Why Telstra Corporation Ltd and Wesfarmers Ltd are great dividend shares in falling markets

Source: Telstra presentation

The start of the year has been incredibly volatile for the All Ordinaries (Index: ^AORD) (ASX: XAO). Since January 1 it has fallen by 6.62%, making it very likely that a lot of investors are concerned about the performance of their portfolios.

There is one way in theory to reduce the volatility of a portfolio, and that is to reduce its overall beta.

Beta measures the returns of a share in relation to the returns of a selected benchmark during a certain period. A share with a beta of 1 implies that its return volatility is matched with the benchmark, meaning you can expect returns that are equal to it.

A share with a beta greater than 1 is deemed to be a riskier investment due to having higher levels of volatility. If a share’s beta is 1.2, for example, it is theoretically 20% more volatile than the benchmark.

Finally, a beta of less than 1 means less volatility in returns compared with the benchmark, and considering the way that the markets have been behaving recently, it could be a good time to look for a couple of shares that fit this criterion.

Telstra Corporation 

The shares of Australia’s biggest telco, Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX: TLS), which has a beta of 0.50, provide investors with low levels of volatility, solid sales growth, and a market-beating dividend yield.

In October at its investor presentation the company provided FY 2016 guidance of approximately 5% sales growth year over year. It plans to drive continued revenue growth by focusing on its core business and new business growth in Asia.

Telstra sees the Asian market as being integral to its future growth. In May it strengthened its offering for the financial services sector there with the launch of the lowest latency international connectivity (with an estimated 91.5 millisecond Round Trip Delay) between the Australian Securities Exchange and the Singapore Exchange.

These lucrative markets, along with strong mobile subscriptions, and the opportunities ahead with the NBN, should go some way to continuing its growth, while supporting the excellent dividend it pays, which currently yields a fully-franked 5.7%.

Wesfarmers Ltd

The next company to be discussed is Wesfarmers Ltd (ASX: WES). The shares of Wesfarmers, the operator of Coles, Target, Bunnings, Kmart, and Officeworks, have a beta of 0.64.

Trading at a forward PE ratio of 18, the shares do look good value in comparison with the Consumer Staples sector which is trading at a forward PE ratio of 19. Earnings growth has slowed, but analysts are forecasting a real uptrend through to FY 2018 which should be very encouraging for investors.

The company’s portfolio of retail brands all performed well in FY 2015, each posting year-over-year increases in earnings. Coles put in another strong performance, Officeworks’ earnings were up almost 15%, Bunnings up 11%, Target up 5%, and Kmart achieved a fantastic 18% growth in earnings compared to last year.

The industrials side of the business didn’t fair quite as well and posted a modest rise in earnings. It does look like it will continue to have a challenging FY 2016. As long as Australian Consumer Confidence levels remain high, the retail side of the business should be able to more than cover for the industrials shortfalls.

Although Australian Consumer Confidence has just posted a decline following a horror week on the markets, ANZ Chief Economist Warren Hogan stated: “The recent volatility will need to persist and heighten concerns about the health of the world economy for this to translate into a meaningful drop in confidence that could impact consumption and investment.”

As well as having low volatility from its low beta, much like Telstra, it currently yields a great fully-franked 5.1% dividend, making it too an attractive investment during these chaotic times.

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Motley Fool contributor James Micklebore has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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