Recessions are hard on everyone - aren't they? Actually, just as wars have their war babies (companies that perform well during war and suffer during peace), recessions have their tough offspring as well. In this article we'll take a look at the industries that flourish in the adversity of a recession and why they do so well when everyone else is struggling to make ends meet. (For related reading, see Recession: What Does It Mean To Investors? and War's Influence On Wall Street.)

Discount Retailers
It makes sense that, as budgets feel the strain of an economic downturn, people turn to the stores that offer the most for the least. Discount retailers like Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) do well at any time, but this is not entirely true. They often suffer in good times as people flush with money buy higher-quality goods at competing outlets. To remain competitive, they are forced to upgrade their product lines and change the focus of their business from thrift to quality. Their profits suffer from either lost sales or less margin on the goods they sell.

In hard times, however, these retailers excel by going back to core products and using vast economies of scale to give cheap goods to consumers. Designers and producers of lower-end products also see an upswing as more people jump from brand names to make their paychecks go further. People may not like discount retailers, but in a recession most people end up shopping there. (Learn one way these companies make their money in What Are Economies Of Scale?)

Sin Industries
In bad times, the bad do well. Although it seems a little counterintuitive, people patronize the sin industry more during a recession. In good times, these same people might have bought new shoes, a new stereo or other, bigger-ticket items. In bad times, however, the desire for comforts doesn't leave, it simply scales down. People will pass on the stereo, but a nightly glass of wine, a pack of cigarettes or a chocolate bar are small expenditures that help hold back the general malaise that comes with being tight on cash.

Be warned, though - not all sin businesses prosper in a recession. Gambling, with the exception of the truly troubled gamblers, becomes an extravagance and generally declines during recessions. In fact, casinos do their best trade when the economy is roaring and everyone feels lucky. The most prosperous businesses in this industry are the purveyors of small pleasures that can be bought at a gas station or convenience store. (To find out if it pays pick your portfolio based on ethics, read Socially Responsible Investing Vs. Sin Stocks and Socially (Ir)responsible Mutual Funds.)

Selected Services
Expect a downturn in the service industry as a whole, as companies and families are willing to do more themselves to save money. A certain class of service providers will see an upswing during hard times though. Companies that specialize in upgrading and maintaining existing equipment and products see their business increase as more clients focus on working with what they have now rather than buying a newer model. (Read Less Trash For More Cash to learn how eco-friendly practices can be good for your wallet as well as the planet.)

In the real estate industry, they say renovators hire as builders fire, and this holds true for many other industries as well.

The Statics
In a recession, simply carrying on with business as usual can be an achievement. Pharmaceuticals, healthcare companies, tax service companies, gravediggers, waste disposal companies and many others are in a category that, while not jumping ahead during a recession, can plod along while other companies suffer. This is simply because people get sick, get taxed and die (not always in that order) no matter what the economy is like. Sometimes the most boring businesses offer the most consistent and, in context, exciting returns. (Read A Checklist For Successful Medical Technology Investment and Build Your Portfolio With Infrastructure Investments to learn more about putting your money into these stable industries.)

The Benefits Of Recession
The biggest benefit of hard times is that companies get hurt for inefficiencies that they laughed off in better times. A recession means general fat trimming for companies, from which they should emerge stronger, and that's good news for investors.

One of the best signs is a company in a hard-hit industry that is expanding anyway. For example, McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) continued to grow in the 1970s downturn even though restaurants generally suffered as people cooked rather than going out to eat. Similarly, Toyota (NYSE:TM) was opening new American plants in the 1990s downturn when the Big Three were closing theirs due to falling sales for new cars. (Read more about the 1970s economy in Stagflation, 1970s Style.)

A recession can be a blessing for investors, as it is much easier to spot a strong company without the white noise of a strong economy. (Read how certain strategies can help you cut through market noise in Trading Without Noise.)

Waiting It Out
Although it is good to know which companies excel in a recession, investing according to economic cycles can be difficult. If you do invest in these industries during a recession, you have pay careful attention to your investment so you can readjust your portfolio before the economy rebounds, stemming the advances the recession-proof industries have made. (Read more about how to take advantage of market fluctuations in The Ups And Downs Of Investing In Cyclical Stocks.)

Some of the companies performing well in a recession will also perform well in a recovery, and more will change their business to take advantage of it, but many will be passed by their toughened-up brethren that race ahead in bull markets - financials, technology firms and other faster-moving industries. With the proper timing, however, these industries can provide a buffer within your portfolio while you wait for your high fliers to take off again.

For further reading, see Four Tips For Buying Stocks In A Recession and Recession-Proof Your Portfolio.

Related Articles
  1. Stock Analysis

    Why did Wal-Mart's Stock Take a Fall in 2015?

    Wal-Mart is the largest company in the world, with a sterling track-record of profits and dividends. So why has its stock fallen sharply in 2015?
  2. Investing News

    Should You Invest in Disney Stock Before Star Wars?

    The force is strong with Disney stock, as it continues to make gains going into the launch of EP7. But is this pricey stock a good buy at these levels?
  3. Investing News

    Silicon Valley Startups Fly into Space

    Space enthusiasts are in for an exciting time as Silicon Valley startups take on the lucrative but expensive final frontier.
  4. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Buying Vanguard Mutual Funds Vs. ETFs

    Learn about the differences between Vanguard's mutual fund and ETF products, and discover which may be more appropriate for investors.
  5. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The 8 Most Popular Vanguard Funds for a 401(k)

    Learn about some of the mutual funds in Vanguard's lineup that are popular among 401(k) investors, and find out why you should consider them.
  6. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    How to Reinvest Dividends from ETFs

    Learn about reinvesting ETF dividends, including the benefits and drawbacks of dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs) and manual reinvestment.
  7. Investing

    How to Spot Secular Bull Markets vs. Secular Bear Markets

    A guide to identifying secular bull and bear markets.
  8. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Best 3 Vanguard Mutual Funds for Retirement

    Discover the top Vanguard target-date retirement funds with target dates in 2020, 2030 and 2050, and learn about the characteristics of these funds.
  9. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Best 3 Vanguard Funds that Track the Top 500 Companies

    Discover the three Vanguard funds tracking the S&P 500 Index, and learn about the characteristics and historical statistics of these funds.
  10. Forex Fundamentals

    How to Buy Chinese Yuan

    Discover the different options that are available to investors who want to obtain exposure to the Chinese yuan, including ETFs and ETNs.
  1. How liquid are Vanguard mutual funds?

    The Vanguard mutual fund family is one of the largest and most well-recognized fund family in the financial industry. Its ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Which mutual funds made money in 2008?

    Out of the 2,800 mutual funds that Morningstar, Inc., the leading provider of independent investment research in North America, ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How do mutual funds work in India?

    Mutual funds in India work in much the same way as mutual funds in the United States. Like their American counterparts, Indian ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Are UTMA accounts escheatable?

    Like most financial assets held by institutions such as banks and investment firms, UTMA accounts can be escheated by state ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What are the dormancy and escheatment rules for stock accounts?

    While the specific dormancy and escheatment rules for stock accounts vary by state, all states provide for the escheatment ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Does mutual fund manager tenure matter?

    Mutual fund investors have numerous items to consider when selecting a fund, including investment style, sector focus, operating ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Take A Bath

    A slang term referring to the situation of an investor who has experienced a large loss from an investment or speculative ...
  2. Black Friday

    1. A day of stock market catastrophe. Originally, September 24, 1869, was deemed Black Friday. The crash was sparked by gold ...
  3. Turkey

    Slang for an investment that yields disappointing results or turns out worse than expected. Failed business deals, securities ...
  4. Barefoot Pilgrim

    A slang term for an unsophisticated investor who loses all of his or her wealth by trading equities in the stock market. ...
  5. Quick Ratio

    The quick ratio is an indicator of a company’s short-term liquidity. The quick ratio measures a company’s ability to meet ...
  6. Black Tuesday

    October 29, 1929, when the DJIA fell 12% - one of the largest one-day drops in stock market history. More than 16 million ...
Trading Center