Who needs amusement parks when you have the stock market to take you on a wild ride? The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to unprecedented volatility this year, as measured by the CBOE Volatility Index. We witnessed the broad-based S&P 500 lose 34% of its value in less than five weeks, then regain everything back over the subsequent 140 calendar days.
Investors, both novice and tenured, have had their resolve to stay the course tested like never before.
Even though the stock market has a history of putting corrections and bear markets firmly into the rearview mirror over time, some investors simply aren't built or prepared to deal with wild swings in equity valuations or the potential for prolonged downside. To these folks I say, there's good news. There are a handful of companies that can be bought right now that are among the safest stocks on Wall Street.
Best of all, you won't need a fortune to begin investing in these tried-and-true businesses. If, say, you have $1,500 you can devote to these safe stocks over the long haul, you have more than enough capital to watch your wealth compound over time.
Because of the retail industry's tie-ins to the U.S. economy, we wouldn't often think of retailers as a true safe-haven investment. Although the U.S. economy spends far more time expanding than contracting, recessions are an inevitable part of the economic cycle. However, recessions tend to be a virtual non-event for Costco Wholesale (COST 1.12%).
Just how steady is warehouse club Costco? Including its dividend, Costco hasn't delivered a negative total return since 2008. With its stock up 15.3% year-to-date, through August 13, Costco looks to be on track for a 12th consecutive year of gains, after delivering a 540% total return for investors during the 2010s.
A big reason Costco is able to separate itself from other retailers is because of its bulk-buying prowess. Costco frequently uses its size and deep pockets to negotiate significant discounts when buying items in bulk. These discounts can then be passed along to its members. And make no mistake about it, these low prices remain the primary draw of consumers to Costco.
Furthermore, Costco uses its memberships as a tool to fuel its competitive advantages. The revenue collected from these memberships can be used as a buffer on pricing to further undercut its competition. Additionally, having consumers pay annually for the right to shop at Costco makes it less likely that they're going to shop elsewhere. These memberships effectively lock consumers into Costco's ecosystem of products and services.
From what we've historically witnessed, Costco has excellent pricing power on its memberships. This is to say that any pushback on membership fee price hikes tends to be very short-lived, and rarely, if ever, adversely affects enrollments or renewals.
Since Costco carries everything from essential groceries to aisles upon aisles of higher-margin discretionary items, it makes for the perfect example of a safe stock to buy in the retail space.
Another one of the safest stocks on the planet than you can buy right now is chipmaker Broadcom (AVGO 0.53%).
Similar to Costco argument above, technology isn't exactly the sector that folks would typically look for "safe stocks." Tech stocks are usually very cyclical, and sport high premiums tied to their superior growth potential. In other words, we'd expect a lot of volatility. But that's really not been the case with Broadcom.
Throughout the 2010s, Broadcom's total return, inclusive of dividends, was positive every year -- and it's looking to keep that streak intact in 2020. Dividends have certainly helped Broadcom keep its streak of annual gains alive, with its quarterly payout of $3.25 having grown by more than 4,500% from where it was 10 years ago.
But Broadcom's income stream isn't the real lure here. Instead, it's two huge catalysts that should dominate this decade.
First off all, Broadcom is going to benefit from the rollout of 5G networks. We're talking about the first real upgrade to wireless infrastructure in about a decade, and it's liable to lead to a multiyear technology upgrade cycle for smartphones and other wireless devices. With wireless chips for smartphones accounting for the lion's share of the company's revenue, 5G should be a serious growth boon for Broadcom.
The other factor at play here is the surge in remote work environments created by COVID-19. As enterprise data continues to shift into the cloud, demand for data centers and storage should increase. Broadcom's connectivity and access chip solutions are at the heart of this growing data center demand.
Though its days of consistent double-digit sales growth are now in the past, Broadcom's current profile will check boxes for growth and value investors.
A final safe stock that investors can consider picking up right now is electric utility NextEra Energy (NEE -8.97%). If the company's nearly 19% total return holds for 2020, this'll mark its 12th straight positive year of returns.
When you think of safe, steady companies, utilities should rightly come to mind. That's because utilities provide a product or service that people almost universally need. In NextEra's case, it supplies electricity and natural gas, which are pretty much a necessity if you own a home or rent. Although weather can influence how much power a household uses, the beauty of investing in electric utility stocks is that demand and cash flow tend to be highly predictable in any economic environment.
What allows NextEra to stand out from its peers and deliver consistent high-single-digit profit growth is the company's focus on renewable energy. Investing in solar and wind projects isn't cheap, but NextEra has been able to do so at historically low lending rates for years. As the leading utility for solar and wind capacity, NextEra's electricity generation costs are well below that of its peers. If and when green energy regulations are handed down from Washington, D.C., NextEra will be way ahead of the curve.
NextEra Energy also benefits from its traditional utility operations being regulated. Though this means the company can't pass along price hikes at will (it needs the authorization of a state's public utility commission), it also means no exposure to potentially volatile wholesale electricity pricing. Again, it all comes back to the predictability of the company's cash flow.
NextEra might be trading at a premium to other electric utilities, but it's well-deserved given its ability to execute on its renewable projects.