If you are a conservative investor by temperament, of if you believe the stock market is toppy at the moment, you may be seeking some relatively safe stocks.
Just to be clear, I'm not in the conservative camp. I think the stock market's party is in the 10 p.m.-and-just-getting-rolling phase. In my opinion, it will be a long time before it reaches the raucous 2 a.m. neighbors-calling-the-cops phase.
Still, the S&P 500 Index has returned more than 151% since the gigantic bear market ended in March of 2009. Some folks want to take chips off the table. But they fear U.S. Treasury bonds -- rightly in my view -- and despise the puny yield on bank accounts.
For them, here are five stocks that yield at least 3% in dividends, have strong balance sheets and are likely to hold up decently in a market decline.
Homeowners Choice (HCI), based in Clearwater, Fla., is a small property-and-casualty insurance company who shares sell at only 8x earnings -- even though its earnings have been growing at 20% a year. It specializes in the Florida market. That state can be a hurricane alley, but I believe Homeowners Choice has set its premiums appropriately to mitigate the risk, and also uses reinsurance arrangements for the same purpose.
Kronos Worldwide (KRO), which has headquarters in Dallas, makes titanium dioxide pigments. Margins can be skimpy in the chemical industry, but Kronos had a pretax margin of better that 16% last fiscal year. The dividend yields at 3.7%. Harold Simmons, the board chairman, is also chairman of Valhi (VHI), which owns about 50% of Kronos. I consider Simmons a canny and experienced businessman.
For those who prefer larger stocks, Microsoft (MSFT) looks good to me right now. It has a durable franchise in operating systems and office software, trades at 11x earnings and has a fat pretax profit margin of 30%.
Contrarian investors, meanwhile, may want to take a close look at Northrop Grumman (NOC). The federal defense budget is likely to be cut further, beyond even the sequester. But I believe that news is already in the stock. Why else would a company's shares trade at only 9x earnings, even with a 16% average earnings growth rate the past five years?
Finally, consider Intel (INTC), the largest U.S. semiconductor maker. I have owned it for clients in the past, and I sold it in recent months, partly because I wanted to emphasize smaller stocks. Still, Intel has some all-star numbers: a return on equity of about 22%, a dividend yield above 4% and a stock selling at only 10x earnings.
For those who think discretion is the better part of valor, I suggest a discreet look at these stocks.
John Dorfman is chairman of Thunderstorm Capital LLC, a money-management firm in Boston. He can be reached via email here.