What Are Countercyclical Stocks?

By Michael Flannelly · April 13, 2023 · 5 minute read

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What Are Countercyclical Stocks?

Countercyclical stocks tend to perform relatively well during economic downturns and underperform during periods of economic expansion. These stocks are typically associated with industries or sectors that provide essential goods or services in demand, even during periods of economic hardship. Examples of countercyclical sectors include consumer staples, utilities, and healthcare.

Countercyclical stocks can be a vital component of a well-diversified investment portfolio. As the economy experiences ups and downs, these stocks can help to provide stability and even generate profits during difficult times. Understanding countercyclical stocks and how they can benefit your portfolio is crucial for investors looking to maximize their returns and minimize risk.

How Countercyclical Stocks Work

Countercyclical stocks — sometimes called non-cyclical or defensive stocks — work by providing stability to an investment portfolio during economic downturns. Investors can use these stocks in a defensive investment strategy, as they tend to perform well even during economic hardship when other stocks are underperforming. This can help increase diversification and reduce the risk in an investment portfolio.

In contrast to countercyclical stocks, cyclical stocks tend to follow the broader economic cycle, with returns correlated to fluctuations in the market.

💡 Recommended: Cyclical vs Non-Cyclical Stocks: Investing Around Economic Cycles

Countercyclical stocks are closely related to specific industries or sectors. Industries such as consumer staples, utilities, and healthcare provide products and services considered necessities, so they tend to be less sensitive to changes in the economy. This means that even during tough times, people will still need to buy these products and services, providing a stable source of income for the companies that produce them.

For example, during a recession, people may cut back on discretionary spending, such as dining out or buying expensive clothes. However, they will still need to buy groceries, pay for utilities, and seek medical care. As a result, companies in these sectors may see stable sales and profits, which can drive up the value of their stocks even during a bear market.

It is important to note that not all stocks within a countercyclical industry will necessarily follow the countercyclical trend. Factors such as changes in government policies, technological innovations, and shifts in consumer behavior can impact the performance of these stocks.

Additionally, some countercyclical stocks may underperform during economic expansions when the demand for their products and services is lower.

It is essential to conduct thorough research and analysis before making any investment decisions, including investing in countercyclical stocks. Research may include reviewing the company’s financial performance, analyzing industry trends, and considering the political and economic environment. By taking these steps, you can identify the best countercyclical stocks to add to your portfolio and potentially generate profits even during difficult economic times.

Examples of Countercyclical Businesses

As noted above, countercyclical businesses tend to perform well during economic downturns and underperform during periods of economic expansion. Investors tend to add countercyclical stocks to their portfolios when investing with the business cycle.

Here are some examples of countercyclical industries and the types of companies that can be considered countercyclical:

•   Consumer staples, such as food, beverage, and household products, provide products and services that are considered necessities, so they tend to be less sensitive to changes in the economy. This means that even during tough times, people will still need to buy these products, providing a stable source of income for the companies that produce them. Examples of businesses in this industry include grocery stores, packaged food manufacturers, and beverage companies.

•   Utilities, such as water, electricity, and gas, provide essential services that people cannot do without. As a result, these companies tend to be less affected by changes in the economy and can even benefit from them as people continue to use these services even when they are cutting back on discretionary spending. Examples of firms in this industry include utility companies, water treatment facilities, and energy providers.

•   Healthcare companies provide medical services and products. During economic downturns, people may cut back on discretionary spending but still need to pay for medical care and other essential health services. This means that healthcare companies can provide a stable source of income even during difficult times. Examples of businesses in this industry include hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and medical equipment manufacturers.

Risks of Countercyclical Investments

Investing in countercyclical stocks may provide stability to an investment portfolio during economic downturns, but several risks are also associated with these types of investments.

Here are some of the risks to consider:

Market Volatility

The stock market can be volatile and unpredictable, and market fluctuations can impact even countercyclical stocks. For example, during a recession, even the most stable countercyclical industries can experience a decline in demand for their products and services.

Company Specific Risks

Not all companies within a countercyclical industry will perform equally well, even during difficult economic times. It is important to conduct thorough research and fundamental analysis to identify companies with strong financials and a history of stable performance.

Dependence on Government Policies

Countercyclical industries like healthcare and utilities may depend heavily on government policies and regulations. Changes to these policies can impact the performance of these companies and the industries in which they operate.

Interest Rates

Interest rates can impact the overall stock market’s performance, including countercyclical stocks. When interest rates are low, investors may be more likely to invest in stocks, which can drive up stock prices. Conversely, when interest rates are high, investors may shift their investments to bonds or other fixed-income investments, which can drive down stock prices.

💡 Recommended: How Do Interest Rates Impact Stocks?

The Takeaway

Investing in countercyclical stocks can provide several benefits to your portfolio. These stocks can help to provide stability during tough economic times and can even generate profits — through dividends and price appreciation — when other stocks are underperforming. By diversifying your portfolio to include countercyclical stocks, you can reduce your overall risk and potentially maximize your returns.

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Photo credit: iStock/Eoneren

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