Sunday, March 23, 2008

Defensive stocks

In different markets, different sexy terms come into play. I guess the latest infatuation on Wall Street in recent months has been "defensive stocks". Defensive stocks usually refer to stocks that will see stable profits even during times of trouble, ie like the past few months lah. These would be stocks in industry sectors like: consumer staples ie your food, beverage, razor blades etc. The thinking is that people need to eat, drink and shave no matter what right? Stock market down means everybody goes without food? Unlikely, so these are defensive stocks.

The other sectors are like pharma (your diabetic patient needs his pills regardless of stock market woes), utilities (eh, obvious I hope, we need electricity even during bear markets) etc. So you get the idea, things that we can't do without even during an economic downturn.

So what are things that we do without during the downturn? Well it actually differs for different entities on this planets. For example, Ah Beng who made money punting property and bought himself two Ferraris will still drive his Ferraris and buy Prada bags for his Ah Lians even though his latest punt has gone wrong and he has a $4mn mortgage but his condo at Sentosa is worth probably <$1mn and his monthly salary is $5k. So to him, Ferraris and Prada bags are still things that HE cannot do without even during a slowdown. But for most people and for the stock market, consumer non-staples (like car, furniture, luxury products, massage chairs, high tech goods etc) usually see profit decline.

Also most of the darling sectors that rallied during 2003-07 bull market ie oil exploration, shipping, property etc. One reason would be bcos credit is drying up and most of these sectors require a lot of credit financing to grow their profits. Of course, some experts may beg to differ, these sectors are in a secular boom and some silly sub-prime trouble is not going to derail their "sexy" story. Well... this blog is big enough for differing biews, so share your thoughts if you have some. The other type of defensive names would be stocks that pay high dividend, has huge amts of cash on their balance sheet, or stocks that generate huge cashflow regardless of business cycles


  1. In the past, stocks related to consumer staples and pharma are considered defensive, e.g. prices of these stocks suffer less comparing to worst sectors or general market in a downturn. However if you review the recent charts of DVY and PPH, these supposely defensive stocks are no longer defensive. One possible reason is credit implosion causes risk aversion, e.g. sell every risky and/or profitable assets to raise cash. My long term view is still bullish on commodities because of 'money printing' central banks

  2. Central banks lend money. They don't print money. The Fed only has USD$280 billion to lend to struggling banks.

    If they lend all of that money, and then start printing money, we will enter a stage of hyperinflation.

    When prices in large economies hyperinflate, they put a stress on all prices and everything becomes more expensive. When things become more expensive than they should be, they obscure price discovery and make it harder for us to discern good buys from expensive buys.

    Stocks may rise in price, but we'll encounter a scenario where prices are rising but production is falling. So I don't think its a good idea to count on CB to flood money into system.

    Wiki: hyperinflation to see how much of a problem it is. Case in mind, Germany 1920.

    On Commodities: There's a strong broad based secular up-trend on commodities due to strong demand from developing economies.

  3. Good points from both comments. Esp of inflation, would like to write a post about that some day!