The recent private equity bid to buy grocery giant Morrisons (LON:MRW) was a reminder of how appealing the UK supermarket sector is to some investors.

Private equity players tend to make these moves when they smell a value opportunity. But it’s also true that supermarkets - like other defensive stocks - have all-weather appeal because of their profitability and defensive dependability. And that’s something that attracts both professional and private investors alike.

Morrisons isn’t the only FTSE company currently in the sights of the PE firm in question: Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. The firm is also trying to buy healthcare advisory company, UDG (LON:UDG). Again, as a healthcare stock, UDG is in a defensive sector. And like consumer defensives, healthcare is an industry that hasn’t really been front-of-mind for many investors in recent years.

Defensive industries are usually less reliant on the economy because they sell goods that we buy in good times and bad. Pharma, tobacco, utilities and consumer defensives like supermarkets are good examples. Conversely, cyclical industries are sensitive to macro trends and the general health of the economy. They span the likes of mining, high street retail, home building and finance.

In recent years, low interest rates, good economic conditions and growing corporate earnings have created an environment that tends to suit cyclicals. Even last year - when the Covid-induced market crash sent investors reeling - defensive shares only momentarily came to the fore. The cyclicals that had long been in favour prior to the turmoil, quickly bounced back as confidence recovered.




Basic Materials



Consumer Cyclicals


Consumer Defensives





Diversifying into defensives

Given that defensive sectors have been in the shadow of cyclicals in recent years, the private equity approaches for Morrisons and UDG are worth taking note of. If anything, it's a reminder of the diversification advantage of having defensive exposure in a portfolio. After all, holdings in both sectors can help to spread risk and smooth returns as the mood of the market inevitably changes over time.

You can find Stockopedia’s sector directory here. But to get some ideas about shares in defensive sectors (consumer defensives, healthcare and utilities) that are currently trading close to new highs, here’s a screen that does that, and some of the results:


Mkt Cap £m


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