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How Often Is Buying Into a Stock Market Correction a Bad Idea?

By Sean Williams - Updated Jun 5, 2019 at 4:34PM

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You'll be surprised by the answer.

Chances are that if you're invested in the stock market, you don't need a reminder of how challenging the past month has been. After hitting an all-time closing high on May 3, the broad-based S&P 500 (^GSPC 1.99%) has proceeded to lose about 7% of its value, through June 3. In fact, the 6.6% loss registered by the market's benchmark index last month was the second worst on record in May since the 1960s.

Right now, pretty much everything, save for the kitchen sink, has Wall Street on edge. There's the possibility of the U.S. fighting a trade war on two fronts (with China and Mexico). Also, since November, Treasury yields have been on a precipitous decline, with the yield curve pushing to its largest inversion since 2007. Since bond prices and bond yields move in opposite directions, this action is indicative of significant bond-buying and equity aversion.

An up-close view of George Washington on the $1 bill lying next to a plunging chart.

Image source: Getty Images.

There are concerns on the earnings front, too. The latest "Earnings Insight" report from FactSet Research Systems, dated May 31, finds that blended earnings growth for the 98% of S&P 500 companies to have reported their first-quarter operating results is minus 0.4%. If this negative number holds true, it'll mark the first year-over-year earnings decline for the index since the second quarter of 2016. 

Suffice it to say, market uneasiness has investors questioning whether they should be buying into this latest stock market correction.

Is there ever a bad time to buy into a stock market correction?

That raises the question: Is there a time when buying a significant dip in the stock market isn't a good idea?

To answer this, I relied on data provided by stock market analytics firm Yardeni Research on the S&P 500. Here's what I found.

Since 1950, the S&P 500 has undergone 37 "true" stock market corrections, equating to a decline of at least 10%, not including rounding. If we also count notable declines of near 10%, but not officially a "correction" in the traditional sense of the term, this figure inches up to 47 reasonably sizable declines in the S&P 500 since 1950...or 48 if you want to include the existing 7% drop in the benchmark index through June 3.

Dice that say "Buy" and "Sell" rolling across a digital screen with a stock chart on it.

Image source: Getty Images.

Yet, here's the interesting thing: Despite the fact that investors have no clue what will cause a correction, when one will start, how steep the drop will be, or when that drop will end, it's always been a smart idea to buy the dips in the S&P 500. And I don't mean "always" in that exaggerated sense. I literally mean always. No matter when you bought into the S&P 500 during any one of its previous 37 stock market corrections, or even its 10 notable declines that didn't quite qualify as a correction, you'd have eventually made money -- the only exception being that you had to hold onto your investment long enough to realize the rewards. Sometimes it took just weeks for corrections to be completely put into the rearview mirror, while on other occasions it took years. But the point is, markets head higher over the long run.

To put this into even more glaring terms, since May 3, there have been 30 calendar days where investors who bought into the S&P 500 would have been down on their investment (based on closing values for the index). Compare that with the 25,324 calendar days that investors could have bought into the S&P 500 prior to May 3 (including leap days...I didn't forget!) and still have been up on their initial investment.

When the stock market declines, it's a roll-out-the-red-carpet buying opportunity for investors.

These top-tier stocks could be worth buying

With this is mind, here are a few high-quality stocks you might consider adding to or gobbling up as the stock market inches closer to correction territory.

Prescription drug tablets lying atop a $100 bill, with Ben Franklin's eyes peering between the pills.

Image source: Getty Images.

Bristol-Myers Squibb

One idea is pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY 0.45%), which is a stone's throw away from hitting a nearly six-year low. Bristol-Myers has two highly successful pharma franchises in treating cancer and providing anticoagulants. Superstar cancer immunotherapy Opdivo looks to be well on its way to perhaps $7 billion-plus in annual sales in 2019, with blood-thinner Eliquis, which was developed in cooperation with Pfizer, on pace for nearly $8 billion in annual sales. These two high-growth therapies make up close to two-thirds of Bristol-Myers' revenue. 

In addition to solid existing franchises, Bristol-Myers is acquiring Celgene for $50 in cash, plus one share of its own stock, for each share of Celgene. In return, Bristol will get its hands on multiple myeloma drug Revlimid, which has been consistently growing sales at 15% to 20% per year, and may soon become the best-selling drug in the world, on an annual basis.

Keeping in mind that a falling stock market has absolutely no bearing on what sort of ailments people develop, this recent dip in Bristol-Myers' stock makes little sense. Once we tack on a 3.6% yield, the idea of buying into weakness becomes all the more palatable.

Two smiling young women texting on their smartphones.

Image source: Getty Images.


Another real head-scratcher is the idea that a modest decline in the stock market is going to be somehow bad for telecom and content services giant AT&T (T 0.09%).

AT&T should benefit from two pretty significant catalysts in the years to come. First, there's the completion of its Time Warner buyout, giving it access to the CNN, TNT, and TBS networks. These networks are popular bargaining chips and dangling carrots that AT&T can use to lure streaming subscribers away from its competitors, as well as boost its advertising pricing power.

Beyond its media networks, AT&T also stands to benefit from the rollout of 5G networks across the United States. Consumers' thirst for data consumption should push a new wave of smartphone upgrades, leading to an even greater amount of data being used. Since the majority of AT&T's wireless margins are from the data side of the equation, this couldn't be better news for the company.

While earnings growth could certainly be more impressive, just remember that there's a 6.7% dividend yield backing this stock, which is more than triple what you'd net by investing in Treasury bonds. In other words, there's ample incentive to stick around and let AT&T make you money.

A small pyramid of tobacco cigarettes lying atop a bed of dried tobacco.

Image source: Getty Images.

Philip Morris International

Buying into tobacco stock Philip Morris International (PM -0.46%) following its recent weakness might also make sense.

It's understandable why investors are skeptical of tobacco stocks, given that adult cigarette smoking rates in the U.S. hit an all-time low in 2017 of roughly 14%. Pessimists view this decline as a trend among developed nations, which is why Philip Morris has had a bumpier ride than normal of late.

But what investors might be overlooking is that Philip Morris doesn't operate only in the United States; it has operations in more than 180 countries worldwide. This geographic breadth protects it from more stringent tobacco laws in a small handful of developed countries where it operates. All the while, burgeoning middle classes in China and India remain key sources of long-term growth for its tobacco operations.

The company also has its eye on sustainable growth with its IQOS heated tobacco device, which allows users to receive nicotine without inhaling a number of other harsh chemicals found in smokable tobacco products. IQOS' rollout has just begun, and the company is actively looking at other tobacco alternatives to spur growth.

With a nearly 6% dividend yield and plenty of pricing power, Philip Morris is the perfect stock to consider buying during this correction.

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Stocks Mentioned

AT&T Inc. Stock Quote
AT&T Inc.
$21.32 (0.09%) $0.02
Bristol Myers Squibb Company Stock Quote
Bristol Myers Squibb Company
$77.59 (0.45%) $0.35
Philip Morris International Inc. Stock Quote
Philip Morris International Inc.
$108.07 (-0.46%) $0.50
S&P 500 Index - Price Return (USD) Stock Quote
S&P 500 Index - Price Return (USD)
$4,057.84 (1.99%) $79.11

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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