5 defensive shares to own in a market crash

Volatility has returned to the S&P/ASX 200 (Index: ^AXJO) (ASX: XJO), eliciting fear from some investors that a crash could be right around the corner.

Much of this fear stems from a potential Brexit, in which Britain will vote next week whether to stay in or leave the European Union. While it is difficult to determine what a ‘leave’ vote would mean for global markets, it has certainly created an element of uncertainty which is forcing the market lower.

There’s an old adage from Paul Samuelson which suggests that the stock market has predicted nine of the past five recessions. The same goes for preempting market crashes whereby so many are predicted (barely a day goes by where there isn’t someone forecasting an economic collapse) with many that don’t actually materialise.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that a crash won’t materialise this time, but that adage is worth keeping in mind. While trying to forecast short-term movements in the market is a mug’s game, it is wise to invest in businesses that appear capable of withstanding tougher economic environments. That could mean having less debt and more cash on the balance sheet, as well as offering products and services which are less susceptible to a pullback in customer spending.

Burson Group Ltd (ASX: BAP) is one such business. The company provides the parts necessary to service and repair many older vehicles, which are generally held onto for longer by individuals during times of uncertainty. The company is highly scalable and could actually benefit in the long-run if a crash were to occur.

It’s had a number of outages recently that investors certainly need to keep in mind, but Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX: TLS) could still make for a good business to hold for the long-run based on its customer loyalty, strong recurring cash flows and solid dividend yield. With interest rates stuck at 1.75%, the telco’s (trailing) 5.8% fully franked dividend yield is certainly appealing.

Many healthcare businesses are also renowned for being defensive because consumers still need treatment whether the economy is booming or going bust. Somnomed Limited (ASX: SOM) is one company to consider. The business provides treatment solutions for various sleep-related breathing disorders (including sleep apnea) that are less intrusive than those offered by rivals.

Washington H. Soul Pattinson and Co. Ltd (ASX: SOL), which is an investment conglomerate, as well as iSentia Group Ltd (ASX: ISD), a company that provides media monitoring services, are also worth considering.

It should be noted that shares of these businesses are not necessarily immune to a falling price during times of duress, but in many circumstances would be expected to fall less sharply than the broader market in the event of a broad selloff. Meanwhile the underlying businesses themselves should also remain sturdy.

The market is volatile right now, particularly in the lead-up to Britain's vote to either stay or leave the European Union. Some of the better shares to hold during times of such uncertainty are those which pay decent dividend yields -- not only because they offer a steady stream of income, but also because those businesses which can afford to pay dividends are typically considered more stable than those which do not.

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Motley Fool contributor Ryan Newman owns shares of Burson and iSentia Group Ltd. The Motley Fool Australia owns shares of Burson. 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.

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