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INSIGHT

16 Jan 2013 THE AGE - CLANCY YEATES


On the whole, 2012 was a good year for shareholders. But just how good might depend on which parts of the market you put the most money into.

Taking into account share-price gains and dividends, the total return for the ASX 200 was 20.3 per cent in 2012. However, many investors received much less than this.

If your portfolio was heavily focused on mining stocks, things were far less rosy. With the economy slowing in China, the sector eked out total returns of 4 per cent.

At the other end of the spectrum, the health care index had a bumper year, even though this was skewed by a surge in the share price of CSL.

Favouring some sectors over others can clearly make a huge difference to returns.

So which types of shares are likely to perform best in the year ahead? And what are the industries investors should be wary of?

If the forecasters are to be believed — and that's a big caveat — a slowing economy in 2013 should support "defensive" stocks. These are companies that sell staples such as groceries, nappies, electricity or phone and internet services.

These industries generally did well in 2012 because investors were looking for lower-risk options. Many think they will perform strongly again in 2013.

Credit Suisse analysts, for instance, say infrastructure, utilities and real estate could offer promising earnings growth in the year ahead.

The losers in a slowing economy, on the other hand, tend to be the "cyclical" stocks that rely on less-essential spending.

Department stores — already battling stiff overseas competition thanks to online shopping — may struggle to sell more designer jeans. Media companies may attract less advertising, and banks may write fewer loans.

Of course, the forecasters might get it entirely wrong.

This time last year, few predicted Europe's debt crisis would be good for banks, yet the sector ended up rising more than 20 per cent.

But for what it's worth, the conventional wisdom is that conservative shares will be the better performers in the year ahead.