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Stock screen: Leaning defensive

Is the rally thus far in January (the S&P 500 is up roughly 5% year to date) signaling a different outcome for stocks this year compared with 2022's bear market? There are some positive signs, like inflation slowing, leading many to think the Fed won't raise rates as aggressively.

With that said, many economists think some markets are already in a mild recession, and a potential earnings slowdown could put a ceiling on any bullish momentum. If you think short-term risks outweigh the green shoots, here are 3 stocks screens using Fidelity's Stock Screener with a defensive tilt, plus top results for each.

Defensive sectors

Last year, defensive sectors (i.e., utilities, health care, and consumer staples) outperformed cyclical sectors (excluding energy) by a wide margin. Because they can face less earnings risk, defensive sectors tend to outperform cyclical sectors during relatively difficult economic times—when people are more likely to keep spending on things like paying the electric bill, prescriptions, and toothpaste. For the same reason, these sectors can also hold up better amid increasing inflation.

If you want to increase your investing exposure to defensive stocks, you can set up a screen for just these sectors. You can also add criteria to help you find defensive sector stocks that have had momentum. Here are the 10 top results for defensive sector stocks with a market cap of at least $6.3 billion and a "very high" 52-week price performance (greater than 40.9% gain), sorted by market cap as of January 26, 2023:

  • Novo Nordisk ()
  • Daiichi Sankyo Company ()
  • McKesson Corp ()
  • Alnylam Pharmaceuticals ()
  • Constellation Energy ()
  • Argen-X ()
  • Straumann Holding ()
  • Cardinal Health ()
  • Lamb Weston ()
  • Sarepta Therapeutics ()

Part of the process when evaluating the output of a screen is to think about if the results are in line with what you might expect. Do they appear to align with your objectives? Are there any results that seem strange? If the output generally seems unsuitable for your goals and risk tolerance in any way, you may want to consider adjusting the filters or running a different screen.

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Defensive investment characteristics

While defensive sectors typically outperform the broad market during downturns, you can still find investments across sectors that may outperform as well. Instead of screening exclusively for defensive sector stocks, you could use filters like beta and standard deviation to search for relatively low volatility stocks that might weather tough times better. If you think certain areas of the world may hold up better than other parts, you might also filter by geographic region.

Here are the 10 top results for US-based stocks with a market cap of at least $6.3 billion, a "very low" 1-year annualized standard deviation (0-0.31), and a "very low" 1-year annualized beta (0.46 and below), sorted by market cap as of January 26, 2023:

  • Johnson & Johnson ()
  • Merck ()
  • Verizon ()
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb ()
  • Altria ()
  • Colgate-Palmolive ()
  • Humana (HUM)
  • Activision Blizzard ()
  • Dominion Energy ()
  • Kraft Heinz ()

While this list does include some stocks outside of defensive sectors, it is dominated by health care companies. A consideration when adding individual stocks to your portfolio is concentration risk within a particular sector or industry. Colloquially speaking, concentration risk can fall into the category of putting your eggs in a single basket—if you are not diversified across the rest of your investments.

Leaning into income

Another strategy that some investors turn to during relatively more difficult market conditions is to place a greater emphasis on higher-yielding investments. Of course, you don't want to fall into a dividend yield trap, so when screening for high-income producing stocks, you might also consider qualitative assessments from analysts. There's a filter for a stock's Equity Summary Score, which provides a consolidated view of the ratings from a number of independent research providers on

Here are the top 10 results of a screen for stocks with a market cap of at least $6.3 billion, "very high" dividend yield (above 5.51%), and a bullish or better Equity Summary Score from StarMine/Refinitiv, sorted by market cap as of January 26, 2023:

  • Verizon ()
  • Rio Tinto ()
  • British American Tobacco ()
  • Vale SA ()
  • Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group ()
  • Eni Spa ()
  • Petroleo Brasileiro ()
  • Banco Bilbao Vizcaya ()
  • United Microelectronics ()
  • Shinhan Financial Group ()

One thing to note about this list is that it's dominated by foreign-based investments for domestic US investors. Foreign investments can entail unique characteristics and risks that should be fully understood before any investment is made.

Dig deeper

You can create many different types of filters to find investing ideas that might align with your objectives. Some screening criteria may be more relevant for certain sectors, industries, and companies than other criteria. In addition to building your own screens such as the ones above, it's possible to utilize preset expert screens that can potentially generate ideas that could meet your objectives.

Regardless of your screening approach, more research is needed to determine if any of these investments are right for you. You should fully understand the risks involved, and each investing opportunity should be considered within the context of a well-diversified investment strategy that conforms to your specific time horizon, objectives, and risk parameters.

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Stock markets are volatile and can fluctuate significantly in response to company, industry, political, regulatory, market, or economic developments. Investing in stock involves risks, including the loss of principal. Indexes are unmanaged. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. The S&P 500® Index is a market capitalization–weighted index of 500 common stocks chosen for market size, liquidity, and industry group representation to represent U.S. equity performance. S&P and S&P 500 are registered service marks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC. You cannot invest directly in an index. The Equity Summary Score is provided for informational purposes only, does not constitute advice or guidance, and is not an endorsement or recommendation for any particular security or trading strategy. The Equity Summary Score is provided by StarMine from Refinitiv, an independent company not affiliated with Fidelity Investments. For more information and details, go to Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Because of their narrow focus, sector investments tend to be more volatile than investments that diversify across many sectors and companies. Foreign investments involve greater risks than U.S. investments, including political and economic risks and the risk of currency fluctuations, all of which may be magnified in emerging markets. The Fidelity stock screener is a research tool provided to help self-directed investors evaluate these types of securities. The criteria and inputs entered are at the sole discretion of the user, and all screens or strategies with preselected criteria (including expert ones) are solely for the convenience of the user. Expert Screeners are provided by independent companies not affiliated with Fidelity. Information supplied or obtained from these Screeners is for informational purposes only and should not be considered investment advice or guidance, an offer of or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell securities, or a recommendation or endorsement by Fidelity of any security or investment strategy. Fidelity does not endorse or adopt any particular investment strategy or approach to screening or evaluating stocks, preferred securities, exchange-traded products, or closed-end funds. Fidelity makes no guarantees that information supplied is accurate, complete, or timely, and does not provide any warranties regarding results obtained from its use. Determine which securities are right for you based on your investment objectives, risk tolerance, financial situation, and other individual factors, and reevaluate them on a periodic basis. Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE,  SIPC , 900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917 1069113.1.0