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Cyclical vs Non-Cyclical Stocks: Investing Around Economic Cycles

By Rebecca Lake · September 27, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Cyclical vs Non-Cyclical Stocks: Investing Around Economic Cycles

Cyclical investing means understanding how various stock sectors react to economic changes. A cyclical stock is one that’s closely correlated to what’s happening with the economy at any given time. The performance of non-cyclical stocks, however, is typically not as closely tied to economic movements.

Investing in cyclical stocks and non-cyclical stocks may help to provide balance and diversification in a portfolio. This in turn may help investors to better manage risk as the economy moves through different cycles of growth and contraction.

Cyclical vs Non-Cyclical Stocks

There are some clear differences between cyclical vs. non-cyclical stocks, as outlined:

Cyclical Stocks

Non-Cyclical Stocks

Perform Best During Economic growth Economic contraction
Goods and Services Non-essential Essential
Sensitivity to Economic Cycles Higher Lower
Volatility Higher Lower

A cyclical investing strategy can involve choosing both cyclical and non-cyclical stocks. In terms of how they react to economic changes, they’re virtual opposites.

Cyclical stocks are characterized as being:

•   Strong performers during periods of economic growth

•   Associated with goods or services consumers tend to spend more money on during growth periods

•   Highly sensitive to shifting economic cycles

•   More volatile than non-cyclical stocks

When the economy is doing well a cyclical stock tends to follow suit. Share prices may increase, along with profitability. If a cyclical stock pays dividends, that can result in a higher dividend yield for investors.

Non-cyclical stocks, on the other hand, share these characteristics:

•   Tend to perform well during periods of economic contraction

•   Associated with goods or services that consumers consider essential

•   Less sensitive to changing economic environments

•   Lower volatility overall

A non-cyclical stock isn’t completely immune from the effects of a slowing economy. But compared to cyclical stocks, they’re typically less of a roller-coaster ride for investors in terms of how they perform during upturns or downturns. A good example of a non-cyclical industry is utilities, since people need to keep the lights on and the water running even during economic downturns.


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Cyclical Stocks

In the simplest terms, cyclical stocks are stocks that closely follow the movements of the economic cycle. The economy is not static; instead, it moves through various cycles. There are four stages to the economic cycle:

•   Expansion. At this stage, the economy is in growth mode, with new jobs being created and company profits increasing. This phase can last for several years.

•   Peak. In the peak stage of the economic cycle, growth begins to hit a plateau. Inflation may begin to increase at this stage.

•   Contraction. During a period of contraction, the economy shrinks rather than grows. Unemployment rates may increase, though inflation may be on the decline. The length of a contraction period can depend on the circumstances which lead to it.

•   Trough. The trough period is the lowest point in the economic cycle and is a precursor to the beginning of a new phase of expansion.

Understanding the various stages of the economic cycle is key to answering the question of what are cyclical stocks. For example, a cyclical stock may perform well when the economy is booming. But if the economy enters a downturn, that same stock might decline as well.

Examples of Cyclical Industry Stocks

Cyclical stocks most often represent companies that make or provide things that consumers spend money on when they have more discretionary income.

For example, that includes things like:

•   Entertainment companies

•   Travel websites

•   Airlines

•   Retail stores

•   Concert promoters

•   Technology companies

•   Car manufacturers

•   Restaurants

The industries range from travel and tourism to consumer goods. But they share a common thread, in terms of how their stocks tend to perform during economic highs and lows.

Examples of Non-Cyclical Industry Stocks

Non-cyclical industry stocks would be shares of companies that are more insulated from economic downturns than their cyclical counterparts. It may be easier to think of them as companies that are probably going to see sales no matter what is happening in the overall economy. That might include:

•   Food producers and grocers

•   Consumer staples

•   Gasoline and energy companies

Cyclical Stock Sectors

The stock market is divided into 11 sectors, each of which represents a variety of industries and sub-industries. Some are cyclical sectors, while others are non-cyclical. The cyclical sectors include:

Consumer Discretionary

The consumer discretionary sector includes stocks that are related to “non-essential” goods and services. So some of the companies you might find in this sector include those in the hospitality or tourism industries, retailers, media companies and apparel companies. This sector is cyclical because consumers tend to spend less in these areas when the economy contracts.

Financials

The financial sector spans companies that are related to financial services in some way. That includes banking, financial advisory services and insurance. Financials can take a hit during an economic downturn if interest rates fall, since that can reduce profits from loans or lines of credit.

Industrials

The industrial sector covers companies that are involved in the production, manufacture or distribution of goods. Construction companies and auto-makers fall into this category and generally do well during periods of growth when consumers spend more on homes or cars.

Information Technology

The tech stock sector is one of the largest cyclical sectors, covering companies that are involved in everything from the development of new technology to the manufacture and sale of computer hardware and software. This sector can decline during economic slowdowns if consumers cut back spending on electronics or tech.

Materials

The materials sector includes industries and companies that are involved in the sourcing, development or distribution of raw materials. That can include things like lumber and chemicals, as well as investing in precious metals. Stocks in this sector can also be referred to as commodities.

Cyclical Investing Strategies

Investing in cyclical stocks or non-cyclical stocks requires some knowledge about how each one works, depending on what’s happening with the economy. While timing the market is virtually impossible, it’s possible to invest cyclically so that one is potentially making gains while minimizing losses as the economy changes.

For investors interested in cyclical investing, it helps to consider things like:

•   Which cyclical and non-cyclical sectors you want to gain exposure to

•   How individual stocks within those sectors tend to perform when the economy is growing or contracting

•   How long you plan to hold on to individual stocks

•   Your risk tolerance and risk capacity (i.e. the amount of risk you’re comfortable with versus the amount of risk you need to take to realize your target returns)

•   Where the economy is, in terms of expansion, peak, contraction, or trough

For example, swing trading is one strategy an investor might employ to try and capitalize on market movements. With swing trading, you’re investing over shorter time periods to reap gains from swings in stock prices. This strategy relies on technical analysis to help identify trends in stock pricing, though you may also choose to consider a company’s fundamentals if you’re interested in investing for the longer term.

How to Invest in Cyclical Stocks

Investors can invest in cyclical stocks the same way they do any other type of stock: Purchasing them through a brokerage account, or from an exchange.

One way to simplify cyclical investing is to choose one or more cyclical and non-cyclical exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Investing in ETFs can simplify diversification and may help to mitigate some of the risk of owning stocks through various economic cycles.

Recommended: How to Trade ETFs: A Guide for Retail Investors

The Takeaway

Cyclical stocks tend to follow the economic cycle, rising in value when the economy is booming, then dropping when the economy hits a downturn. Non-cyclical stocks, on the other hand, tend to behave the opposite way, and aren’t necessarily as affected by the overall economy.

Investing around economic cycles is a viable strategy, but it has its potential pitfalls. Investors who do their homework may be able to successfully invest around economic cycles, but it’s important to consider the risks involved.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

What are indicators of cyclical stocks?

A few examples of indicators of cyclical stocks include the earnings per share data reported by public companies, which can give insight into the health of the economy, along with beta (a measure of volatility of returns) and price to earnings ratios.

What is the difference between cyclicality vs. seasonality?

While similar, cyclicality and seasonality differ in their frequency. Seasonality refers to events or trends that are observed annually, or every year, whereas cyclicality, or cyclical variations can occur much less often than that.

How do you mitigate the risk of investing in cyclical stocks?

Investors can use numerous strategies to mitigate the risk of investing in cyclical stocks, such as sector rotation and dollar-cost averaging.

Photo credit: iStock/Eoneren


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