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6 Defensive Stocks to Combat Market Turbulence

Swarup Gupta

U.S. equities moved lower on May 20 after trade relations between the United States and China worsened. Much of the damage occurred in technology shares, which have largely powered a record-busting market rally. The decline in tech blue-chips demonstrated their vulnerability to a prolonged trade war. Meanwhile, the escalation of trade tensions has raised the odds of a global economic slowdown.

With volatility likely to remain high, defensive stocks have grabbed investors’ attention. These stocks offer slower but stable growth during periods of uncertainty. Fresh evidence indicates that they may even have been leading the current market rally for nearly a year now on a total return basis. Since they also offer higher-than-average yields, investing in defensive stocks looks like a prudent option at this point.  

Trade Tensions, Global Slowdown Fears Rise

The slide in U.S. equities was triggered by the Trump administration’s ban on Huwaei Technologies. According to Bloomberg, major U.S. chipmakers, including Xilinx XLNX, Intel INTC, Qualcomm QCOM and Broadcom AVGO have ceased to supply Huawei with critical components. Subsequently, U.S. chipmakers declined as blue-chip tech stocks took a massive hit.

Equity market losses took place as U.S.-China trade tensions worsened over the weekend. According to CNBC, scheduling for the next round of talks is “in flux” since both sides are unwilling to climb down from their current stands. Multiple China-based analysts think China has little reason to participate in talks since the United States is unwilling to make any concessions, per the South China Morning Post.

An escalating U.S.-China trade war is starting to weigh on the global economy. According to Morgan Stanley MS, a global recession is a near certainty if both sides are unable to seal a deal quickly. On May 15, China released dismal retail sales, investment and industrial output numbers. Meanwhile, U.S. retail sales slipped in April even as factory output declined.

Defensive Stocks Grab Investor Attention

Amid rising market volatility, defensive stocks have grabbed investor attention. According to a note released by Morgan Stanley, real-estate, utilities and consumer-staples have led gains for the S&P 500 index since June 2018 on a total-return basis. The extent of their influence on stock movement has been masked by the focus on the 2018 rally, the correction which followed, and the revival in equities this year. 

(Source: Goldman Sachs)

Such sectors corner the spotlight when fears of economic outlook increase. According to Morgan Stanley, the rise in defensive stocks may partially explain the year-to-date surge in U.S. equities. This is a reflection of concerns surrounding global growth and a prolonged trade war.

Further, there are some outstanding issues, which need to be resolved before investors opt for riskier options. U.S. business inventories are mounting, and could weigh on the bottom lines of domestic companies. Also, major cloud-computing powers such as Facebook FB are cutting capital outlays in the face of slowing demand. Finally, costs are rising due to a tighter labor market and the impact of tariffs.

Our Choices

With a resolution to the U.S.-China trade war remaining elusive, market volatility is on the rise. And as Morgan Stanley predicts, a full-fledged trade war could result in a global recession. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that defensive stocks have remained the preferred option of investors for nearly a year now.

Investing in defensive stocks, which offer a safe and stable choice during periods of uncertainty looks like a good option at this point. Further, they carry the promise of above-average dividend yields. We have narrowed our search to the following stocks based on a good Zacks Rank and other relevant metrics.

Middlesex Water Company MSEX is an owner and operator of water utility and wastewater systems.

Middlesex Water’s expected earnings growth for the current year is 10.7%. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for the current year has improved by 5.9% over the past 30 days. The stock has a dividend yield of 1.6% and currently sports a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

ONE Gas, Inc. OGS is a 100% regulated natural gas distribution utility.

ONE Gas has a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). The company has expected earnings growth of 6.3% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for current-year earnings has improved 0.7% over the past 30 days. The stock has a dividend yield of 2.3%.

CorEnergy Infrastructure Trust, Inc. CORR is a REIT, which is an owner of critical energy assets such as storage terminals, pipelines and transmission and distribution facilities. 

CorEnergy Infrastructure has a Zacks Rank #2. The company has expected earnings growth of 3% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for the current year has improved by 2.3% over the past 30 days. The stock has a dividend yield of 7.5%.

PS Business Parks Inc. PSB is a REIT which owns, acquires, develops and operates commercial real estate properties,

PS Business Parks has a Zacks Rank #2. The company has expected earnings growth of 2.2% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for the current year has improved by 0.3% over the past 30 days. The stock has a dividend yield of 2.6%.

Flowers Foods, Inc. FLO produces packaged bakery foods in the United States.

Flowers Foods has a Zacks Rank #2. The company has expected earnings growth of 6.4% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for the current year has improved by 0.2% over the past 30 days. The stock has a dividend yield of 3.2%.

Medifast, Inc. MED is a leading manufacturer and distributor of clinically proven healthy living products and programs.

Medifast has a Zacks Rank #2. The company has expected earnings growth of 47.2% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for the current year has improved by 4.3% over the past 30 days. The stock has a dividend yield of 2.1%.

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ONE Gas, Inc. (OGS) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
Middlesex Water Company (MSEX) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
Facebook, Inc. (FB) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
QUALCOMM Incorporated (QCOM) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
Broadcom Inc. (AVGO) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
Morgan Stanley (MS) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
Flowers Foods, Inc. (FLO) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
MEDIFAST INC (MED) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
Intel Corporation (INTC) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
Xilinx, Inc. (XLNX) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
CorEnergy Infrastructure Trust, Inc. (CORR) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
PS Business Parks, Inc. (PSB) : Free Stock Analysis Report
 
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