This sluggish market may call for a ‘low and slow’ portfolio

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Traders work at the offices of CMC Markets in the City of London on December 10, 2018 as Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement in the House of Commons announcing the government’s intention to delay the ‘meaningful’ vote on the Brexit withdrawl agreement.

The slowing economy and political uncertainties have had many investors on edge, eager to turn on fully defensive mode. But think twice, it might be time to benefit from a so-called “low and slow” portfolio.

This is the advice from AB Bernstein’s analyst Noah Weisberger, who said the secret to outperforming the market in a downturn is to buy stocks that have “low and slow” characteristics — lower multiples and higher returns relative to the S&P 500 and trades that are less crowded.

“Although we expect the economic and market backdrop to deteriorate, we think it is too early to turn fully defensive, with the opportunity cost of missing out on end-of-cycle returns too great,” Weisberger said in a note on Friday. The stocks in the portfolio have “both quality and valuation support. It is also less crowded than the index, giving it a bit more resilience in case of another near-term sell off,” he added.

The overall market has rebounded from its multi-year lows in the fourth quarter of 2018. The S&P 500 is up more than 5 percent in the new year, recovering from its worst year since the financial crisis. To find opportunities, it’s important to spot the laggards that haven’t bounced back from their December’s bleeding, but have stable earnings expectations over the last month, Bernstein pointed out.

Bernstein’s 30-stock model low and slow portfolio contains Adobe, Broadcom, Boeing, Celgene and Union Pacific, Weisberger said. The portfolio has returned 4.7 percent since its inception on Dec.14, while the S&P 500 is up 1.4 percent during the same period.

“Despite its cyclical exposures in tech and materials, this portfolio would have outperformed the market during past slowdowns and matched the market’s performance during past contractions. We believe this is exactly the positioning warranted by the current macro and market environment,” Weisberger said.