Let's face it, it wouldn't take much right now to put stocks into a major tailspin. Things like an escalation of hostilities on the Korean peninsula, another surprise uptick in unemployment and unexpected earnings disappointments could send the market plunging 10-20% or more. (Even if the economy is frightening, stocks aren't. Find out more in Why Stocks Aren't That Scary.)
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It's hard to resist the urge to dump equities when the market goes south. But there are always stocks worth holding through a calamity because they're likely to persevere, reward you over the long haul, and maybe even provide a smoother ride in terms of price volatility. At current prices, these companies are already attractive values and would become virtually irresistible if the market crashed. Here are some examples in various sectors.
This area is always very iffy in a weak economy, but fans of consumer-oriented stocks shouldn't let a correction cow them into ditching the higher-quality names such as Home Depot (NYSE:HD), Lowe's (NYSE:LOW), and Costco (Nasdaq:COST). That's because companies like these are considered "defensive", meaning they're large enough and sturdy enough to hold up well in tough times. Home Depot, Lowe's, and Costco all survived the recent recession in fine shape and are positioned for profitable long-term expansion.
Industrial stocks usually do particularly well early in a recovery, which is where we are now, so it's not a good idea to sell them when they're plodding through a recession or during a panic. You probably would have regretted dumping diesel engine maker Cummins Inc. (NYSE:CMI) the last time the market crashed and the economy receded. Analysts foresee an increase in Cummins' earnings to around $8 per share by 2014 from the current level of $3.84 a share. (For more, check out 4 Tips For Buying Stocks In A Recession.)
You don't want to panic and sell good stocks in this sector for the same reason you'd keep a worthy industrial stock during a downturn. When the economy starts to recover, it's going to come back. And if it sells something people really seem to want, a crash and recession might not slow it up much at all. Take McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), for example. The company has consistently made money for investors through good times and bad with nearly half the volatility of the overall stock market, as indicated by a beta of 0.55.
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These stocks are important to own because consumer staples are products people need even if the market tanks or a recession is on. Although the latest recession hurt Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), the company is rebounding nicely because most people can't do without things like shampoo, laundry detergent, and toilet paper. With new management leading the way, P&G is expected to deliver earnings growth of nearly 10% per year, on average, for some time. Investors can also take comfort in the fact that, like McDonald's, P&G has a very low beta (0.53).
Not only are tech giants Intel Corporation (Nasdaq:INTC) and Cisco Systems (Nasdaq:CSCO) already at roughly a 20-25% discount from their 52-week highs, they're both positioned to grow their earnings by about 11% annually going forward. Notably, their betas - 1.13 and 1.24, respectively - show that both tend to be somewhat more volatile than the market as a whole. That's okay, though, because the added diversification you get with tech stocks will help to protect your overall portfolio over time, even in a recession.
Where to Be Extra Cautious
While stock picking is risky in general, certain sectors are especially hazardous now. The most obvious are health care and financial services because of sweeping reforms, which are apt to be a drag on those industries although exactly who will be affected most is hard to say. Picking stocks is tough enough, but amidst worries of a double-dip recession, be especially vigilant in what sectors you play.
Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: The Ups And Downs Of A Double-Dip Recession.