What's So Special About Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. in This Mellow Market?

Worried about market volatility? The Dow has actually been remarkably mellow lately, with Wal-Mart and Verizon leading the way.

May 20, 2014 at 2:00PM

The market is going crazy these days, right? Just looking at a Dow Jones (DJINDICES:^DJI) chart of the last 12 months might make you reach for the heartburn pills. Some of those hills and valleys look incredibly steep. Remember the terrible start to 2014, followed by a big bounce in February? This roller coaster would surely make any theme-park designer proud.

^DJI Chart

^DJI data by YCharts.

But maybe you can put away your antacids after all. Some individual Dow stocks support the high-volatility hypothesis, but there are plenty of opposite examples as well. My favorite case-in-point exhibits are Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ).

Nine of the 30 Dow member stocks currently trade within 10% of their respective 52-week highs. Another eight are hovering less than 10% above their yearly lows.

What makes Verizon and Wal-Mart so interesting is that they show up on both lists.

^DJI Chart

^DJI data by YCharts.

Wal-Mart shares are trading down 2.3% year over year. At today's price, the stock sits 7% above its annual low and 6% below the 52-week high.


Source: Verizon.

Verizon is down 7%, 9% removed from its yearly low and 5% below the high-water mark.

If you played Verizon with surgical precision over the last year, the spread between its lowest and highest points was just 18.5%. For Wal-Mart, the margin for arbitration trading stopped at just 13.8%.

It's true that both stocks had their fair share of significant single-day price moves. In particular, Verizon's shares tend to jump or slip whenever there's big news afoot in the wireless phone sector. There's plenty of that going around, with a complicated web of attempted and rumored takeovers on top of innovative strategies by smaller rivals.

Wal-Mart is navigating a retail market under assault from online vendors, and attempting to stake its own e-commerce course. The famed big-box concept is giving way to smaller and more specialized stores. The Bentonville giant hasn't delivered any drastic earnings surprises or shortfalls recently, but fellow Fool Travis Hoium sees a colossus on clay feet headed for disaster. Last week's disappointing first-quarter report took the stock 3% lower overnight.

But these stocks seem hell-bent on regressing to their long-term average prices at the end of the day. And they are merely the most obvious of many recently low-key stories, on the Dow and elsewhere. The CBOE Volatility Index hasn't been this mellow since 2007:

^VIX Chart

^VIX data by YCharts.

If you like to sell call and put options to generate income from stable stocks, these could be the most lucrative times in many years. Selling covered calls gives you free income, with the caveat that you'll have to sell your underlying shares if the stock price rises too far. On the flip side of the same coin, selling naked puts provides income until share prices fall, which then forces you to buy shares. Verizon and Wal-Mart would have let you successfully double-dip into both strategies over the past year.

Wmt Logo

Source: Wal-Mart.

Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, of course. Wal-Mart could implode soon, if Travis is right. Verizon could do the same if a couple of strategic wireless mergers get the FCC, SEC, and DOJ stamps of approval. In both cases, I'd say that selling calls makes far more sense than selling puts.

But for now, Verizon and Wal-Mart serve as shining examples of just how mellow the market has been lately. The next time you see headlines about extreme stock volatility in 2014, you can safely skip that story and do something better with your time.

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Anders Bylund has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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