COMMENT:

The financial market headlines in the US just keep getting uglier, with the S&P 500 index falling another seven per cent last week.

The latest worry is another Government shutdown as disagreements over funding for the Trump border wall continue.

The S&P 500 is down 17.5 per cent from the September peak, and a mere three per cent decline from current levels would see it officially in a "bear market".

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The higher risk sectors in the US are the ones taking a beating, as is often the case when markets hit rough weather.

The worst performing part of the market has been energy stocks, which are down almost 30 per cent as oil prices have tanked.

What has been a relief for consumers and motorists hasn't been great for companies in the business of oil production or for those who service them.

Financials and materials have also been hit hard, both more than 24 per cent lower.

Banks prosper in a booming economy, but fare worse during a slowdown as some borrowers have more difficulty meeting loan obligations.

Not everything is performing as badly, mind you.

Four US sectors have declined by less than the overall market, some significantly so.

Utilities have held up best, slipping less than five per cent since their peak. The other three are real estate, healthcare and consumer staples.

These are all considered "defensive" sectors, which means they tend to be more resilient during an economic slowdown.

When times are tough, people still pay the power bill, while companies continue paying rent for their office space.

Similarly, healthcare is one of the last things to suffer from belt tightening, and household necessities still end up in the supermarket trolley.

That brings me to the local sharemarket, which has held up much better than many overseas peers. The NZX50 ended last week 7.4 per cent below its high, a modest decline in the scheme of things, and a long way from bear territory.

About a quarter of the companies in the NZX50 have actually seen their share prices rise since the correction began, while another quarter have fallen by less than five per cent.

Utilities such as Meridian, Contact, and Genesis have performed very well, while the listed property sector has also been resilient.

Infrastructure businesses such as Vector, Auckland Airport and Port of Tauranga have been similarly unmoved by the drama on Wall Street. Heavyweights Mainfreight and Spark are up, rather than down.

Our market is dominated by defensive businesses, and we have little in the way of energy or financial stocks, which have been hit hardest in the US.

That doesn't make us immune to what's happening in global markets, but it's one reason we've been a lot less volatile and why the falls in share prices have been more benign.

Mark Lister is Head of Private Wealth Research at Craigs Investment Partners. This column is general in nature and should not be regarded as specific investment advice.