Prepare for Any Market

If you're anything like me, June has felt like a trip on the Mind Eraser roller coaster at Six Flags Elitch Gardens here in Denver. (You try acting coherent after taking a trip on that loop-de-loop.)

I blame the stock market. Stomach-churning volatility has been rampant. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , for example, has sunk as low as $16.75 per share only to quickly rally back up to $18. That's a 10% swing! It makes you wonder: How do you invest well when the market is so schizophrenic?

What's worked for 50 years
One way is to seek shelter in dividends. Dividend-paying stalwarts such as Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) barely budged last week as the market wreaked its havoc on riskier issues.

That makes sense. Both J&J and P&G sport predictable earnings, boast top-flight management, and have steadily increased their dividends for decades. Investors buy these stocks with the intention of holding for decades. Often, they do.

And that's proved to be an outstanding strategy for any market, as noted by stock market researcher and author Jeremy Siegel. In a study of the S&P 500 from 1957 to 2003, Siegel found that high-yielding dividend payers were far more likely to beat the market. And the highest yielders beat the S&P by more than 4 percentage points annually.

If that doesn't sound like much, consider that if you had invested $10,000 in 1957 and held through 2003, you'd have ended with more than $8.1 million. That's against just $1.3 million with market matchers. I'll take the dividends and the extra six mil, thanks.

Behind the smoke
More important, I think, is Siegel's research into the best-performing stocks from 1957 to 2003. After all, as stock pickers, we like to think that we can extrapolate the attributes of winning businesses and then apply those metrics in picking future winners.

Which was the biggest winner of them all in Siegel's study? Altria (NYSE: MO  ) , which for decades was known as Philip Morris. The cigarette king pummeled the market, 19.8% to 10.9%.

A slightly different course
Naturally, you'd like to find the next Altria. I would, too. But I'll be honest and say that it might not exist. As encouraging as Siegel's research in support of dividends is, his entire body of work suggests that real stock market returns are likely to normalize to roughly 7% annually over the very long term. While that's still the best deal of any asset class, it's a far cry from 19.8%.

But don't despair. Market-beating dividend-driven returns can still be had. Indeed, Mathew Emmert, chief analyst of Motley Fool Income Investor, is beating the market by more than 4 percentage points now. He does it by focusing on a few different attributes, three of which came in handy this past week:

  • Low volatility: Many of Mathew's picks, such as Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) , sport beta ratings of far less than 1, which means they tend to shrug off the market's sudden gyrations.

  • Predictable earnings: Johnson & Johnson may be a relatively recent Income Investor selection, but it has produced double-digit earnings growth in all but two of the past 13 years, according to Capital IQ.

  • A high yield: Mathew tends to prefer stocks that yield at least 3% annually and have a history of boosting payouts. By investing in those types of stocks, Mathew figures he'll have a leg up in beating the market's long-term average return of 7%. So far, he's right.

And I expect he'll continue to be.

Be prepared
Volatility can eat away at your insides while it picks at your portfolio. You needn't tolerate it. Any good stock screener will help you find low-beta stocks (look for less than 0.75), high yields (3%!), and stable firms ($10 billion market cap or better). But if you'd rather not do the work, consider Income Investor. Mathew's stable portfolio is beating the market, and a sneak peek will cost nothing more than the price of a click.

Fool contributorTim Beyershopes he gets another 50 years on this planet, and that he gets to spend every one of them with his wife. (Yep, she's that cool.) Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Foolprofile. Johnson & Johnson and Bank of America are Income Investor recommendations. Intel is an Inside Value pick. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.


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