Goldman Sachs: Stick with stocks immune to a trade war

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Traders work at Goldman Sachs booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York.

Scott Eells | Bloomberg | Getty Images

For investors fearful of a full-blown trade war, here’s Goldman Sachs’ playbook to tackle the tough market.

Stock losses keep accelerating as investors remain anxious about President Donald Trump’s new tariff threat. In this choppy environment, investors should stick with dividend growers, companies with low labor costs and services sectors which are more domestically facing, according to David Kostin, Goldman Sachs chief U.S. equity strategist.

“We are thinking about some of the drivers of profit growth going forward, and we are looking at some of the communication services stocks,” Kostin said Tuesday on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street. “We like a combination of low labor cost sensitivity as a way of inoculating against rising labor inflation… The second would be dividend growers as a long-term strategy. That’s idiosyncratically what I would focus on.”

High dividend-yielding stocks like AT&T provide steady income in a turbulent market, while companies with low exposure to labor costs including Facebook and Google parent Alphabet generally outperform as wages remain a margin headwind, he noted. Goldman’s own portfolios for its clients that screen stocks with big dividends and low labor costs have beaten the market this year.

Services companies are generally less sensitive to tariffs compared with goods companies, Kostin said. Semiconductors, machinery and agriculture producers have led this week’s losses amid President Trump’s threat to hike tariffs on Chinese goods.

“As a portfolio manager, focus more on domestically facing companies whose revenues are more domestically sourced, more services oriented in particular, versus on the goods side of the economy,” he said.

While the trade-war threat suddenly jolted the markets, triggering a deep sell-off on Tuesday, the impact from tariffs would be limited as many companies are not exposed to duties at all including utility and telecom companies, Kostin said.

“70% of the revenues of U.S. companies are domestic, so while tariff is an issue, it’s concentrated in some industries and some sectors than others,” he added.

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