So far in 2015, the best word I can come up with for the behavior of the stock market is "erratic." Daily moves of 100-200 points or more have become the rule, rather than the exception. When the market starts getting volatile like this, I like to focus on the type of stocks that can perform well no matter what the market is doing.
One great place to start is the dividend aristocrats, which are a group of stocks that have increased their dividends for 25 consecutive years or more. And, thanks to some of the current market conditions, many of these rock-solid companies can be bought on sale. Three of my favorites right now are Lowe's (NYSE:LOW), Chevron (NYSE:CVX), and T. Rowe Price (NASDAQ:TROW).
A home-improvement retailer with a bright future
Lowe's is actually in a special club of dividend aristocrats; it is one of only 19 companies to increase its dividend for at least 50 years in a row. With a 1.37% annual yield, Lowe's probably won't get serious income seekers too excited, but its growth potential is what I'm most interested in.
I have written quite a bit lately about how Lowe's could do well in 2015, thanks to the continued housing recovery, new first-time homebuyer programs, and the higher levels of disposable income in the United States. In fact, per-capita disposable income has increased by about 15% in the past five years, and this means people are more inclined to spend more on home-improvement projects.
For the most part, I like Lowe's because of its aggressive but smart growth strategy, which involves both international and domestic expansion. The company is planning to expand into Canada and Australia over the next few years, and it also wants to expand its presence in underserved domestic markets, particularly urban areas. As one example, two new stores are expected to open in Manhattan this year.
Lowe's current valuation of 25 times the current fiscal year's expected earnings may seem high, but when you consider that analysts are projecting more than 20% annual earnings growth for at least the next three years, it actually seems pretty cheap. And, now that shares have pulled back from their highs, it might be a good time to get in.
A great play on cheap oil
No one knows how long the cheap oil will last, or how cheap it can possibly get, but most experts seem to agree that it's not going to last forever. Whether it happens this year, next year, or in five years, oil will rebound.
A great way to ride out the storm and set your portfolio up for the future is with a rock-solid company like Chevron. The stock has lost more than 8% of its value so far in 2015, and it's down more than 23% from its 52-week high.
Chevron currently trades for less than 10 times trailing-12-month earnings, and while earnings will most likely take a big hit this year if low oil prices continue, the company is more than solid enough to ride out the storm.
And in the meantime, the dividend yield of more than 4.1% will pay you nicely for your patience. Chevron has increased its dividend for 29 consecutive years (including during the last oil price crash in 2008), and there is no reason to believe it won't do the same in the future. Even with next year's pessimistic estimates, Chevron's payout ratio would be just 67% based on the current dividend amount, so there will still be room to boost the payout if oil stays cheap.
The financial sector is down, but this company is a good long-term bet
This new year has not been kind to the financial sector. Less-than-stellar earnings have caused companies like JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) to drop by 12% and 15%, respectively, so far this year. And while I think most of the sector represents good value right now, T. Rowe Price can let you take advantage of the sector's weakness while still allowing you to sleep at night.
T. Rowe Price's mutual funds have performed well recently, with 89% of all funds outperforming their comparable Lipper average over the past 10-year period, and 74% outperforming over the past three years. This good performance from the mutual funds has done a great job of attracting new money, and the proof is in the results. As of the most recent earnings report, the company's assets under management and advisory revenues both grew by 16%.
Not only has T. Rowe Price increased its dividend for 28 years in a row, but it has increased at an average annual rate of 16% over the past decade. So, right now, the 2.15% annual dividend yield is relatively low, but that may not be the case for much longer. The current payout represents less than 40% of earnings, so there is plenty of room for future dividend growth.
Which to choose?
There are several more dividend stocks trading at a discount thanks to the current market conditions, but these three are an excellent combination of income, growth potential, and safety. And that's what makes money over the long run.