Market crashes are no fun, but they can be made more tolerable by owning shares of high-quality, dividend-paying stocks. No stock is truly crash-proof, but some hold up much better than others. We asked three of our contributors to each pick a dividend stock that they think wouldn't get derailed by a market crash. Their choices: McDonald's (MCD 1.46%), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ 2.40%), and Colgate-Palmolive (CL -0.09%).
Burgers and fries for any market
Tim Green (McDonald's): Looking at McDonald's stock chart, you wouldn't even know there was a market crash in 2008. The stock paused its run upwards for a couple of years, but holding shares of McDonald's that were treading water over that period worked out a lot better than most other alternatives.
Given McDonald's focus on providing inexpensive food, it should be no surprise that the company does just fine during recessions. Revenue did decline just a bit in 2009, but profits held up well. The company's streak of annual dividend increases, which started in 1976, also went unbroken. The dividend has more than doubled since 2008.
McDonald's stock is far more expensive in terms of P/E today than it was back then, which means it's possible that the next market crash (whenever it arrives) will affect the stock more severely than the last one did. McDonald's trades for around 25 times earnings today, well above its P/E ratio of roughly 15 during much of 2008 and 2009.
McDonald's will need to justify that higher valuation with solid results. Looking to drive sales, the company is jumping on the mobile ordering bandwagon, and plans to launch mobile ordering nationwide by the end of this year. Initiatives like all-day breakfast have provided a boost, and the company will need to keep the momentum going.
130 years young
Cory Renauer (Johnson & Johnson): Not many companies have a museum that can serve as an enduring reminder of their ability to shrug off market crashes. This company recently cut the ribbon on one that highlights an endless array of its innovations that have been reshaping healthcare since 1886.
Although sprawling conglomerates have given the structure a bad name, Johnson & Johnson has made a science out of acquiring businesses that complement its existing operations, while trimming away those that are no longer pulling their weight. In 2016 alone, the company completed 13 acquisitions and dropped eight units from a portfolio that now contains about 250 healthcare-related businesses.
It's been 55 years since J&J has gone an entire year without raising its dividend. With iconic brands in its consumer goods segment, economies of scale in its medical device segment, and innovative drugs in its pharmaceutical segment, I wouldn't be surprised if the streak continues for generations. While consumer goods and devices still generate a majority of J&J's total revenue, its stable of drugs with blockbuster sales also make J&J one of the best dividend stocks in pharmaceuticals.
At recent prices, Johnson & Johnson offers a nice 2.7% dividend yield with a payout that you can reasonably expect to continue rising, plus an incredibly resilient share price. During the 10-year period from January 2000 to January 2010, two crashes left the broad-market benchmark SPDR S&P 500 ETF 23.4% lower, while J&J shares notched a 39.7% gain. Past performance doesn't guarantee future results, but I don't think you'll find another stock as good at shrugging off anything the economy throws at it.
The bathroom matters, even during a market crash!
Brian Stoffel (Colgate-Palmolive): I wouldn't exactly say that any dividend-paying company "laughed" at the Great Recession. But some of them certainly flexed their muscles versus the S&P 500. Colgate was one of those companies -- while its share price fell 28% from January 2008 to March 2009, that was a far cry from the 51% plunge taken by the broader market.
The company is parent to some of the most popular household brands: Colgate toothpaste, Palmolive and SoftSoap cleansers, SpeedStick deodorants, and a variety of pet foods marketed under its Hill's Pet Nutrition segment.
While these products might not be sexy enough to appeal to the growth investor, their boring nature belies their huge strength: Even in the depths of a recession, people keep buying toothpaste, deodorant, and food for their pets. That helps explain why, from 2008 to 2010, sales at the company actually increased 1.5%, even as unemployment boomed and the world economy faltered.
Shareholders who held throughout actually benefited from the stock's stumble: Their reinvested dividends bought them more shares than they'd otherwise have wound up with. Indeed, by March 9, 2009, the company's forward dividend yield stood at 3.1%.
Looking forward, that dividend is still enticing -- albeit at a lower yield of 2.2%. But over the past year, only 59% of Colgate's free cash flow has been used to pay dividends, meaning it is both very safe, and has lots of room for growth.