How to defend against this tough equity market? Some say to buy defensive sectors like healthcare and consumer staples. Others buy gold. Ironically, however, the best protection may be to stick with the old 60/40 balanced portfolio. Despite all the market turmoil recently, if you had been holding a 60% SPY and 40% AGG portfolio over the last month you would have had a net return of negative 0.62%, which is pretty good considering how ugly markets were. If you had been holding it for the whole year, you would have a sterling return of 14.45%.
FINSUM: These stats are a testament to old fashioned diversification!
There are a handful of safe haven stock sectors that investors tend to rely on during market downturns. Healthcare, utilities, and REITs come to mind. Lately, some have been saying bank shares may also prove a good defense. However, investors should be very wary of two of those just mentioned: healthcare and banks. While on the surface healthcare stocks look very good for a recession—it is not as if people stop getting sick—the reality is that there has never been more regulatory pressure on the sector (from both sides of the aisle), which means it is far from safe. Additionally, the idea that banks have become safe, utility-like dividend machines is flawed, as bank earnings are very exposed to the economic cycle, and thus will likely see big moves in both price and yield.
FINSUM: We agree with this assessment entirely. Healthcare is more vulnerable than it has been in memory and banks are a long way from being dependable utilities (excellent PR job by Wall Street though!).
Low volatility stocks have been the hero of the volatility over the last year. In the past 12 months, the S&P 500 has returned 3.2%. That compares to a whopping 14% plus for low volatility stocks, such as in the S&P 500 low-vol index. By definition, low volatility stocks are boring (think utilities, insurance, and REITs) and have stable earnings. That works well for defending against market swings, but the protection means that valuations are WAY above their long-term average (three standard deviations above). That said, falling rates are very helpful to this class of stocks, so there is wind at their backs.
FINSUM: Despite quite high valuations, we think low vol stocks will continue to do well so long as the trade war continues to plague markets.
There are a lot of safe havens that people are trying to use to defend against market turbulence right now. The two that immediately come to mind are Treasury bonds and gold. However, those are clearly overbought, so where is another good place? Some REITs are offering very attractive defensive profiles. REITs generally do well during periods of falling rates as their yields become ever more attractive. They were beat up during the rate rises of 2018, but have surged this year, up 20%. What is very compelling, though, is that despite the big rise, REIT valuations are just now returning to their average historical valuations. Speaking about the nature of REIT cash flows, especially regarding long-term leases, “The cash flow is locked in, and that’s just not the case for most of the stock market”, says and Eaton Vance Real Estate fund manager.
FINSUM: Certain REITs seem like they could be a very good buy right now given that they are not overpriced and have falling rates as a tailwind.
There are a lot of retirees, or near retirees, who have not had to navigate real market volatility for around a decade. And as any retiree knows, high volatility in or at retirement is a very scary prospect. However, there are ways to navigate it. Some tips including keeping a cash buffer, going bargain hunting in the market to find undervalued stocks, and re-evaluating stock exposure. Rotating into sectors that do well in downturns, like consumer staples, healthcare etc, can also be smart.
FINSUM: This is good advice. That said, the US may not be headed into a really bad economic and market scenario, so it may not be wise to get too defensive.