Your vices may put you on the path of portfolio redemption

Shares in companies offering sinful products can be a defensive treat in times of market volatility, and there is no need to stop at one

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 2:34am

I've recently advocated sticking to your investment plan even in these turbulent times. And companies that make and distribute consumer staples such as soap, shampoo and the like (think Kao, Nestle and Procter & Gamble) that are otherwise known as defensives are an obvious place to hide out during any market storm. But investors must consider valuations before wading in.

For example, according to Bloomberg, the United States consumer staples select sector index is trading at a price of about 18 times earnings over the past year, compared with 16 times for the S&P 500 Index.

Furthermore, this same consumer staples index has outperformed the S&P 500 Index by more than 50 per cent over the past six years, so investors clearly did well hiding there. Now, as consumer staples get caught up in the sell-off associated with high dividend stocks, where else might we ride out the storm?

I was thinking about this the other day and I asked myself, what did I continue buying during the past five years of economic and financial crisis? I realised that I never cut back on my vices. If anything, during stressful times I probably increased my vice spending and cut expenses everywhere else. To be sure, I found ways to cut the cost of these harmful vices so that I could enjoy more of them for less cost - after all, just because I'm dumb doesn't mean I'm stupid.

If you're anything like me, you reached for your favourite stress busters and most of them probably cost money and were not good for you. Does ice cream ring a bell? Over-eating chocolates and fatty foods? Drinking too much alcohol? Gambling too much (I didn't hear of Macau casinos running into any sales problems in the past five years). Smoking too much? And the list goes on.

As if God was trying to tell me something, I then stumbled across a recent South China Morning Post headline "Global arms to 'explode' in Asia as US declines". The article cites the statistic that the global arms trade jumped by 30 per cent to US$73.5 billion between 2008 and last year. This was vice on a massive scale.

With this in mind I find myself sorting through listed companies to find a handful of attractively valued, morally bankrupt firms worthy of investment. And by morally bankrupt I don't mean companies that are violating any rules. I mean perfectly legitimate companies that benefit through thick and thin from the vices that we all have.

It's tempting to give you a list of exchange-traded funds or stocks to consider in the realm of sin city. Unfortunately, by recommending to you specific stocks that offer sinful products I would dig myself into a deeper hole: not only would the management of such companies berate me but readers would remind me that one man's vice is another man's virtue. So I challenge you to do your own homework and let your moral compass be your guide.