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Protect your portfolio with these defensive ASX shares

Despite the widespread carnage across financial markets, there are some shares that could emerge relatively unscathed from the coronavirus pandemic. Defensive shares have the potential to deliver stable earnings and dividends due to the essential nature of their goods and services.

Here are 4 defensive shares on the ASX that could help protect your portfolio from share market volatility.

Amcor PLC (ASX: AMC) 

In my opinion, Amcor is one of the most defensive shares on the ASX. The company is a well-renowned producer of flexible and rigid packaging, allowing Amcor to generate revenue by providing packaging for defensive consumer products such as food, beverages, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.

Amcor could be a beneficiary of the changed consumer behaviour that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the company has a strong balance sheet and is also in the process of realising cost synergies from its $9 billion buyout of US group Bemis.

Brambles Limited (ASX: BXB)

Brambles is another defensive share that services essential goods and services. The company is best known for its iconic and reusable CHEP brand of pallets and crates, of which there are 330 million in circulation. The company is a logistics giant with a resilient supply chain and great exposure to essential consumer goods.

Brambles generates around 80% of its revenue from the consumer staples sector and has recently noted record levels of pallet demand from its grocery supply chains. The company cited that the defensive and resilient nature of its business was reflected in the strong volume growth.

Sonic Healthcare Limited (ASX: SHL)

Sonic is the third-largest pathology provider in the world, generating defensive revenue from radiology and pathology services. Although the company withdrew its earnings guidance for FY20, Sonic has been awarded a contract from the Australian Government to provide testing for COVID-19 in residential aged care facilities.

Despite being initially sold down heavily, the Sonic share price has bounced back around 30% from its low in mid-March. In addition to playing a crucial frontline role, Sonic has a strong financial position with a balance sheet boasting almost $1 billion in cash on hand.

Xero Limited (ASX: XRO)

With accounting software being an essential for all business owners, the services offered by Xero gives the company excellent defensive qualities in my view. The company has a resilient and sustainable revenue stream, reporting over 2 million subscribers in 2019.

Xero also boasts a strong balance sheet with NZ$111 million cash in the bank that could see the company navigate through the coronavirus crisis. In addition, Xero is poised for growth in overseas markets with the company expecting to exceed 5% in average revenue per user growth.

Foolish takeaway

In my opinion, a prudent strategy for long-term investors is to hedge their portfolio with defensive shares in order to provide some protection from further market volatility. I would recommend that investors compile a watchlist of defensive shares that are exposed to essential sectors and could blossom post-pandemic.

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Motley Fool contributor Nikhil Gangaram has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia owns shares of and has recommended Amcor Limited. The Motley Fool Australia owns shares of Xero. The Motley Fool Australia has recommended Sonic Healthcare Limited. 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 Scott Phillips.

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