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Recession Risk: Which Sectors are Least Vulnerable?

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Recession Risk: Which Sectors are Least Vulnerable?

Recession Risk: Which Sectors are Least Vulnerable?

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In the context of a potential recession, some sectors may be in better shape than others.

They share several fundamental qualities, including:

  • Less cyclical exposure
  • Lower rate sensitivity
  • Higher cash levels
  • Lower capital expenditures

With this in mind, the above chart looks at the sectors most resilient to recession risk and rising costs, using data from Allianz Trade.

Recession Risk, by Sector

As slower growth and rising rates put pressure on corporate margins and the cost of capital, we can see in the table below that this has impacted some sectors more than others in the last year:

SectorMargin (p.p. change)
🛒 Retail
-0.3
📝 Paper-0.8
🏡 Household Equipment-0.9
🚜 Agrifood-0.9
⛏️ Metals-0.9
🚗 Automotive Manufacturers
-1.1
🏭 Machinery & Equipment-1.1
🧪 Chemicals-1.2
🏥 Pharmaceuticals-1.8
🖥️ Computers & Telecom-2.0
👷 Construction-5.7

*Percentage point changes 2021- 2022.

Generally speaking, the retail sector has been shielded from recession risk and higher prices. In 2023, accelerated consumer spending and a strong labor market has supported retail sales, which have trended higher since 2021. Consumer spending makes up roughly two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

Sectors including chemicals and pharmaceuticals have traditionally been more resistant to market turbulence, but have fared worse than others more recently.

In theory, sectors including construction, metals, and automotives are often rate-sensitive and have high capital expenditures. Yet, what we have seen in the last year is that many of these sectors have been able to withstand margin pressures fairly well in spite of tightening credit conditions as seen in the table above.

What to Watch: Corporate Margins in Perspective

One salient feature of the current market environment is that corporate profit margins have approached historic highs.

Recession Risk: Corporate Margins Near Record Levels

As the above chart shows, after-tax profit margins for non-financial corporations hovered over 14% in 2022, the highest post-WWII. In fact, this trend has been increasing over the past two decades.

According to a recent paper, firms have used their market power to increase prices. As a result, this offset margin pressures, even as sales volume declined.

Overall, we can see that corporate profit margins are higher than pre-pandemic levels. Sectors focused on essential goods to the consumer were able to make price hikes as consumers purchased familiar brands and products.

Adding to stronger margins were demand shocks that stemmed from supply chain disruptions. The auto sector, for example, saw companies raise prices without the fear of diminishing market share. All of these factors have likely built up a buffer to help reduce future recession risk.

Sector Fundamentals Looking Ahead

How are corporate metrics looking in 2023?

In the first quarter of 2023, S&P 500 earnings fell almost 4%. It was the second consecutive quarter of declining earnings for the index. Despite slower growth, the S&P 500 is up roughly 15% from lows seen in October.

Yet according to an April survey from the Bank of America, global fund managers are overwhelmingly bearish, highlighting contradictions in the market.

For health care and utilities sectors, the vast majority of companies in the index are beating revenue estimates in 2023. Over the last 30 years, these defensive sectors have also tended to outperform other sectors during a downturn, along with consumer staples. Investors seek them out due to their strong balance sheets and profitability during market stress.

S&P 500 SectorPercent of Companies With Revenues Above Estimates (Q1 2023)
Health Care90%
Utilities88%
Consumer Discretionary81%
Real Estate
81%
Information Technology78%
Industrials78%
Consumer Staples74%
Energy70%
Financials65%
Communication Services58%
Materials31%

Source: Factset

Cyclical sectors, such as financials and industrials tend to perform worse. We can see this today with turmoil in the banking system, as bank stocks remain sensitive to interest rate hikes. Making matters worse, the spillover from rising rates may still take time to materialize.

Defensive sectors like health care, staples, and utilities could be less vulnerable to recession risk. Lower correlation to economic cycles, lower rate-sensitivity, higher cash buffers, and lower capital expenditures are all key factors that support their resilience.

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AI

Ranked: The 20 Biggest Tech Companies by Market Cap

In total, the 20 biggest tech companies are worth over $20 trillion—nearly 18% of the stock market value globally.

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A portion of the top 20 biggest tech companies visualized as bubbles sized by market cap with Apple as the biggest.

Ranked: The 20 Biggest Tech Companies by Market Cap

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

The world’s 20 biggest tech companies are worth over $20 trillion in total. To put this in perspective, this is nearly 18% of the stock market value globally.

This graphic shows which companies top the ranks, using data from Companiesmarketcap.com.

A Closer Look at The Top 20

Market capitalization (market cap) measures what a company is worth by taking the current share price and multiplying it by the number of shares outstanding. Here are the biggest tech companies according to their market cap on June 13, 2024.

RankCompanyCountry/RegionMarket Cap
1AppleU.S.$3.3T
2MicrosoftU.S.$3.3T
3NvidiaU.S.$3.2T
4AlphabetU.S.$2.2T
5AmazonU.S.$1.9T
6MetaU.S.$1.3T
7TSMCTaiwan$897B
8BroadcomU.S.$778B
9TeslaU.S.$582B
10TencentChina$453B
11ASMLNetherlands$415B
12OracleU.S.$384B
13SamsungSouth Korea$379B
14NetflixU.S.$281B
15AMDU.S.$258B
16QualcommU.S.$243B
17SAPGermany$225B
18SalesforceU.S.$222B
19PDD Holdings (owns Pinduoduo)China$212B
20AdobeU.S.$206B

Note: PDD Holdings says its headquarters remain in Shanghai, China, and Ireland is used for legal registration for its overseas business.

 

Apple is the largest tech company at the moment, having competed with Microsoft for the top of the leaderboard for many years. The company saw its market cap soar after announcing its generative AI, Apple Intelligence. Analysts believe people will upgrade their devices over the next few years, since the new features are only available on the iPhone 15 Pro or newer.

Microsoft is in second place in the rankings, partly thanks to enthusiasm for its AI software which is already generating revenue. Rising profits also contributed to the company’s value. For the quarter ended March 31, 2024, Microsoft increased its net income by 20% compared to the same quarter last year.

Nvidia follows closely behind with the third-highest market cap, rising more than eight times higher compared to its value at the start of 2023. The company has recently announced higher profits, introduced a higher dividend, and reported that its next-generation GPU chip will start generating revenue later this year.

AI a Driver of the Biggest Tech Companies

It’s clear from the biggest tech companies that involvement in AI can contribute to investor confidence.

Among S&P 500 companies, AI has certainly become a focus topic. In fact, 199 companies cited the term “AI” during their first quarter earnings calls, the highest on record. The companies who mentioned AI the most were Meta (95 times), Nvidia (86 times), and Microsoft (74 times).

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