“Widows and orphans stocks” is how they were known in the investment business, blue chip stocks that could be bought and left alone, paying a reliable dividend and offering stable and steady price growth. Among the bluest of those blue chips was General Electric (NYSE: GE).
But those who have had the misfortune of owning GE stock this year know a very different story. On November 14, GE announced it would slash its dividend in half to conserve cash as new management attempts to restructure the company. In response, the stock plummeted to its lowest level since 2011, down 43 percent on the year. It is a stunning fall for a company that as recently as 2007 led Fortune’s list of the world’s most admired companies.
The truth is, there is no such thing as a “widows and orphans stock”. Great companies are not immune from falling on hard times, whether due to management mistakes, poor execution, increased competition or economic downturns. So no matter how “blue chip” a portfolio may appear, it is essential for those planning for retirement to diversify. Buying investments that do not correlate with the stock market, such as gold and other precious metals, is a smart way to protect one’s nest egg.
Numerous “blue chip” companies slashed their dividends during the financial crisis, including GE, as well as financial giants Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup. While these stocks tumbled as they chopped their payout to investors between late 2007 and early 2009, gold rose more than 25 percent.