With investors enduring a tough start to 2022, I’m been taking a closer look at FTSE 100 stocks that tend to experience less price volatility relative to the market.
These are known as low beta stocks. In theory, anything with a beta of below one should move less in line with the index (which always has a beta of one). By contrast, stocks with a beta of over one could give investors a more bumpy ride.
The essential nature of what National Grid (LSE: NG) does — “connecting millions of people to the energy they use” — makes the company a potentially great stock to hold at times like these. The Grid has a beta of just 0.3, according to data from Stockopedia. This should make it far less prone to violent market moves.
Another attraction is the dividend stream. In its current financial year, the company is expected to return 50.8p per share to its owners. Using today’s share price, that gives a yield of 4.7%. So, even if it did fall back, there’s a nice payout to compensate.
The P/E of 17 is higher than the five-year average of just under 14. However, this makes sense considering how rattled investors have been recently. One potential drawback is that the shares probably won’t fly when markets recover.
As sectors go, anything to do with healthcare tends to hold its own when investors get skittish. Hence, a company like GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK) may offer me some protection. In line with this, GSK has a beta of 0.6.
The shares are up slightly so far this year, although this may be more to do with Unilever sniffing around its consumer healthcare business. It will be interesting to see what under-fire CEO Emma Walmsley has to say about the rejected bid when the company reports on Wednesday.
At 3.3%, GSK stock comes with a decent dividend yield. It’s also cheaper than FTSE 100 peer AstraZeneca at less than 14 times earnings. That said, its drugs pipeline could do with a shot in the arm and remains a potential risk.
‘Buy again’ brands
Speaking of consumer goods companies, a final stock I’d consider buying to mitigate market volatility would be Reckitt (LSE: RKT).
Like the other stocks mentioned, Reckitt has a low beta (0.3). It also possesses a bursting portfolio of ‘sticky’ hygiene, health and nutrition brands. While the rising cost of living can force people to reel in their discretionary spending, products that keep things clean and safe are unlikely to be sacrificed, especially following a global pandemic.
My only concern with Reckitt is that it hasn’t learned from its horrible acquisition of the infant formula business from Mead Johnson a few years ago. This brings me to a vital point about low-beta stocks.
A low-beta value now does not guarantee anything about the future performance of a company’s share price. Before the Financial Crisis, FTSE 100 juggernauts like Lloyds Bank were regarded as relatively safe destinations for investors’ money. That hasn’t worked out well.
Therefore, a vital point to grasp is that beta values change over time. Nor are they a replacement for in-depth research. This is why I will continue to diversify my portfolio across all sorts of quality companies, thereby giving myself a better chance of growing my wealth slowly but surely over the long term.