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Understanding Cyclical vs. Non-Cyclical Stocks

A financial advisor balancing a client's portfolio after reviewing cyclical and non-cyclical stocks.

Cyclical stocks are closely linked to the macroeconomic conditions while non-cyclical, or defensive stocks, remain relatively unaffected by economic fluctuation. These types of stocks behave under diverse economic conditions and they can potentially have a large impact on your investment portfolio. It’s important to understand how each works so that you can choose the right investment strategies. Your financial advisor can help you choose the right mix of stock investments for your portfolio.

What Are Cyclical Stocks?

Cyclical stocks are a type of equity that is significantly influenced by large-scale or systematic changes in the overall economy. They are strongly correlated with the state of the economy and are subject to price fluctuations that echo the broader economic cycle.

Some of the key characteristics of cyclical stocks include:

  • High beta, implying that they are more volatile than the market.
  • Predominantly belong to industries such as automotive, housing and luxury goods.

The performance of cyclical stocks often mirrors the economic cycle. These stocks hold a significant place in the stock market due to their potential for high returns during periods of economic prosperity and their role as indicators of economic health.

What Are Non-Cyclical Stocks?

Non-cyclical stocks, also called defensive stocks, are shares in companies that maintain consistent profits and revenues, largely unaffected by the ups and downs of economic cycles. These stocks stand in stark contrast with cyclical stocks, which are greatly influenced by the overall economic climate. For instance, during periods of economic prosperity, cyclical stocks tend to rise in value, while they tend to fall during economic downturns. However, non-cyclical stocks tend to remain stable during market downturns, not significantly swayed by economic fluctuations.

Non-cyclical stocks are typically characterized by a constant demand for their products or services, regardless of the economic climate. This unwavering demand arises from the fact that non-cyclical companies often cater to the basic needs of consumers. For instance, even during economic recessions, consumers must buy food, use healthcare services and pay for utilities. Consequently, companies in these sectors, which are typically non-cyclical, experience stable revenues.

The beauty of non-cyclical stocks lies in their role as a risk management tool in investment portfolios. In the face of a market downturn, non-cyclical stocks can temper significant portfolio value loss due to their inherent stability. Moreover, their consistent stream of dividends can aid in income generation, which is particularly attractive to investors who seek a steady income stream from their investments.

Major Differences of Cyclical and Non-Cyclical Stocks

An investor researching cyclical vs. non-cyclical stocks.

Understanding the differences between these two types of stocks is crucial in managing investment portfolios and making informed investment decisions. In a comparative analysis, cyclical stocks are characterized by their high volatility in response to economic cycles. On the other hand, non-cyclical stocks are known for their resilience during economic downturns, offering steady performance and providing a consistent stream of dividends. Here’s a breakdown of the differences:

  • Performance across economic cycles: Cyclical stocks often perform well during economic upswings due to increased consumer spending. Non-cyclical stocks, while they may not see as high gains during these periods, generally deliver consistent, positive returns due to the steady demand for their products and services, regardless of the economic climate. 
  • Market capitalization: The market capitalization of cyclical stocks tends to fluctuate with the business cycle due to factors such as economic outlook, interest rates and consumer sentiment. Non-cyclical stocks, such as those in the utilities sector, typically have more stable market capitalizations, primarily due to their consistent earnings and the inelastic demand for their products or services. Factors such as population growth and inflation contribute to this stability. 
  • Dividend payments: The dividend payouts for cyclical stocks can vary significantly due to the fluctuating earnings these companies experience based on the economic cycle. In contrast, non-cyclical stocks, such as those in the healthcare sector, often have more stable dividend payouts due to the consistent demand for their goods or services. However, it’s important to clarify that these are general patterns observed in the past, and the predictability of dividends is not a guarantee.

Tips for Investing in Stocks

Investing in stocks represents an essential aspect of financial planning. It involves purchasing shares of a particular company in the anticipation that their value will appreciate over time. This form of investment can be instrumental in accumulating wealth for future needs, such as retirement or funding a child’s education, thereby attracting many individuals who aspire to increase their financial stability and secure their future.

Every investment carries risk and stocks are no exception. Historical data indicates that the stock market can be volatile. For example, the S&P 500 has experienced an average annual standard deviation of around 20% since 1926, suggesting that stock prices can vary considerably within a short period, potentially leading to financial losses. Moreover, investing in stocks often necessitates active management, which can be time-consuming and require a certain level of expertise.

To mitigate these risks, maintaining a balanced portfolio is crucial. This portfolio should include both cyclical stocks, which tend to perform well when the economy is thriving, and non-cyclical stocks, which are generally more stable during economic downturns. Investing in multiple types of assets to better protect your overall financial plans is part of a greater diversification strategy, which can help investors manage risk, optimize returns and build a strong financial future.

But successful investing in stocks requires more than just a balanced portfolio. It involves several key strategies. One such strategy is regular investing, which allows you to take advantage of dollar-cost averaging. Simply put, dollar-cost averaging involves investing a fixed amount regularly, regardless of the stock price. This strategy can help even out the highs and lows of stock prices over time.

Bottom Line

An investor reviewing cyclical and non-cyclical stocks in her portfolio.

It’s important to understand that cyclical stocks are tied to economic trends, performing well during economic prosperity but potentially suffering during downturns. On the other hand, non-cyclical stocks, tied to essential goods and services, tend to be resistant to economic fluctuations, offering stability and a consistent return stream, especially during economic downturns. An advisor can help you make the right investment decisions to reach your goals.

Tips for Investing

  • A financial advisor can help you create a long-term financial plan and even manage your investments. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • To see how your portfolio might grow over time, consider using a free investment calculator.

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