Morgan Stanley has been busy recently. A team of over 30 analysts has just put together a list of the best defensive sectors, based on almost 25 years of market data. This article delves into four sector stock picks highlighted by the firm – stocks that can still deliver even in times of volatility or slowing returns – and why these four stocks also have the backing of the Street in general. Let’s take a closer look now.
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1. Integrated oil and gas: Chevron Corp. (CVX)
“Beyond a bullish outlook on oil, we see additional support from a new ‘Golden Age’ for Refining as underinvestment in refining, slippages in capacity adds and overdone concerns on long-term demand set the stage for the refining upcycle to inflect into a golden age until 2020.”
The firm lists oil giant Chevron as a top pick and this bullish take is mirrored by the Street…[which] has a ‘Strong Buy’ analyst consensus rating. The stock has received 5 top analyst buy ratings vs just 1 hold rating in the last three months. Meanwhile the $140 price target indicates 13% upside potential from current levels.
“(Chevron’s) positive first-quarter result was an encouraging sign that Chevron is executing well and we remain constructive on the company’s long-term, shareholder-friendly plan,” Barclays’ Paul Cheng wrote last month. He boosted his price target on Chevron to $145 (12% upside potential).
2. Utilities: FirstEnergy (FE)
“At a high level, US utilities contain one of the lowest risk among all industries because these companies are permitted to earn a certain rate of return on capital deployed, and operate under exclusive mandates that are perpetual in nature,” the firm said.
“There is a surprisingly large differential in EPS growth potential, and business risk, among US utilities. Currently, we favor several high-growth electric utilities that are benefiting from increasingly cheap renewable energy.” In this respect, a top pick for the firm is electric utility stock FirstEnergy. This ‘Strong Buy‘ stock has just received two rating upgrades from the Street. Both Wells Fargo and Mizuho Securities are now bullish on FE. For Wells Fargo’s Neil Kalton the company’s valuation discount to peers is ‘excessive.’ He sees prices rising 20% to $41.
3. Healthcare equipment: Boston Scientific Corp. (BSX)
The healthcare supply industry is a prime pick for defensive investing says Morgan Stanley. This is because: 1) equipment stocks are less susceptible to risks such as lower drug prices 2) greater innovation in the space should promote growth, as should 3) growth in emerging markets. The firm recommends medical device maker Boston Scientific Corp.
Top Needham analyst Michael Matson also gives BSX the thumbs up. “We reiterate our Strong Buy rating given BSX’s strong product cycle, our expectation that [the] Lotus [heart valve] accelerates growth in 2019, and potential for additional upside to estimates” cheered Matson last month. He notes that the US and EU Lotus launches are still expected in 2019, and sees prices reaching $36 (18% upside). Indeed in the last three months this ‘Strong Buy‘ stock has received 9 buy ratings vs just 1 hold rating.
4. Tobacco: Altria (MO)
Tobacco stocks are a popular defensive pick. “We believe the Tobacco industry is defensive given the industry’s strong pricing power, the addictive nature of the products, and highly consolidated industry,” explains Morgan Stanley.
The firm added that the “current share price weakness across US/global tobacco is unwarranted and tobacco screens very favorably relative to challenged staples sectors.” They single out tobacco giant Altria – which has a cautiously optimistic ‘Moderate Buy‘ rating from the Street.
For top RBC Capital analyst Nik Modi the stock’s allure is partly based on its very attractive valuation. He recently upgraded MO from Hold to Buy because “it is hard to justify staying on the sidelines given the current valuation. MO also offers CPG [consumer packaged goods] investors a scarce combination of positive pricing, minimal exposure to rising costs and insulation from the retail evolution that is plaguing the broader CPG space.”