Defensive Investment Strategy: Definition and Types

By Nina Semczuk · December 20, 2022 · 7 minute read

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Defensive Investment Strategy: Definition and Types

When the stock market is volatile, investors might wonder if their investment strategy makes sense for the specific conditions. After all, a volatile market may act as a drag on a portfolio, making it harder for an investor to meet their financial goals. So, some investors will employ a defensive investing strategy during times of economic stress, which is a way to manage a portfolio to minimize risk and protect capital.

With all investing strategies, it helps to know the upsides and downsides before committing to a particular path. Defensive investing, like other investing strategies, has pros, cons, and timing factors to consider for when it might make the most sense to use this strategy.

What Is a Defensive Investment Strategy?

A defensive investment strategy is a way investors try to minimize losses on their investments. The goal of a defensive investment strategy is to reduce the risk of losing principal while still generating modest returns. Investors who are risk-averse or nearing retirement and want to preserve the value of their assets may employ a defensive investment strategy.

The strategy is what the name suggests: defensive. Instead of an aggressive or offensive strategy, which targets high-growth assets and has the potential for high risk, a defensive strategy focuses on preserving a portfolio’s capital while still pursuing modest growth in the form of dividend or interest payments.

Generally speaking, an investor with a defensive strategy portfolio would likely try to diversify their holdings across industries and regions, invest in blue-chip stocks, regularly rebalance their portfolio, buy short-maturity bonds, and place stop-loss orders.

What Are Defensive Investments?

Defensive investments are designed to provide stable, long-term returns with minimum volatility. These types of investments are often considered relatively low risk and, therefore, suitable for investors looking to preserve their capital.

Typical investments in a defensive portfolio include:

•   High-quality, short-maturity bonds (such as U.S. Treasury notes)

•   Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that mimic market indices

•   Large, high-quality established company stocks (i.e., blue-chip stocks)

•   Dividend-paying stocks. These investments may provide lower returns than assets in a growth-oriented portfolio, but they can help investors preserve their wealth and generate a steady income stream.

Additionally, investors may hold cash and cash equivalents, like money market accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs), in a defensive portfolio. The advantage to these conservative investments is that they’re liquid assets, meaning that if an investor needs cash quickly, they’re easily convertible.

5 Examples of Defensive Investments and Strategies

There are several different types of defensive investments and strategies, each with its unique set of advantages and disadvantages. Some of the most common types of defensive investment strategies include:

Portfolio Diversification

Diversifying your portfolio spreads your investment across a wide range of asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash. The idea behind portfolio diversification is that by investing in various assets – like defensive stocks, blue-chip stocks, and high-quality bonds – you can reduce the overall risk of your portfolio and protect yourself against market downturns.

Some defensive stock sectors include utilities, consumer staples, and healthcare.

Portfolio Rebalancing

Another tool for defensive investing is portfolio rebalancing. A portfolio’s asset allocation will change depending on how the assets perform. For example, if the stock market is particularly strong, stocks may become a higher percentage of a portfolio than desired.

Rebalancing is when an investor or portfolio manager adjusts investments to reflect the agreed-upon asset mix. For defensive investing, it would likely be a smaller percentage of stocks and a higher percentage of bonds or other, more conservative investments.

Dollar Cost Averaging

A dollar cost averaging strategy is when you regularly invest a fixed amount of money in a particular asset, such as monthly or quarterly. This can help smooth out the market’s ups and downs and reduce your exposure to volatility.

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Value Investing

Value investing is a strategy in which you focus on investing in companies with strong balance sheets and solid performance track records. Searching for value stocks can help protect your portfolio from the risks associated with more speculative investments.

💡 Recommended: Value vs Growth Stocks

Stop Loss Orders

Defensive investing includes strategies such as using stop-loss orders to minimize losses. A stop-loss order is when an investor tells a stockbroker to sell a stock when its price falls to a predetermined level. Setting up stop-losses helps an investor shed falling stocks automatically to minimize losses.

Pros and Cons of Defensive Investing

A defensive investor may find the risk-averse nature of a conservative portfolio appealing, but it’s still critical to be aware of the pros and cons of this investing strategy.



Capital preservation Limited growth
Income generation Potential underperformance
Lower volatility Loss of purchasing power
Diversified portfolio Limited investments

Pros of Defensive Investing

Some of the advantages of using a defensive investing strategy include:

•   Capital preservation: Defensive investing focuses on preserving capital by investing in low-risk assets less likely to suffer significant losses in a volatile market. This can help investors avoid substantial losses and protect their wealth.

•   Income generation: Defensive investments often generate income through dividends or interest payments. This can provide investors with a regular stream of income they can use to meet their financial needs or to fund other investments.

•   Reduced volatility: Defensive investments are generally less sensitive to market fluctuations, making them less likely to experience significant price swings. This can make them a more stable option for investors who are risk-averse or have a low tolerance for stock volatility.

•   Diversification: A defensive investment strategy can help investors diversify their portfolios and reduce their overall risk. This can be especially beneficial for investors with concentrated holdings in a single asset or sector.

Cons of Defensive Investing

Some of the disadvantages of using a defensive investing strategy include the following:

•   Limited growth potential: Because defensive investments are generally less risky, they may offer a lower potential for high returns than investments in stocks or other growth-oriented assets. This means that investors who pursue a defensive strategy may miss out on opportunities for significant gains.

•   Underperformance in rising markets: Defensive investments may underperform in a bull market. Because these investments are designed to be less sensitive to market fluctuations, they may benefit less from increased market values. This can make them a less attractive option for investors who are looking to maximize their returns.

•   Loss of purchasing power: The income generated by defensive investments may not keep pace with inflation, which can erode the purchasing power of investors’ capital over time. This can make it difficult for investors to maintain their standard of living or meet their long-term financial goals.

•   Fewer investment options: Defensive investing typically involves investing in low-risk, income-generating assets such as government bonds and dividend-paying stocks. This limits the range of investment options available to investors and may not provide exposure to other asset classes or sectors that could offer higher returns.

When Is It Smart to Use a Defensive Investment Strategy?

When deciding how to invest, it’s important to know the options at hand, and when it’s best to employ a certain strategy.

For defensive investing, several factors come into play. If an investor is risk-averse, this type of conservative strategy may be recommended, as it typically offers less risk.

There are a number of reasons why an investor might be risk-averse. For example, a retiree on a fixed income could fall into this category, or, someone who has limited funds and not much wiggle room for losing capital.

Another possibility is someone who is nearing retirement, and who wishes to preserve the gains they made with earlier investing. An investor who wants to conserve money, yet still aim to outpace inflation, might also choose this strategy.

Outside of individual preferences and situations, defensive investing could be helpful in times of market downturn and volatility. In turbulent environments, a defensive investment strategy can help investors sleep at night by keeping assets in less risky investments.

During times of economic stress, investors might opt for a defensive strategy to help them hang on to capital. While no investment is risk free, shifting a portfolio to more conservative assets can help provide a cushion for volatility.

The Takeaway

A defensive investment strategy may be a useful way of mitigating risk and preserving the value of your investments. By understanding the different types of defensive strategies available, you can choose the approach that best suits your needs and goals.

You can start building a portfolio with a strategy that best suits your needs by opening a SoFi Invest® online brokerage account. With a SoFi Invest account, you can trade stocks, ETFs, IPOs, fractional shares, and more with no commissions for as little as $5.

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