Loading the player...

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. Economics

    Industries That Thrive On Recession

    Recessions are not equally hard on everyone. In fact, there are some industries that even flourish amid the adversity.
  2. Markets

    8 Sectors That Drones Are Influencing in 2016

    Find out which sectors of the economy are expected to be heavily influenced by the growing commercial application of aerial drones in 2016.
  3. Stock Analysis

    Analyzing Microsoft's Return on Equity (ROE) (MSFT)

    Discover a detailed analysis of Microsoft's historical return on equity, and learn how its ROE stacks up to its competitors in the tech industry.
  4. Investing News

    Latest Labor Numbers: Good News for the Market?

    Some economic numbers are indicating that the labor market is outperforming the stock market. Should investors be bullish?
  5. Investing News

    Is the White House too Optimistic on the Economy?

    Are the White House's economic growth projections for 2016 and 2017 realistic or too optimistic?
  6. Products and Investments

    Cash vs. Stocks: How to Decide Which is Best

    Is it better to keep your money in cash or is a down market a good time to buy stocks at a lower cost?
  7. Investing Basics

    Contingent Convertible Bonds: Bumpy Ride Ahead

    European banks' CoCos are in crisis. What investors who hold these high-reward but high-risk bonds should know.
  8. Economics

    Can the Market Predict a Recession?

    Is a bear market an indication that a recession is on the horizon?
  9. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The 3 Best T. Rowe Price Funds for Value Investors in 2016

    Read analyses of the top three T. Rowe Price value funds open to new investors, and learn about their investment objectives and historical performances.
  10. Active Trading Fundamentals

    4 Stocks With Bullish Head and Shoulders Patterns for 2016 (PG, ETR)

    Discover analyses of the top four stocks with bullish head and shoulders patterns forming in 2016, and learn the prices at which they should be considered.
RELATED FAQS
  1. What is a derivative?

    A derivative is a contract between two or more parties whose value is based on an agreed-upon underlying financial asset, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. 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 >>
  3. 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 >>
  4. 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 >>
  5. 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 >>
  6. 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 >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Short Selling

    Short selling is the sale of a security that is not owned by the seller, or that the seller has borrowed. Short selling is ...
  2. Harry Potter Stock Index

    A collection of stocks from companies related to the "Harry Potter" series franchise. Created by StockPickr, this index seeks ...
  3. Liquidation Margin

    Liquidation margin refers to the value of all of the equity positions in a margin account. If an investor or trader holds ...
  4. Black Swan

    An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult ...
  5. Inverted Yield Curve

    An interest rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments of the ...
  6. Socially Responsible Investment - SRI

    An investment that is considered socially responsible because of the nature of the business the company conducts. Common ...
Trading Center