Beer, batteries and Bisquick: Why investors are shopping for consumer staples stocks


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Consumer staples stocks are hitting record highs and outperforming the S&P 500 recently as investors favor defensive sectors that tend to do well when the economy hits a rough patch. These are “boring” companies that sell products that consumers buy in any economy — think basic food items, detergent, cigarettes and beer.

“The defensive rotation is heavy,” said Tarquin Coe, a technical analyst at Investors Intelligence, in a note this week. “The SPDR Consumer Staples ETF (XLP) is breaking out to new all-time highs, reasserting its two month relative uptrend against the S&P 500.”

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The best-performing sectors of 2014 suggest investors are migrating to industries such as utilities and energy that are viewed as safe havens or generally perform better in the later stages of the economic cycle.

Overall, “widow-and-orphan” stocks in stable industries that pay higher dividends are outperforming flashier growth names the past couple months. It’s part of the recent trend of investors favoring safer value stocks over high-momentum and riskier small-cap names.

As the bull market stretches into its fifth year, cyclical sectors like financials and consumer discretionary are lagging, says J.C. Parets at the All Star Charts blog.

He also sees a rotation out of aggressive, “offensive” sectors like retail and homebuilders, and into havens like consumer staples.

“No matter how bad the economy gets, we’re still going to drink beers, smoke cigarettes, brush our teeth and wash our dishes,” Parets added. “That’s never going to change.”

Similarly, in the bond market, he sees a move away from riskier, high-yield sectors and a preference for safer Treasury bonds.

Put it all together and it seems there are some jitters underneath the surface of the market even though the S&P 500 is near an all-time high.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Flickr Creative Commons.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this material is not intended to be personalized financial advice and should not be solely relied on for making financial decisions. All investments involve risk, the amount of which may vary significantly. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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John Spence
John Spence
John leads the editorial organization at Covestor, including the production, editing and distribution of content. He has extensive experience with creating high quality financial content and his work has appeared in several national newspapers and print publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. Previously, he covered personal finance for MarketWatch.com and ETFtrends.com. In his early career, John was an editor for IndexFunds.com and IndexUniverse.com. From 2004 to 2011, he also wrote a weekly ETF Investing column for Dow Jones. He earned a BA from Middlebury College, and an MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco.