So far in 2015, the market has been rather volatile, with triple-digit moves in the Dow the rule rather than the exception. And there is a strong possibility of a market correction in the not-too-distant future, since the major indices have pretty much gone straight up for six years now.
With that in mind, there are some stocks you can invest in that we consider to be safe places to put your money no matter what the market does. We asked three of our analysts, and these are some of their favorites.
Selena Maranjian: In my opinion, one of the safest stocks to own -- and to buy right now -- is one that makes up my own biggest stock position: Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B), headed by none other than Warren Buffett. Why do I like it and what makes it seem so safe? Well, lots of things.
For one thing, it's managed very conservatively by Buffett himself, whose first rule in investing is "Don't lose money." With the company's primary focus on insurance (it owns GEICO, for example) and his expertise in that subject, he's a great assessor of risk, taking only reasonable chances. His company is also broadly diversified, owning huge stakes in relatively stable stocks such as Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), and American Express (NYSE:AXP). It also owns gobs of companies outright, many of them in industries that are likely to stick around for a long time, such as home buying, home building, jewelry, candy, paint, underwear, furniture, and ice cream. It even owns a railroad -- one that, in Buffett's words, "carries about 15% (measured by ton-miles) of all inter-city freight, whether it is transported by truck, rail, water, air, or pipeline." It's hard for such a big company to grow rapidly, but its revenue and earnings have still averaged double-digit annual growth rates.
Then there's its valuation, which is actually not quite as compelling today as it has been in recent years and months. Its price-to-earnings, price-to-book, price-to-sales, and price-to-cash-flow ratios are all above its five-year averages -- but not by a lot. The stock has surged about 33% over the past year and has averaged about 18% annually over the past 30 years. Buffett himself has warned against expecting any rapid growth as the company has gotten so big. Still, if you're looking for a long-term holding, and one that will let you sleep better at night, this is a great portfolio candidate. It's hard to be against Warren Buffett.
Dan Caplinger: One stock that has benefited from the acceleration in the economic recovery recently is Paychex (NASDAQ:PAYX). The human-resources specialist provides payroll and other HR services to its clients, with an emphasis on small and midsized businesses that have the most to gain from outsourcing many of the HR tasks that would otherwise be too distracting for a small-business owner to handle without outside help.
Early in the recovery, jobs growth was tepid at best, with ordinary Americans largely being left out from gains in other economic areas. As we've seen in recent months, though, employment in the U.S. has climbed at a much faster pace. Moreover, not only has the economy created more jobs, but the January employment report also showed a greater number of workers participating in the labor force, partially offsetting what had been a disturbing trend toward less participation.
Paychex has competition from other payroll and HR-services companies, but its midsized focus gives it the ability to extend its reach in both directions, going after larger employers while also catering to small up-and-coming businesses. As long as the employment picture looks sound and economic growth continues, Paychex should be a good way to benefit from a healthier job market.
Leo Sun: Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) is a safe stock to own, even as both the stock and the market are trading at all-time highs. The stock rallied 34% over the past 12 months, easily outperforming the S&P 500's 14% gain. Last quarter, all five of Disney's business segments reported positive operating YOY income growth, with four of them posting double-digit returns.
Disney also trades at a reasonable 18 times forward earnings, which is comparable to Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL) and Fox's (NASDAQ:FOX) respective forward P/Es of 17 and 16. Yet Disney has three things that Time Warner and Fox lack: a leader who maximizes franchise value, built-to-last film franchises, and evergreen theme parks.
Under CEO Bob Iger, Disney acquired Pixar, Marvel, and LucasFilm -- which solidified its position as an entertainment powerhouse. Iger put Pixar's Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter in charge of Walt Disney Animation Studios, which pumped out new in-house animated hits like Frozen. He let Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige control the unified Marvel Cinematic Universe, creating the most cohesive live-action comic book universe to date.
Disney maximized these franchises by connecting them to shows, like Once Upon a Time and Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, on ABC, and launching companion attractions at its theme parks. Disney still has plenty of catalysts ahead -- a new Star Wars trilogy is set to launch later this year, its new Shanghai Disney Resort will open in 2016, and its Marvel films are mapped out until 2019.