Worried about a slowing economy? Buy these stocks

There may be signs that the economy is weakening, but those who are anxious about the economy should do the opposite of what they might be tempted to do, and avoid defensive stocks rather than running to them.

"When we look over the past 12 months, we've seen this slow decline" in economic strength, but "your consumer staples and your utilities aren't actually the stocks that have been outperforming," Erin Gibbs, chief investment officer at S&P Global, said Wednesday on CNBC's "Trading Nation."

While Gibbs believes that part of the defensive stocks' weaker performance is due to expectations that the Fed still won't hike rates, and therefore investors feel as though they don't need safety stocks, she points out that the correlation between sector performance and certain economic data points away from utilities and staples.

Gibbs is referring specifically to ISM and PMI numbers, which have seen a bit of a decline. Some sectors seem to be correlated with the PMI specifically, and Gibbs believes that investors can determine which stocks to buy based on those correlations.

"What we've actually seen is when the PMI numbers go down, [the sectors that do well are] financials and information technology," said Gibbs. Tech "is really our favorite because we see both the fundamental growth as well as really a neutral correlation to whether the economy is doing well or not."

"They're just kind of this stable growth, and many of those companies now offer decent dividend yields," she added.

In fact, Gibbs' numbers show that traditional safety sectors like the consumer staples, telecom and utilities have a high correlation to PMI numbers, meaning that a decline in PMI could likely mean that those stocks will go down.

But not everyone agrees that the economy is starting to wobble. Piper Jaffray technician Craig Johnson is still bullish on the markets and believes that the economy is actually stable and set to grow. One key indicator of that, according to Johnson, is the market as a whole.

He points to the fact that one of the components of The Conference Board's leading economic indicators is "actually the S&P 500 index itself," he said. "You'll see that that index has finally broken out of a huge consolidation range that it had been in since basically 2000. When we see these kind of indicators coming together, it leads me to be a little bit cautious that this economy is getting weaker."

As a result, Johnson recommends that investors look into tech, basic materials and energy for their picks. While those sectors are normally cyclical, Johnson says that they still have the best relative performance on the market going forward.


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Trading Nation is a multimedia financial news program that shows investors and traders how to use the news of the day to their advantage. This is where experts from across the financial world – including macro strategists, technical analysts, stock-pickers, and traders who specialize in options, currencies, and fixed income – come together to find the best ways to capitalize on recent developments in the market. Trading Nation: Where headlines become opportunities.

Michael Santoli

Michael Santoli joined CNBC in October 2015 as a Senior Markets Commentator, based at the network's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.  Santoli brings his extensive markets expertise to CNBC's Business Day programming, with a regular appearance on CNBC's “Closing Bell (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET).   In addition, he contributes to CNBCand CNBC PRO, writing regular articles and creating original digital videos.

Previously, Santoli was a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance, where he wrote analysis and commentary on the stock market, corporate news and the economy. He also appeared on Yahoo Finance video programs, where he offered insights on the most important business stories of the day, and was a regular contributor to CNBC and other networks.

Follow Michael Santoli on Twitter @michaelsantoli

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