As investors search for calm amid the volatile market, four names stand out as ways to play defense. Market volatility continued Friday , with stocks rising in late-morning trading, erasing earlier losses. Still, the major averages remained on track to post weekly losses. Bank shares sank in the wake of Silicon Valley Bank ‘s woes. Nonfarm payrolls, meanwhile, rose more than expected . However, average hourly earnings rose less than anticipated, which could factor into the Federal Reserve ‘s decision on how aggressive it will be with interest rate hikes. With that in mind, CNBC Pro looked for names that can not only offer shelter from the storm, but are up for the year, growing earnings and loved by analysts. The companies have low debt, with debt as a percentage of equity under 150%, along with a three-year beta under 1 — meaning they’re less volatile than the broader market. They also have a dividend yield above 1%, expected earnings-per-share growth for 2023 of more than 1% and are up in 2023. In addition, the stocks have a buy rating from a majority of the analysts covering them. Microsoft is the biggest name on the list, with a market cap of more than $1.8 trillion. The tech giant has a three-year beta of 0.9 and a debt to equity of 42.6%. It also has a dividend yield of 1.1% and its earnings per share growth for 2023 is expected to be 1%. Some 69% of analysts covering the stock have a buy rating on it. One of those is Credit Suisse’s Andrew St. Pierre, who added Microsoft as one of his top picks for March primarily because of the company’s big bet on artificial intelligence with ChatGPT . “MSFT has a path to generating ~$40B of potential revenue from integrating ChatGPT-like capabilities across its suite of applications (~$33.6B from Office adoption) and over $2 of EPS potential (~$1.82 from Office adoption), likely over a period of 5+ years (adding ~3-5%/year to revenue and EPS growth), from the monetization of OpenAI’s technology in MSFT’s productivity suite and premium GPT-integrated offerings,” he wrote in a note to clients. MSFT YTD mountain Microsoft’s year-to-date performance Shares of Microsoft are up about 5% this year. Equinix , a real estate investment trust, has the lowest beta of the group at 0.6. Yet it has the highest debt-to-equity percentage at 143.1%. The digital infrastructure company has a 2% dividend yield and expected earnings growth of 8.5% for 2023. In February, Equinix posted adjusted EBITDA of $838.7 million, beating StreetAccount’s estimate of $833.2 million. Some 73% of analysts covering the stock rate it a buy. Shares are up about 4% year to date. Meanwhile, Corteva is up 1.3% this year and has a buy rating from 61.5% of the analysts covering the stock. Its three-year beta is 0.8 and it has a projected earnings per share growth of 8% for 2023. The agriculture chemical company has a current dividend yield of 1% and a debt to equity of 6.9%. Lastly, Linde has debt as a percentage of equity of nearly 47% and a three-year beta of 1. The industrial gas giant reported fourth-quarter adjusted earnings of $3.16 per share, topping a StreetAccount forecast of $2.90 per share. “We are hugely resistant,” CEO Sanjiv Lamb told CNBC’s Jim Cramer on Feb. 7, after the earnings report. “We are all pervasive, I would say. Every industrial activity, we have a small contribution to make to that.” Shares of Linde are up more than 8% this year.
4 elite stocks to play defense in this tough market