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Are Luxury Stocks Really A 'Defensive Play'?

James Dennin, Kapitall: Luxury stocks have been known to outperform when economic times are bad. How could that work?

It seems pretty counter-intuitive. Luxury goods are the ones that we imagine would be more expensive. So wouldn't they be the first thing to go when families tighten their budgets during harder times? 

Well, not exactly.

It often works in the opposite way. As  Bloomberg columnist Gary Shilling explains, consumers are always going to try and get the best things they can afford. And when they have less cash, they tend to buy fewer, but more expensive goods. Luxury companies are by their very nature high-margin, low volume businesses. 

[Read more from Kapitall: Retail Comeback: Will These Retail Stocks Become Turnaround Stocks in 2014?]

No one is going to buy 40 Coach (COH) handbags in their whole life, much less a single year. So an economic climate where consumers are all buying fewer, better goods is precisely what these firms like to see. 

If you're bearish on 2014, or hesitant about whether the stock market can continue its upward trend without a more tangible recession, you may be looking to add some defensive plays to your portfolio. So we decided to look for some luxury stocks that might be worth investigating.

To do that, we decided to look for stocks with  encouraging inventory turnover trends. These happen when a company sells off more of its product than it expected to, leading inventory to decline as a percentage of net assets. This often indicates growing efficiency and increased demand for the goods which the company is selling.

Starting with a list of 30 S&P 500 stocks that sell luxury goods, we were left with 4 companies on our list. 

Click on the interactive chart to view data over time.

1.Carnival Corporation ( CCL):Operates as a cruise and vacation company. Market cap at $30.61B, most recent closing price at $39.09.

Revenue grew by 2.21% during the most recent quarter ($3,658M vs. $3,579M y/y).

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