While it can certainly be worthwhile to review your portfolio’s performance last year and to compare it with the dismal performance of the S&P/ASX 200 (Index: ^AXJO) (ASX: XJO), now is also the time to look forward and implement your portfolio strategy to hopefully achieve market-beating returns in 2016.

If you own shares and you don’t have a strategy to outperform the index, well, it’s time you did!

Arguably, the only reason for owning shares directly is to outperform the market. If all you wish to achieve from your portfolio is market average returns, then you’re almost certainly better off owning an index fund as this will be the lowest risk (and also the lowest cost) way of achieving average returns.

Given the high level of volatility experienced already in calendar year 2016, if you’re looking to outperform, it could be very much a case of acting defensively.

Here are four stocks that could be a good place to start…

  1. Wesfarmers Ltd (ASX: WES) has previously taken advantage of buoyant capital markets to off-load a number of non-core assets. With a cashed-up balance sheet and a portfolio of retail businesses (including Coles) which are firing on all cylinders, the conglomerate is well positioned to not only ride out any market volatility in 2016, but importantly it is also well placed to pounce on appealing acquisition opportunities.
  2. Ansell Limited (ASX: ANN) provides shareholders with exposure to overseas markets including Asia, where growth rates are higher than Australia. At the same time, these overseas earnings provide an added benefit for shareholders when the cash is converted back into Australian dollars as a result of our weakening domestic currency.
  3. Amcor Limited (ASX: AMC) is in a similar position to Ansell in that it manufactures products which have defensive revenue profiles while also offering shareholders exposure to faster growing foreign economies and potential currency gains too.
  4. Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX: TLS) provides investors with exposure to a defensive telecommunications business and a reliable dividend stream. The company is benefiting from the structural tailwind of increased consumer demand for data.

Of course it should be noted that while the long term prospects for these four businesses appear sound and the potential for each business to produce solid earnings in 2016 appears reasonable, a significant bear market would likely send their share prices lower.

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Motley Fool contributor Tim McArthur has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.