Buyside Gets Defensive

Terry Flanagan

Russell Investments, the Seattle-based investment manager, is most known for its 1000, 2000, 3000 index series. Yet, the firm also manages north of $160 billion in assets. In today’s bearish markets, Russell is going back to the basics to find alpha.

“In our portfolios, industries such as healthcare and energy have given us the ability to take profits and stabilize our portfolio,” said Stephen Wood, chief market strategist at Russell Investments. “But it’s been challenging with all the volatility in the markets.”

The driving force behind the positive performance of U.S. health care equities is a story of the economy, policy, and history. “Whenever there is a slowdown in the market, or a less healthy economy, much like we’re seeing… historically health care could hold it no better,” Wood told Markets Media.

Wood cited several of unknowns within the U.S. global markets that have highlighted defensive sectors such as healthcare, and energy in Russell portfolios. “There is uncertainty over ObamaCare, and what spending cuts will do to Medicare,” he said. “But despite what happens, there is steadier performance within healthcare and cyclical industries–people still take their medication where there’s an economic soft patch.”

A counterpart sector that has been equally drawing investors during today’s bear markets is energy—a story of economics, but especially, in emerging markets.

“You can look at energy a couple ways,” Wood told Markets Media. “Globally, there is stable demand in energy consumption.”

The U.S. and Europe are somewhat energy efficiency, but that’s not the case for China, India and Brazil, where demand is more energy intensive and less efficient, according to Wood. “You need more energy input to create output and that causes upward demand—prices for energy will be buoyed in your portfolio.”

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