Except for one or two big drops along the way, like the one caused by the start of the pandemic last year, the S&P 500 has been on what's essentially a multi-decade run higher. A bull market that long in the tooth can get people jittery.
Chinese property owner Evergrande looks as though it may default on its debts, and many fear this could spark a domino effect causing a global economic recession, which is why the stock market plunged last week.
Although the market has since recovered all that lost ground, it's never too soon to plan for another crash. Colgate-Palmolive (CL -1.68%), Airbnb (ABNB 3.97%), and Altria (MO -1.20%) are three stocks that could help insulate your portfolio from the next downturn.
Invest in your own medicine chest
Eric Volkman (Colgate-Palmolive): Before a bomb drops on the market, run for the shelters. A safe place with thick walls and a well-stocked pantry is the consumer staples sector, and Colgate-Palmolive is one of the most solid companies in it.
No matter how strained the economy, people are still going to need toothpaste and hygiene products to make their way through life. They might save money by forgoing the latest whiz-bang Apple gizmo or Tesla car, but they won't go without detergent. This is a big reason why makers of unglamorous but necessary goods like Colgate-Palmolive are such effective crash/recession hedges.
The company makes mass-market products bought on a regular basis by consumers around the world, and it's likely you have at least one of these products in your own closet or medicine chest. In addition to the Colgate toothpaste line and Palmolive dishwashing liquid that comprise its name, the company also holds the Softsoap, Irish Spring soap, and Speed Stick deodorant brands in its bulging portfolio.
As a result, Colgate-Palmolive always posts a high revenue figure, throws off piles of cash, and typically nets bottom-line profits at comfortable margins. In 2020, for instance, its revenue was nearly $16.5 million, with GAAP net profit coming in at slightly under $2.7 million, and free cash flow of over $3.3 billion.
The latter always provides plenty of room for the company's relatively generous dividend (which yields 2.4% these days). Colgate-Palmolive can easily crank this higher given such cushioning. Consequently it's a frequent raiser of its payout, to the point where it reached Dividend King status years ago.
There is some concern that the notably strong quarterly growth in recent times will fade. After all, net sales rose by nearly 10% year over year in the most recently reported quarter, with per-share earnings jumping 12%. The worry is that the stockpiling of consumer staples trend we saw during the pandemic will melt away as we (at least hopefully) finally begin to get over COVID-19.
That's understandable, but Colgate-Palmolive has proven in its long history that it can improve both revenue and profitability in the most challenging of times -- if not at double-digit rates, at least by respectable amounts. So even if growth declines, the company should still manage to keep both its top and bottom lines heading north.
Meanwhile, there's that rock-solid dividend, and that big suite of products that'll never go out of style. This is one of the best defensive stocks you can buy, a fine shelter from any coming storm.
Book a reservation for tremendous growth
Keith Noonan (Airbnb): Short-term vacation rental company Airbnb's share price has climbed roughly 20% from market close on the day of its initial public offering last December. Even at current prices, I plan on adding to my holdings in the company in the near future, and it's a stock that's at the top of my buy list in the event that a market crash creates even more attractive buying opportunities.
Despite the incredible challenges that the company has faced in the pandemic era, Airbnb's business has proven remarkably resilient and is on track to post record performance in the current quarter. Keep in mind that a variety of international and domestic travel restrictions and consumer hesitance are still pressure factors, but Airbnb is delivering impressive growth nonetheless. That's a fantastic sign, and it bodes incredibly well for the company's long-term performance.
Airbnb is a leader in its corner of the travel and hospitality industry, and it's become virtually synonymous with its category. Even if a friend or acquaintance of yours winds up booking through a competing service, you might still hear them say they're "getting an Airbnb." That's a testament to the company's remarkable brand strength and another encouraging sign that the stock is poised to put up tremendous performance over the long term.
Last quarter, Airbnb managed to roughly quadruple sales compared to the prior-year period and posted 10% growth compared to the pre-pandemic quarter in 2019. The company is also posting strong gross margins and delivering impressive growth despite having slashed expenses in response to pandemic-related headwinds. More hosts and guests are joining the platform all the time, and Airbnb's highly scalable business model points to huge profit potential over the long term.
There's a fantastic runway for growth here, and I think that investors will be richly rewarded for pouncing on the stock in the event of a pullback.
A stock to weather any storm
Rich Duprey (Altria): Tobacco stocks like Altria may seem like the ultimate "cigar butt" investments, beaten down businesses that trade below their inherent value. Over the past decade, the S&P 500 has outperformed Altria, Philip Morris International, and British American Tobacco by 2-to-1 or more.
Warren Buffett gave such stocks their name, likening them to an investor who picks up a cigar butt off the ground to take a few last puffs before it's extinguished. Tobacco stocks actually have a lot more to offer investors, and despite the headwinds Altria faces -- or perhaps because of them -- the company is best positioned to do so.
Like all cigarette manufacturers, the owner of the Marlboro brand is up against a secular decline in smoking and is exploring ways to mitigate the loss of users. The primary path has been through electronic cigarettes, such as Juul and Philip Morris' IQOS heated tobacco device, but there are a host of smokeless alternatives as well, including nicotine pouches and chewing tobacco, and Altria owns some of the leading brands in those spaces, like Copenhagen and Skoal.
Yet Altria has run into difficulties with its various platforms. For example, the Juul e-cig has come under tremendous regulatory scrutiny for its alleged contribution to teen vaping, and the FDA recently said it needs more time to decide whether to allow its e-cigs to remain on the market.
Similarly, Altria is responsible for manufacturing, marketing, and selling IQOS in the U.S., but had only rolled it out to a handful of markets so far (despite the device having FDA approval for two years now). British American is suing it and Philip Morris for patent infringement, which forced Altria to put the planned national rollout on hold.
Even so, Altria still makes most of its money from traditional cigarettes and it is able to raise prices several times a year to keep pace with the tax burden state and local governments keep imposing on the cost of a carton. Certainly it's the addictive nature of nicotine that keeps smokers returning again and again even as their numbers slowly diminish over time.
That gives investors stability during a market crash, and Altria's dividend currently yielding 7% annually provides a steady stream of income to survive any kind of storm.