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Defend an economic downturn with defensive stocks


Investors often consider building an all-weather portfolio to make long-term profits, which requires a good understanding of stock sector rotations in the respective economic cycle. The stock markets are usually divided into growth sectors, cyclical sectors, and defensive sectors. In this article, we focus on defensive sectors and related stocks, which are seen as safer destinations in an economic downturn.

What are defensive stocks?

Defensive stocks refer to stock investments that are relatively less volatile and more stable compared to other types of stocks. Investors often turn to defensive stocks to diversify their portfolios and mitigate risk. This is because these stocks tend to hold up well during market downturns, making them a defensive play against crisis times.

Typical defensive sectors in the S&P 500 are Consumer Staples (XLP), Healthcare (XLV), and Utilities. And the related stocks can be some well-established big companies that sell consumer essentials, such as Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Johnson & Johnson.  

Bearing an economic downturn

Defensive stocks, also known as defensive equities, are investments that tend to perform well during times of economic uncertainty.

One key characteristic of defensive stocks is their low beta. Beta is a measure of a stock's volatility in relation to the overall market. A beta of 1 suggests that the stock's price will move in tandem with the market (e.g. S&P 500), while a beta greater than 1 indicates higher volatility and potential for larger gains or losses. In contrast, a beta lower than 1 reflects lower volatility and less risk.

Defensive stocks typically have low betas of below 1, because they are less sensitive to changes in the economy and consumer spending habits. These companies tend to generate steady cash flows and have a history of consistent dividend payments, making them attractive for investors seeking stable returns.

During times of economic uncertainty or market downturns, defensive stocks may outperform growth stocks or high-beta stocks. This is because investors often pile into defensive investments as a safe haven during turbulent times. In addition, defensive stocks may continue to generate revenue and profits even if the overall economy is struggling.

Lower return

One drawback of defensive stocks is that they may not offer as much potential for growth compared to other types of stocks, such as growth or value stocks. Their focus on stability and dividends may limit their potential for capital appreciation. Companies like Procter & Gamble, usually have a Price-to-Earnings Ratio (P/E) of 20+, lower than those for growth stocks of 30+, which implies defensive stocks usually have lower growth potentials than their peers. However, for investors looking to balance out their portfolio and reduce risk, defensive stocks can be a valuable addition. So, it is important for investors to carefully consider their investment goals and risk tolerance when deciding whether to include defensive stocks in their portfolio. Additionally, diversifying across different types of stocks can help mitigate risk and provide a well-rounded investment strategy.


Defensive stocks are an important part of a well-diversified investment portfolio. They provide stability during market downturns and offer consistent returns through dividends. While they may not offer as much growth potential, their defensive nature makes them an attractive option for risk-averse investors. So, it is important to consider including defensive stocks in your investment strategy to achieve a balanced and resilient portfolio. Additionally, it is crucial to keep track of market trends and regularly review your portfolio to ensure that you are still comfortable with the level of risk and diversification.

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