As of May 14, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was only a fraction of a percent away from a new all-time high. And yet, there's a few potential headwinds that threaten the market's incredible rally, including the strong U.S. dollar, and the potential for rising interest rates. For investors who might be questioning whether the rally is built to last, it may be a good time to get defensive.
In the consumer goods sector, there are a few under-the-radar companies that might not immediately pop up on investors' radars. McCormick & Company (NYSE:MKC), Brown-Forman Corporation (NYSE:BF-B), and Hormel Foods Corporation (NYSE:HRL) are all Dividend Aristocrats, meaning they are large-cap, blue-chip companies that have raised their dividend every year for at least the past 25 years.
Their business models are far from sexy, but they are the slow-and-steady types that can be extremely valuable if the markets turn south. These Dividend Aristocrats can be bought and held for many years, without having to worry about the state of the markets.
Strong brands, strong dividends
While economic cycles have come and gone during the past several decades, these three companies have kept on paying, and even raising, their dividends each year. This is due to their strong brands and popular products, which can probably be found in nearly every household across the country.
McCormick is the king of spices and seasoning mixes. The company has paid dividends for 91 years in a row, and has increased its payout for the last 29 years. Plus, McCormick recently unveiled a new $600 million share buyback authorization, which amounts to 6% of the company's current market capitalization.
It's clear that the company is intent on returning a lot of cash to investors. The stock currently yields 2.1%, which is slightly better than the broader market. McCormick has increased its dividend by 9% compounded annually during the past five years.
Meanwhile, Brown-Forman is a sin stock with a saintly dividend. It holds a number of popular spirit brands, including the world's best-selling whiskey, Jack Daniels.
The stock yields 1.3%, which is below the market average, but it offers the prospect of much higher dividends down the road. It has increased its payout by 9.5% per year during the past five years, including two dividend increases in the past year alone.
Brown-Forman has paid regular quarterly cash dividends for 69 consecutive years, and has increased the dividend for 31 years in a row. It's also employing an aggressive share repurchase program. The company recently increased its share buyback program by an extra $1 billion, to be conducted during the next year.
Last but not least, Hormel is the company behind shelf-stable canned foods like Spam. The company has increased its dividend for 49 years in a row. Hormel yields 1.7% right now, but it's a huge dividend grower -- it has increased dividends by 19% compounded annually during the past five years.
When the best offense is a great defense
These three companies offer many defensive qualities that should be highly valued when the market rally falters. First and foremost are their dividends. Cash dividends are a great margin of safety against falling markets.
Separately, their brands are well-known and leaders in their respective industries. This allows them to maintain profitability, even when the economy goes south, which helps explain how they've been able to keep paying dividends all these years.
Moreover, each of these stocks exhibits low volatility, which means that investors can sleep well at night. McCormick, Brown-Forman, and Hormel have beta values of 0.77, 0.46, and 1.02, respectively. Beta indicates how much an investor can expect a stock to move for every 1% move in the overall market. The fact that these stocks' betas are near one or below means they likely won't decline dramatically if the market falls.
For investors who believe that sooner or later the market's astonishing multiyear rally will end, these stocks can be a good place to seek shelter from the storms.