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What are we looking for?

Lower risk stocks in the CPMS U.S. database.

The screen

The U.S. market has proven to be quite strong this year, with the S&P 500 advancing nearly 19 per cent year-to-date. There are those however, who question how long these sky-high returns can last.

While there is no guarantee as to what will happen, there are ways to help reduce the volatility in your equity portfolio. Today, my strategy will be searching for less risky stocks in the CPMS U.S. database, which as of today holds 2,158 names.

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This strategy ranks stocks based on earnings-per-share (EPS) variability (a measure of the variability in the monthly EPS values across the latest five years, low values preferred), and free cash flow yield (a measure of profitability, high values preferred). Stocks that qualify must have:

  • Five-year beta less than 1.1 (beta measures a company’s sensitivity relative to historical changes in the benchmark – here we use the S&P 500);
  • EPS variability in the lower half of peers (today this value is 13.1 per cent or less);
  • Industry-relative debt-to-equity ratio in the lower half of peers (today this value is 1.0 or less);
  • Market capitalization in the top one-third of peers (today this value is US$6.9-billion or higher).

More about Morningstar

Morningstar Research Inc. provides independent investment research in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Its research tool, Morningstar CPMS, provides quantitative North American equity research and portfolio analysis to institutional clients and financial advisers. CPMS data cover more than 95 per cent of the investable North American stock market. With more than 120 equity and credit analysts, Morningstar has one of the largest independent institutional equity research teams in the world.

What we found

I used Morningstar CPMS to back test this strategy from April, 2004, to June, 2019. During this process, a maximum of 15 stocks were purchased. Stocks were sold if their industry-relative debt-to-equity ratio rose into the highest third of peers. When sold, the positions were replaced with the highest-ranked stock not already owned in the portfolio. Over this period, the strategy produced an annualized total return of 10.2 per cent while the S&P 500 Total Return Index gained 8.9 per cent across the same period. While returns were only marginally better, the strategy’s downside deviation (measures the variability of negative returns) was 7.9 per cent compared with a downside deviation of 9.4 per cent for the S&P 500 Total Return Index, indicating superior protection during down markets.

Stocks that qualify for purchase into the strategy today are listed in the accompanying table. As always, investors are encouraged to conduct their own independent research before purchasing any of the investments listed below.

Select U.S. stocks with lower volatility

RankCompanyTickerMarket Cap (US$Mil)Recent Close (US$)Div. Yield (%)Trailing 12M Price Chg (%)EPS Variability (%)Industry-Rel. D/E RatioFCF Yield (%)5Yr Beta
1AGNC Investment Corp.AGNC-Q 9,119.0 17.0011.3-12.77.20.019.10.2
2Reinsurance Group AmericaRGA-N 9,926.4 158.671.512.15.41.014.20.7
3AFLAC Inc.AFL-N 42,350.1 56.811.922.15.20.613.80.7
4Henry Schein Inc.HSIC-Q 10,310.0 69.160.0-12.92.00.86.80.8
5Check Point SoftwareCHKP-Q 18,585.0 119.560.06.11.80.05.70.8
6Infosys TechnologiesINFY-N 46,260.3 10.692.35.91.60.04.00.5
7Medtronic PLCMDT-N 131,580.9 98.112.28.71.91.03.80.7
8Amdocs Ltd.DOX-Q 8,735.5 62.841.8-7.02.60.05.10.4
9AT&T Inc.T-N 250,321.4 34.305.97.33.40.86.70.6
10Novo-Nordisk A/SNVO-N 120,284.4 50.592.41.63.00.14.10.6
11Hartford Financial ServicesHIG-N 20,587.4 56.952.18.18.20.79.40.7
12Novartis AGNVS-N 210,076.6 90.443.27.83.41.04.80.5
13J.M. Smucker Co.SJM-N 13,591.1 119.492.87.53.70.74.30.4
14Church & Dwight Co. Inc.CHD-N 18,301.5 74.331.233.03.70.83.40.2
15CNA Financial Corp.CAN-N 13,023.0 47.962.92.510.10.77.90.8

Source: Morningstar CPMS

Emily Halverson-Duncan, CFA, is a director, CPMS sales at Morningstar Research Inc.

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