If we've learned anything about the stock market in 2020, it's that it's entirely unpredictable in the short term.
Though the broader market has conclusively shown that it increases in value over the long run, stock market crashes and corrections are far more common than you might realize. Since 1950, the benchmark S&P 500 has undergone 38 corrections of at least 10% (unrounded). That's a correction, on average, every 1.8 years. Following the quickest rebound from a bear market low to fresh highs in history, it's certainly possible that another stock market crash is in our future.
The thing is, a stock market crash doesn't have to be a run-for-the-hills event, even if you're a highly conservative investor. If you're looking for high-quality businesses you can buy during a stock market crash that won't cost you sleep at night, here are five safe stocks to consider.
Bristol Myers Squibb
One of the most defensive ways to play a stock market crash is to buy healthcare stocks. Since we don't get to choose when we get sick or what ailments we develop, the performance of the U.S. economy or stock market shouldn't have any bearing on demand for healthcare companies.
The company I'm thinking of here is Big Pharma Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY 1.00%). In November 2019, Bristol Myers completed its acquisition of Celgene, thereby bringing multiple myeloma blockbuster Revlimid into the fold. For more than a decade, Revlimid has benefited from label expansion, improved cancer screening diagnostics, substantive pricing power, and increased duration of use. It's also protected from an onslaught of generic competition until the end of January 2026. This means Bristol Myers' new acquisition is going to be a cash cow for the next half decade.
Bristol Myers Squibb has other star drugs in its portfolio, too. Cancer immunotherapy Opdivo is capable of more than $6 billion in annual sales, while leading oral anticoagulant Eliquis, which was co-developed with Pfizer, is generating even more robust sales than Opdivo.
The point is, Bristol Myers Squibb's cash flow is solid as a rock, and its dividend yield of 3% won't let you down.
Another extremely safe stock to buy into during a stock market crash is telecom giant AT&T (T -0.65%). As a shareholder, the word "boring" comes to mind when I think of AT&T. But this isn't a slight. Rather, it's a testament to the methodical moneymaking nature of the company.
Despite a relatively low growth rate, AT&T does have some key catalysts on the horizon. The ongoing rollout of 5G infrastructure represents the first upgrade to download speeds in about a decade. Chances are that we'll see consumers and businesses upgrade their wireless devices over a period of many years to take advantage of this faster network. Since AT&T's wireless division feasts on increased data usage, this'll be a good thing.
AT&T also recently launched its HBO Max streaming service, collecting roughly 4.1 million subscribers in its first month. Although subsidiary DirecTV has been contending with a steady loss of net subscribers, AT&T's streaming options can more than offset these losses.
Ultimately, AT&T is a Dividend Aristocrat that's yielding 7.3%. At this rate, you can double your money with reinvestment in just shy of 10 years.
You'll note that basic-need goods and services are almost always smart investments during periods of heightened stock market volatility. That's what makes the largest electric utility in the U.S., NextEra Energy (NEE 0.14%), so attractive.
The beauty of electric utility stocks is that you know precisely what you're buying into. Demand for electricity remains virtually unchanged when the economy and stock market ebb and flow. The weather arguably has more bearing on electricity usage than the performance of the U.S. economy does.
What makes NextEra so special is the company's leading investments in renewable energy. Though green energy projects aren't cheap, a record-low interest rate environment is the perfect time to upgrade the company's capacity. Overall, no electric utility generates more capacity from solar or wind power than NextEra.
Furthermore, NextEra's traditional (i.e., non-renewable-powered) utility operations are regulated. This is a fancy of saying it can't pass along price hikes at will, but it also isn't exposed to potentially volatile wholesale electricity pricing. With NextEra, investors receive big-time cash flow transparency and a 2% yield to boot.
Philip Morris International
As long as vice stocks aren't a disqualifying investment factor for you, well-known tobacco company Philip Morris International (PM 2.68%) is a safe stock worthy of being bought during a stock market crash.
While we often think of things like electricity, food, and shelter as basic necessities, previous recessions have shown that tobacco products behave like traditional consumer packaged goods. In other words, their sales aren't typically disturbed by fluctuations in the stock market or economy.
The big bonus investors get when they buy into Philip Morris is geographic diversity. Philip Morris doesn't operate in the U.S., but it does have a presence in more than 180 countries around the world. This means it has developed markets it can count on, as well as emerging and developing markets with burgeoning middle classes looking for simple luxuries, like tobacco.
Aside from global tobacco appeal, Philip Morris International also has its IQOS heated tobacco device. If there is a segment growing at a rapid rate for the company, it's smokeless product IQOS. Through the first six months of 2020, heated tobacco unit shipment volume rose by 33.4%.
Investors can sleep easy knowing they're pocketing a 6.4% yield that'll double their money with reinvestment in a little over 11 years.
To pound the table on basic necessities one more time, a fifth and final safe stock to buy during a stock market crash is warehouse club Costco Wholesale (COST -6.60%).
Costco provides a one-stop shopping experience for consumers regardless of how well or poorly the economy and stock market are performing. Since Costco does a lot of its purchasing from vendors in bulk, it's able to buy goods at a cheaper unit price than many of its competitors. This is one reason why Costco is able to undercut its competition on price.
Another piece of the puzzle is that Costco is built on the membership model. The high-margin fees collected by Costco from annual memberships are what insulate the company's razor-thin margins on consumer staples. By keeping its retail prices so low, Costco is courting new and existing customers and aiming to drive up discretionary purchases.
Costco has historically done an excellent job of keeping its customers within its ecosystem of products and services. That's what makes it such a smart buy during periods of heightened volatility.