Stock markets across the world plunged in the aftermath of the UK’s referendum vote to leave the European Union. However, not all stocks were underwater. Defensive stocks, including many utilities, gold miners and tobacco companies, have been broadly flat or even positive today.

Soaring gold price

The price of gold rose by 5% today to $1,330 an ounce, its highest level for more than two years, as investors sought refuge in the shiny stuff following the surprise Brexit vote. The precious metal is widely considered to be a safe haven asset, and gold price movements have historically correlated well with risk aversion and market uncertainty.

I’m unsure about where the price will move from here, but I’m confident that the uncertainty is not going away any time soon. Britain’s negotiations to leave the EU and form a new relationship will likely take many years, which should make for a positive outlook for gold prices. It should also mean that gold mining stocks, such as Randgold Resources (LSE: RRS), will be a great defensive play against further volatility in the markets.

In addition to the soaring gold price, the 8% drop in the value of the pound against the dollar following the referendum result creates a double whammy benefit for London-listed gold mining stocks, as the falling exchange rate further compounds the surge in the commodity price. This means, in sterling terms, gold has risen in value by 13% today.

Randgold Resources is a good pick because it benefits from low production costs, which gives it a wide margin of safety. With an average total production cost of around $700 an ounce, its operating margins are as high as 47% with gold prices at their current levels. Its shares rose by an impressive 12% today, and I think further gains are possible, given the uncertain future.

Search for safety

Defensive stocks have fared much better than cyclical ones, as investors rush to safety.

National Grid (LSE: NG) is one of the most defensive stocks on the market, because as a regulated monopoly in the electricity and gas distribution sector, it is largely unaffected by changes in energy demand and volaility in commodity prices.

With a beta of just 0.32, the firm is rather less-cyclical and generates steady free cash flow year after year. This means the stock pays very reliable dividends, which makes it a great investment for income-hungry investors.

What’s more, the firm’s regulated inflation linked revenues means it offers solid protection against inflation – it’s dividends are inflation rated too – with the company promising to increase dividend payments by at least RPI inflation each year “for the foreseeable future”. National Grid currently yields 4.5%, with its shares up 1% today.

Weaker pound

British American Tobacco (LSE: BATS) reports its earnings in sterling, but earns an overwhelming majority of its revenues outside the UK. The 8% decline in the value of the pound will no doubt prove an immediate boost to the sterling translation of its foreign earnings.

A long-time favourite for dividend growth investors, the tobacco giant has a strong track record of delivering robust dividend growth, and has been a reliable growth story in difficult economic circumstances. I’m confident that its outlook will not have changed dramatically following the EU vote, and it seems the market agrees. At the time of writing, shares in British American Tobacco rose 4% to 4,450p.

Before you decide...

Building a successful investment portfolio is not just about picking winners. The Motley Fool has a free special report called "Your 10 Step Guide To Making A Million In The Market", which will show you the value of compounded investment returns and the importance of thinking for yourself

Get your copy now! It's completely free and there's no further obligation.

Jack Tang has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.