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These stocks post solid returns during sluggish economic times like we’re going through now


Ever-growing fears of an economic recession have left investors scrambling to figure out how to protect their portfolios. In the first quarter, U.S. GDP contracted by more than 1% as the country dealt with the spread of the omicron Covid-19 variant. The economy is also seen as struggling in the second quarter, with the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s GDPNow model indicating a gain of just 0.9% . The new estimate is down from an estimated increase of 1.3% about a week ago. This sluggish economic activity comes as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to fend off inflationary pressures not seen in decades. That said, there are some stocks that can post solid returns in this kind of environment, history shows. To find them, CNBC Pro screened for S & P 500 stocks that posted positive total returns (price gains plus dividends) during the last five periods of sluggish economic growth. We then ranked each stock based on their median returns during those time frames. The screen used FactSet data. We defined sluggish growth as GDP of less than 2%, but more than negative 2% in back-to-back quarters. We examined the following periods: Q3-Q4 of 2018; Q4 2016-Q1 2017; Q3-Q4 2015; Q2-Q3 2012 and Q2-Q3 2009. Here are the stocks that posted the best returns during those time frames. The search yielded a slew of consumer staple and utility names such as Kimberly-Clark, Hershey , Clorox and Atmos Energy . On a median basis, Kimberly-Clark has returned 17% during the last five periods of slow economic activity, while Hershey Atmos have each returned 15.8%. Clorox’s median return during these time frames came out to 15.2%. Shares of Hershey and Atmos have outperformed this year rising 9.5% and 11.8%, respectively. Kimberly-Clark is down 8% in that time, but that’s still better than the S & P 500’s more than 12% drop. Clorox shares are down 22.6% year to date. Web domain registry company VeriSign topped the list, with a median return of 24.4%, while cosmetics company Ulta Beauty came in second, with a median return of 19%. VeriSign shares are down more than 29% in 2022 as investors have shunned tech stocks amid rising rates, but Ulta’s stock has held up well, rising 2.7% in that time. Dow Jones Industrial Average component Coca-Cola also made the list, with a median return of 10% over the last five periods of slow economic activity. The company’s stock is doing well this year, rising 6.6%. In late April, Coca-Cola reported a 16% year-over-year jump in revenue and maintained its outlook even as inflation surged. Other stocks that made the list are: McCormick , Pinnacle West Capital , Ameren , Chubb , DTE Energy , American Tower Corp ., American Electric Power and Eversource Energy . Bottom line: The economy may be slowing, but these stocks could offer strong returns and bolster your portfolio, if history is any indication.

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