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Your portfolio should be ‘defensive’ in the second half of 2022 says Wells Fargo. These 6 stocks are poised to outperform the market

June 19, 2022, 10:00 AM UTC

With the first half of 2022 in the rearview mirror, it seems that all the markets have been seeing lately is red.

“This inflation ‘fever’ looks likely to signal a mild recession ‘disease’ late this year and early next year, unless conditions alter the economy’s current course,” Wells Fargo Investment Institute (WFII) President Darrell Cronk wrote in the bank’s mid-year outlook report. “As in the past, we expect it to prove difficult for the Federal Reserve (Fed) ‘physician’ to exactly prescribe the right interest rate dosage.”

What does this mean for investors as they kick off the last 6 months of the year? Wells Fargo analysts are recommending that investors target large- and mid-cap U.S. equities with specific defensive sector targets. That means taking a closer look at areas such as energy, healthcare and information technology. Energy, for instance, will continue to be a necessity despite the uptick in oil prices and supply constraints. The healthcare sector, on the other hand, has the potential to be a longer-term play as industry consolidation and demographics facilitate growth.

Integrated Oil Stocks and Midstream C-Corps

Integrated oil companies, which include those involved in upstream and downstream operations, as well as midstream c-corps, which own assets such as oil pipelines, garnered a “favorable” ranking for Wells Fargo.

And as it turns out, independent researchers tend to agree. TotalEnergies SE, an integrated oil and gas company exploring for, producing, and refining oil, maintains a four-star buy rating rating from the Center for Financial Research and Analysis (CFRA). The company posted a strong first quarter with an adjusted net income of $9 billion, representing a 3x increase from the first quarter the previous year. Analysts also believe that easing pandemic restrictions and restrained supply growth will support oil and gas prices. Range Resources Corp., an oil corporation based in Fort Worth, was given a buy rating from Ford Equity Research based on the increase in earnings over the past 5 quarters.

On the flip side, oilfield services and refiners were deemed “unfavorable” by Wells Fargo, as analysts say could suffer from excess supply if consumer demand lowers.

Life Sciences, Managed Care, and Medical Devices

Wells Fargo picked three sub-sectors of health care that they think merit a close look right now. The life sciences tools and services industry involves companies dealing with drug development and discovery as well as production. The managed care sub-sector describes companies involved in activities intended to provide health care services while improving quality and reducing costs. The medical devices and equipment industry consists of companies developing, manufacturing and distributing technologies for health care.

The managed care sub-sector is specifically favored by analysts because of diminishing risks from the COVID-19 pandemic and politics. Additionally, the demographic and consolidation longer-term growth drivers are also applicable to the managed care industry, according to Wells Fargo. Companies that were given buy ratings by CFRA include Veeva Systems Inc., a software solutions supplier in the life sciences industry. Due to its first mover advantage for quality software in the industry, as well as opportunities for growth, Veeva Systems is expected by analysts to outperform the market. BioMarin Pharmaceuticals Inc., a company with a focus on rare-disease therapies, has a buy rating as well due to its success at commercializing rare disease treatments. Wells Fargo looks unfavorably upon the generic pharmaceuticals sub-sector; according to data from IQVIA, industry revenues have decreased over 5 years to 2021.

IT Services, Networking Equipment, and Enterprise Software

The information technology sector has long been considered to be cyclical. However, analysts consider the sector to be a good play due to its long-term prospects. Wells Fargo pinpoints three sub-industries where they expect resilient tech spending and high-quality financial metrics: IT services, which includes companies that help organizations manage and optimize processes; networking equipment, which consists of companies that handle directing information along telecommunications networks; and enterprise software for organizations.

Among specific stocks are Atlassian, a company that provides software and IT solutions to teams. CFRA rates it a “strong buy.” Semiconductor equipment and payment processing, which also fall under the information technology sector, were some of the highly touted sub-sectors in the report. Littelfuse Inc., a primary provider of fuses and relays, is increasing its power semiconductor business and is projected to outperform the market according to analysts at Ford. Storage and peripherals, which include technology hardware manufacturers, gained an “unfavorable” rating in Wells Fargo’s report.

Neutral Sectors

While energy, health care, and information technology are the three favorable sectors, analysts still a few opportunities worth considering further afield—if you know where to look.

“Even in sectors we rate as neutral, we see opportunities to diversify away from the aging economic cycle by looking to sub-industries that generally follow the economic cycle less closely than the broader sector does,” the report said. “Examples would include Defense Contractors within Industrials, Property & Casualty Insurance within Financials, and Industrial Gases within Materials.”

Wells Fargo also favors a neutral rating to consumer staples and utilities, which are generally defined in the category of defensive stocks, due to the sectors’ traditional resilience during a downturn in the market.

Ultimately, analysts say being selective and focusing on a tight array of defensive stocks, investors have a chance to beat the overall market. The duration of broader downdraft, analysts say, will in part depend on whether inflation will continue to persist and worries of stagflation. According to research done by Goldman Sachs, unemployment rates are projected to rise to 3.7% by the end of 2022, compared to a previous projection of 3.5%. Its Summary of Economic Projections also downgrades forecasts for the GPD as well as rises in the median core inflation projections.

Put another way, investors played offense during the bull market. But now it’s time to play defense.

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