The market meltdown unleashed by the new coronavirus pandemic has been exceptional in many ways. Investors seeking to bolster defensive positions in portfolios should take a closer look at the performance of specific subindustries, which in some cases has diverged from historical patterns.
Most steep market corrections have been caused by bursting bubbles, such as excess credit or capacity, or by inflation. But the current bear market has been triggered by an exogenous shock. The speed of the crash is virtually without precedent, with volatility spikes surpassing even the extreme levels seen during the global financial crisis.
While the sell-off was broad based, the performance of many sectors was surprising. For example, global real estate and utilities stocks have traditionally been defensive in 10 previous crises that we analyzed. But in the coronavirus sell-off, they haven’t offered the level of downside mitigation they normally do. In contrast, some technology industries have held up much better than in previous severe drawdowns.