Some companies’ earnings and dividends are less affected by the state of the economy than others. These ‘defensive’ stocks tend to be more resilient than their ‘cyclical’ counterparts through economic ups and downs. You might say they’re shares to buy for all seasons.
The FTSE 100 contains a decent range of defensive stocks. If you’re in the market for owning a slice of such businesses, here are what I think are the Footsie’s 10 best defensive shares to buy today.
Utilities is a classic defensive sector. As regulated entities, companies in the sector have good visibility on the long-term investment they must make, and the cash flows they’ll receive.
Right now, I like Ofwat-regulated United Utilities (recent share price 893p, forward P/E 19x, prospective dividend yield 4.8%), and Ofgem-regulated National Grid (890p, 15.3x, 5.4%). The former is the owner and operator of water and wastewater assets and services in the northwest of England. The latter has a near monopoly on domestic gas and electricity infrastructure, as well as owning regulated assets in the northeast of the US.
Food, glorious food
At a fundamental level, food comes next to water as essential for human survival. This makes supermarkets good defensive stocks. Tesco (223p, 14.1x, 3.7%) is by far the biggest. Its competitive advantages of scale make it my favoured choice in the sector.
Of course, you’ll find many of the much-loved and trusted brands of Unilever (4,056p, 18.4x, 3.7%) on supermarket shelves. Not only its food and drink brands, but also personal and home care products. Reckitt Benckiser (6,992p, 23.2x, 2.5%) is another owner of brilliant brands. Shoppers pick its trusted health, hygiene and home products off the shelves time and time again. I think both stocks are terrific defensive picks.
Healthy shares to buy
Big healthcare companies also have attractive defensive qualities. GlaxoSmithKline (1,664p, 14.2x, 4.8%) is diversified across pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and consumer health. This diversification makes it the pick of the Footsie’s drug-makers for me.
I also have a strong liking for medical devices group Smith & Nephew (1,662p, 26.7x, 1.6%). Its relatively high P/E is expected to drop into the teens next year. This is because of delayed sales of some of its flagship products this year, due to the Covid-19-induced temporary cancellation of non-urgent surgery in some key markets.
My final three defensive shares to buy today are all so-called ‘sin stocks’: British American Tobacco (3,121p 9.3x 7%), distiller Diageo (2,827p 24x 2.5%), and defence group BAE Systems (494p 11x 4.7%).
British American Tobacco holds a leading position in its sector. It’s the world’s most international tobacco group, operating in more countries than any of its peers. Diageo owns an unrivalled portfolio of world-class spirits brands, many of them number one in their categories. BAE Systems is a giant of the defence industry, and a longstanding and trusted partner of the UK, the US and other ‘friendly’ governments.
A final word on my defensive shares to buy
The coronavirus pandemic has produced a human healthcare emergency and economic crisis on a scale never before seen in my lifetime. However, I still expect defensive stocks to be relatively resilient during this most testing of times. Even if the current crisis triggers a more prolonged economic slump, I think my 10 FTSE 100 defensive shares to buy will survive and prosper in the long term.
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G A Chester has no position in any of the shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended GlaxoSmithKline and Unilever. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Diageo and Tesco. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.