity for the power utility sector.
This brings us to Consolidated Edison. The utility company powers New York City and much of the surrounding area. It’s a staple of income investors’ portfolios, as it is a Dividend Aristocrat that has increased its annual dividend for decades in a row. Shares have come down significantly in recent months, creating a decent buy-the-dip opportunity while locking in a greater than 4% dividend yield.
Consolidated Edison is appealing as a safe stock to buy for its defensive nature and strong income. However, there’s a unique angle that gives it capital appreciation potential as well. That’s because Consolidated Edison is the #2 player in utility-scale photovoltaic solar deployments in the U.S., only trailing NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE). NEE stock has become an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) darling and seen its stock blast off thanks to green energy investors. ED stock could enjoy a similar rerating in coming months and years.
Defensive Stocks to Buy: Facebook (FB)
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Facebook’s recent momentum has slowed down a bit. Shares had hit new all-time highs in July, but fell recently following a mixed earnings report. In particular, Mark Zuckerburg spent much of the earnings call discussing Facebook’s intentions to create a “metaverse,” going so far as to say Facebook is a metaverse company.
This appeared to concern some people. The metaverse is not a widely understood concept, and critics were quick to label it as little more than a rebranding of augmented reality. I disagree with that take, but regardless, it caused some concern around FB stock.
In any case, the worries about the metaverse are misguided. Mark Zuckerberg has proven himself to be a masterful capital allocator. The Instagram acquisition has had one of the highest returns on investment of any major technology deal this century. WhatsApp will become a giant if and when Facebook gets around to monetizing it in earnest. And the list goes on.
So sure, Facebook may sink billions of dollars into the metaverse project without an immediate payoff. But given Zuckerberg’s tremendous success and great instincts, it’s worth giving him a chance here. As it stands now, Facebook is one of the two dominant online advertising companies. It’s still growing quickly. Additionally, at just 23x next year’s earnings, shares offer value in a frothy market.
On the date of publication, Ian Bezek held a long position in HRL, MKC, FB, and ED stock. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.
Ian Bezek has written more than 1,000 articles for InvestorPlace.com and Seeking Alpha. He also worked as a Junior Analyst for Kerrisdale Capital, a $300 million New York City-based hedge fund. You can reach him on Twitter at @irbezek.
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