These are unprecedented times. U.S. stocks peaked in mid-February and then lost almost 30% of their value in the second-shortest period of time in the past 50 years. Only the Black Monday crash in 1987, which knocked down the S&P 500 by 20% in a single day, resulted in a quicker decline into bear market territory.
But despite being second on that list, the past few weeks have put the current market sharply in first place for the most volatile period in the past half-century, as investors around the world struggle to figure out what happens next.
COVID-19 cases are steadily increasing in the U.S., and states are taking drastic action. California recently placed its nearly 40 million residents under orders to stay home. This is going to have immense repercussions on the economy, and many businesses will struggle to stay afloat.
But not every business is going to be in trouble. There are a handful of companies that provide critical services we rely on across any environment, and others that continue to be in demand, even when consumer demand falls off a cliff.
If you're looking for a source of security during the 2020 coronavirus recession, here are three stocks that pay high dividend yields that should prove safe and dependable even if things deteriorate in the months to come: Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (BIP -0.58%), NextEra Energy Partners (NEP -0.69%), and Verizon Communications (VZ -0.41%).
The value of recurring revenues
One of the things that underpins each of the three stocks above as being relatively safe dividend investments, even during the current environment, is that they all generate most of their revenues by providing an important service that generates regular, recurring income.
For Brookfield Infrastructure, its cash flows come from a diversified collection of water, telecommunications, energy, and transportation infrastructure assets it owns around the world. Even with COVID-19 outbreaks bringing parts of the global economy to a halt, consumers and businesses will continue to rely on water, electricity, natural gas, and ports to import and export goods. Even with the risk that demand may decline for some of the company's services -- global shipping comes to mind as one likely weakness -- this isn't the sort of business that will be rendered unnecessary by any stretch of the imagination.
Similarly, NextEra Energy Partners, which owns and operates renewable energy production facilities and sells the power to utility companies, will see steady demand as people shift their electricity consumption during the day from the office back to the home.
For Verizon, there's some risk that its mobile phone business could be impacted by the expected sharp drop in employment as more businesses are forced to shutter. But even with that risk, it's likely that more people will come to rely on mobile devices, along with Verizon's growing media business, if more Americans find themselves under stay-at-home orders.
Why you can count on these three
As was noted above, Brookfield Infrastructure and NextEra Energy Partners are the exact kinds of businesses investors should want to own during recessions. The utility services they provide fall clearly on the "necessities" side of the ledger. That should help underpin their cash flows, even if things continue to deteriorate.
Verizon has more exposure to the consumer economy but its dividend is relatively well-protected. The company has generated far more income and cash than it needs to maintain the payout in recent years, sporting an earnings payout ratio -- the percentage of earnings it pays in dividends -- of 52% over the past year and a cash payout ratio of 59%.
It also had $2.6 billion in cash on the books at the end of last quarter and is taking advantage of the recent drop in interest rates to refinance some of its debt at lower rates, which will free up even more cash flows.
Get paid to sit on your hands
While there's no way to know what will happen to the share prices of these three companies while the COVID-19 pandemic runs rampant, investors who buy them would earn dividends yielding between 4.7% and 5.9% at recent prices and should be able to depend on those dividends continuing, even if things get worse for the economy.
To be clear: These payouts are not guaranteed. There's no such thing as a free lunch, and even the best companies can make changes to their dividend policies in uncertain times. But these are three well-run companies with built-in advantages that create strong margins of safety. That's particularly important when it comes to supporting dividends.
With that said, if it's a source of stability you're after during these unprecedented, uncertain times, Verizon, NextEra Energy Partners, and Brookfield Infrastructure Partners could be ideal.