For many investors, 2021 was ideal. The benchmark S&P 500 endured no more than a 5% correction for the entirety of the year, and the major stock indexes finished higher by a double-digit percentage. This year has been the exact opposite. All three major U.S. stock indexes have plunged into a bear market, with volatility hitting levels not seen since 2009.

Although big declines in the stock market can be demoralizing for all types of investors, it's an especially worrisome thing for retirees, who have far less tolerance for losing their initial investment capital. Nevertheless, bear markets present those in or near retirement with a unique opportunity to pounce on high-quality stocks at a discounted price.

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The best part about putting money to work on Wall Street is that there's an investment for everyone -- including retirees. What follows are three perfect stocks seniors can buy hand over fist that can deliver steady long-term appreciation potential.

Mastercard

The first thing for senior ivestors to understand is that they can own growth stocks while avoiding high levels of volatility. Payment processor Mastercard (MA -0.56%) is the ideal example of a company with sustained double-digit sales growth that can make investors richer without the heart-pounding volatility that usually accompanies fast-paced businesses.

If there's a knock against financial stocks like Mastercard, it's that they're cyclical. Cyclical stocks ebb and flow in lockstep with the U.S. and global economies. Since recessions are an inevitable part of the economic cycle, it means investors have to contend with periods where consumer and enterprise spending are likely to decline.

But this doesn't tell the full story. Even though recessions are a given, so is the fact that periods of expansion almost always last longer than downturns. What allows payment processors to perform so well are these disproportionately long bull markets.

Something else I've previously alluded to that helps Mastercard outperform the broader market is its lending avoidance. I have no doubt that Mastercard would succeed as a lender if it chose that path. But if it did choose to lend, the company would be exposed to loan losses during economic downturns. By sticking to payment processing, Mastercard completely avoids the need to set aside capital to cover potential loan delinquencies. This smart decision is what keeps its profit margin above 40%.

Mastercard should also benefit from the exceptionally long growth runway that lies ahead for payment processors. Most worldwide transactions are still facilitated with cash, which means there's a multidecade opportunity for the company to organically or acquisitively push its payment infrastructure into underbanked emerging markets.

Though Mastercard's 0.6% yield is nothing to write home about, its undeniably steady growth potential certainly is.

Verizon Communications

For retirees wanting an extremely low-volatility stock that can deliver modest but steady wealth appreciation, telecom giant Verizon Communications (VZ 0.43%) fits the bill.

It's been a very difficult year for telecom stocks due largely to rapidly rising inflation, increased competition among the largest U.S. players, and higher interest rates. It's not uncommon for large telecom companies like Verizon to lean on debt financing as a means to upgrade infrastructure or make acquisitions. A rising-rate environment makes upgrades and acquisitions costlier, at least in the short run.

But Verizon wouldn't make this list if it didn't offer clearly identifiable catalysts. To start with, smartphones and wireless access have become basic necessities in today's society. Even during rough stretches for the U.S. economy, people are highly unlikely to give up their wireless access. This provides a steady floor beneath Verizon's key wireless segment.

Second, Verizon should see healthy profit gains from the rollout of 5G infrastructure. It's been in the neighborhood of a decade since the major U.S. telecom providers dramatically increased wireless download speeds. Upgrading infrastructure to 5G will be costly, but the end result should be an increase in consumer and enterprise data consumption. Wireless providers generate meaningful margins from data usage.

And third, Verizon is betting big on broadband. In March 2021, the company spent close to $53 billion to buy C-Band spectrum that it plans to use, among other things, to increase at-home 5G broadband adoption. By the end of 2025, Verizon hopes to reach 50 million U.S. households and 14 million businesses with its 5G broadband services. While broadband isn't a high-growth story these days, it does provide steady cash flow and an opportunity for Verizon to boost its margin via bundling opportunities.

Even though Verizon's growth prospects are modest these days, its forward-year price-to-earnings ratio of 7 and dividend yield of 7.2% should provide a rock-solid floor with attractive upside for senior investors.

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AstraZeneca

A third perfect stock retirees can buy hand over first right now is pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (AZN -0.48%).

Like most stocks this year, AstraZeneca has been challenged by poor investor sentiment. It was also one of a small handful of drug companies to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Unfortunately, its vaccine presented with a lower efficacy than many of its competitors, which ultimately took the wind out of its sails (and sales).

Yet in spite of these challenges, AstraZeneca looks stronger than ever and is ripe for the picking by income-and-value-seeking investors.

One of the greatest aspects of healthcare stocks is their defensive nature. No matter what surprises that the stock market or the U.S./global economy have in store, it doesn't change the fact that people will continue to need prescription drugs, medical devices, and access to healthcare services. This provides a safe demand buffer for many of the largest healthcare companies.

Getting a bit more specific, there are two areas of focus for AstraZeneca that are delivering blazing-hot growth. Excluding currency movements, the company's oncology and cardiovascular segments produced first-half sales growth of 20% and 19%, respectively.

This was led by sustained double-digit sales growth from a trio of blockbuster cancer drugs -- i.e., therapies generating $1 billion or more in annual sales -- and the company's next-generation type 2 diabetes drug Farxiga, which grew sales by a blistering 63% in the first six months of 2022 from the prior-year period. 

In addition to these impressive areas of focus, AstraZeneca made the genius move to acquire ultra-rare-disease drug developer Alexion Pharmaceuticals last year. Although targeting small pools of patients has its risks, the rewards are bountiful. Successful rare-disease drugs usually have little or no competition and face minimal pushback from insurance companies over high list prices.

Alexion also developed a replacement therapy (known as Ultomiris) to its blockbuster drug Soliris prior to being acquired. Over time, as Ultomiris gains regulatory approvals, the expectation is for patients taking Soliris to be migrated to Ultomiris. In other words, AstraZeneca's key acquisition protected its operating cash flow for a long time to come.

With minimal fluctuation in prescription-drug demand, AstraZeneca and its 2.5% yield make for a smart buy for retirees.