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Buy these stocks to protect yourself from omicron market falls

·4-min read
Covid-19 stock market crash
Covid-19 stock market crash

Move over inflation, the pandemic is once again top of investors’ worries.

The omicron variant is now setting the investment agenda after the Government announced a series of measures to contain the new strain of the virus.

Workers have been told to work from home from next week and wearing face masks will become a legal requirement at most public indoor venues. More restrictions are possible if omicron is not contained or proves to be a larger health risk than expected.

Markets have already reacted negatively to the new strain. Travel and hospitality stocks have crashed in the past month, including a 20pc fall for British Airways-owner IAG and 14pc drop for easyJet and pub chain JD Wetherspoon.

There are bound to be more stock market shocks, but there is no guarantee the winners will be the same as last year when the virus first spread. Telegraph Money asked experts how investors can protect themselves if markets take a tumble.

Oil stocks

UBS Wealth Management said investors should look through the 9pc drop in the price of oil in the past month and stick with stocks in this sector, because the oil price would keep rising. Trading at $75 today, UBS said a 20pc jump was on the cards over the next few months.

"We forecast Brent crude to reach $90 a barrel by March 2022. Despite the previous emergence of new virus strains, since April 2020 oil demand has steadily increased, although it has been uneven across regions and oil products," the wealth manager said.

BP and Shell are the biggest oil companies in Britain, but investors can also own a diversified portfolio of oil companies by buying the iShares MSCI World Energy Sector ETF, which charges a fee of 0.25pc.

The index of global oil firms fell 6pc last week but has bounced back this week so far.

Healthcare stocks

Healthcare firms have been among the best performing stocks during the pandemic so far. Known as a defensive investment area because demand for healthcare does not fluctuate with the economy, UBS said the sector would receive a boost if omicron spread.

"It offers both defensive and growth opportunities. The industry is also cheap, especially after a recent period of relative poor performance," it said.

Guy Foster, of the wealth manager Brewin Dolphin, said vaccine manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer were good options and pointed to gains of 153pc and 39pc respectively this year.

"But they will not be completely insulated from the variant if it becomes very serious. Last time, big pharma companies also felt the loss of revenue from elective hospital procedures that did not go ahead," he said.

Stay-at-home winners

Mr Foster said other previous lockdown winners could also stand to gain if cases surged.

"High-profile names such as Amazon, Netflix and Ocado are less sensitive to changes in the bricks-and-mortar environment," he said.

Retailer Amazon and television streaming service Netflix have kept up their winning streaks since the first lockdown last year, posting gains of 10pc and 20pc respectively this year. Meanwhile Ocado, the online grocer, has lost more than a third of its value in the same period.

Scottish Mortgage, Britain's largest investment trust, owns Amazon and Netflix, as well as Ocado. It has made investors over 147pc since the start of last year.

Gold and bonds

If the omicron strain spreads faster than anticipated and sparks a market crash, investors could be well served by assets that typically perform well in times of panic.

Rob Morgan, of the wealth manager Charles Stanley, said the arrival of a new variant meant diversification should be a priority.

“Investing has been quite easy over the past 18 months. The economy has been recovering and the stock market has performed well. It’s been a straight forward time for investors but that could be about to change," he said.

Mr Morgan pointed to traditional safe haven assets such as gold and bonds. He tipped the iShares Physical Gold ETC, which tracks the price of the precious yellow metal and has gained 47pc over the past three years.

He also highlighted the Janus Henderson Strategic Bond fund, which has delivered a return of 21pc in the same period.

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