It's been over eight years since the stock market hit its recession-era trough. Since then, markets around the world have enjoyed a sweeping rally that has pushed the S&P 500 and other indices to all-time highs.
Though it's anyone's guess when the next recession will begin -- anyone that tells you otherwise is lying -- it isn't a stretch to argue that we're somewhere in the latter stages of the current business cycle. During times like these, it's easy for savers to grow concerned over the stability of their investment portfolios. So let's consider three stocks -- AT&T (NYSE:T), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) -- that are stable enough picks that they should provide investors with returns regardless of the state of the market.
For a number of reasons, the nation's second largest wireless provider is a stock for all seasons. For starters, the company's utility-like business model provides it with a large, steady stream of cash flow that the company then returns to shareholders with impressive consistency. In fact, AT&T has increased its dividend annually for 32 consecutive years. Better still, the company's current dividend yield of 5.1% is well over double the S&P 500's 1.9% payout.
Equally important, the future seems bright for AT&T. Though its shares have dramatically underperformed the market this year, AT&T's pending purchase of Time Warner should help the company move toward introducing an over-the-top cable service that streams content to mobile devices. That feature would allow AT&T to offer competitive bundles of cable, cellular, and internet services, which in turn would further entrench the company as one of the most powerful names in telecom.
The world's largest technology company has been on quite the run over the past year, as investors have piled back into Apple shares in anticipation of the updated 10th-anniversary iPhone due out this fall. The company hasn't upgraded its form factor in three years, and analysts are bullish on what many believe will be one of the more dramatic iPhone redesigns ever. Sales estimates vary so greatly that it probably isn't worth examining too deeply, but Apple is still a near-lock to again produce the most profitable quarter in corporate history in the upcoming holiday quarter, Apple's fiscal Q1.
A number of other long-term growth drivers deserve noting. Reports say the company is quietly working on various products for massive market verticals, including the smart home, electric vehicles, healthcare, and more.
Moreover, Apple's massive $158 billion net-cash hoard is its own tailwind for investors, giving the company ample coverage to generate additional shareholder returns through stock buybacks and dividend growth. True, Apple's size will make its longtime performance difficult to match, but the company is one of the safest and most stable companies in the world.
The case for cable leader Comcast as a safe stock mirrors that of AT&T in many respects. Comcast is already one of the nation's largest cable providers and entertainment producers. As of its most recent quarterly report, the company counted 28.8 million total customer relationships across its various video, broadband, landline phone, and security services; many consumers purchase multiple bundled services.
What's more, Comcast launched its own branded Xfinitiy Mobile cellular service in April. The service runs on a fused network of leased spectrum from Verizon Communications and Comcast's 16 million Wi-Fi hotspots across the U.S., though Comcast is also acquiring its own spectrum. Comcast should eventually be able to go toe-to-toe with AT&T in launching a competing mobile cable service that few other companies in the telecom or entertainment business will be able to match.
Looking past its growth potential, Comcast is also a notable dividend stock. Its 1.4% yield won't turn any heads, and the company only initiated its dividend in 2008. However, Comcast has increased its per-share payouts from $0.25 in 2008 to what should amount to $0.62 this year. Given its commitment to dividend growth and its long-term earnings growth potential, Comcast is a worthy option for wary investors today.