The Dow Lost Ground as Investors Piled into Recession-Proof Stocks

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gave up roughly 47 points today after a rough morning that saw the benchmark index drop 400 points before rebounding.

The big call of the day came from economists at Citigroup (NYSE: C) who now say there is a roughly 50% chance of a recession. Citi’s Chief Global Economist Nathan Sheets noted that rapidly rising rates, slowing consumer demand, and “severe supply shocks” continue to hurt the economy. 

Citigroup slightly lowered its projections for gross domestic product (GDP) growth, expecting about 2.3% GDP growth this year followed by 1.7% GDP growth in 2023, both of which are not very good.

Sheets said the Federal Reserve and other central banks face a “daunting challenge” in their efforts to tackle high inflation. Despite the call, the Dow didn’t do too poorly as investors piled into recession-proof stocks.

Health and consumer goods win the day

The healthcare insurance company UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) led the Dow for the second day in a row, with shares gaining nearly 2% today. 

When the markets are booming, investors want to run and hence look for growth stocks that they think will fly in the future. But when things tighten up and consumer demand slows, the market turns its attention to companies that produce products and services that consumers need. That’s why health stocks tend to fare well. Very rarely will consumers just stop buying health insurance when their finances are in trouble.

A subsidiary of UnitedHealth also recently announced its plan to acquire a health tech company in the United Kingdom that will deepen its relationship with the U.K.’s public healthcare system. Investors have seemed receptive to the deal in recent days.

Other healthcare stocks that fared well today were Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), which has an incredibly strong balance sheet, and Merck (NYSE: MRK). The two stocks rose nearly 1.6% and 1.3%, respectively.

On the consumer side, Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) and McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) were the winners, with shares gaining nearly 1.6% and 1.5%, respectively. Both of these also possess qualities that make them good hedges against inflation.

Proctor & Gamble makes goods such as diapers, laundry detergent, and paper towels, things investors simply need regardless of the economic climate. McDonald’s has an extraordinarily powerful brand that enables them to pass higher costs on to the consumer, although the company is also benefiting from the fact that grocery prices are rising a ton as well, making their price hikes likely less noticeable.

Is it time to prepare for a recession? 

My answer is yes and no. It’s definitely a good idea to buy some of these stocks mentioned above because there is now a very good chance of a recession. A coin flip, if you believe Citigroup.

But remember, investing is all about looking into the future. Investors are preparing for a recession that might not hit until next year. But by the time we are actually in a recession, if it’s not severe, investors may start buying stocks anticipating better times ahead. 

Stocks have sold off so intensely I also don’t think it’s a bad idea to also look at other stocks trading at a discount that can perform well over a long-term horizon.

Citigroup is an advertising partner of The Ascent, a Motley Fool company. Bram Berkowitz has positions in Citigroup and has the following options: long January 2024 $80 calls on Citigroup. The Motley Fool recommends Johnson & Johnson and UnitedHealth Group. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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