Here's how investors can profit from a Brexit-driven slowdown

Updated: 
Brexit

The Institute for Fiscal Studies reckons the UK's outlook has worsened since the March budget, and has lowered its taxation revenue forecasts by £25bn by 2019-20. So, rather than having the oodles of extra cash for the NHS that Boris promised us, the government looks like it will need to hike its borrowing in order to make ends meet.

What does all that mean for investors?

A slowing economy is going to leave less cash in pockets for discretionary spending, so it might not be a great time to pile into things like retail shares that rely on non-essentials. Indeed, we have already heard from Marks & Spencer today that it plans to close 30 main stores in the UK and convert a further 45 into food stores.

Squeezed from both ends

I see supermarkets like Tesco and J Sainsbury coming under further pressure, too, with a squeeze sending more shoppers in the direction of low-priced essentials and away from more luxury offerings. In fact, a new development near me consists of an Aldi and an M&S Simply Food store -- squeezing the nearby Tesco from both ends. On a forward P/E of 27, and heading into an economic slowdown, I would not buy Tesco shares now.

What's the alternative? Looking back to the last economic storm centered on the banking crisis, we should be rubbing our hands with glee at the buying prospects we're going to be facing over the next few years -- there are plenty of Brexit-proof shares and solid dividends to be had out there.

The obvious attractions for me are big international companies that will shrug off what happens in this small corner of the world. I'm thinking of pharmaceuticals like GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, both of which have seen their share prices fall back after sharp climbs immediately after the referendum.

GlaxoSmithKline shares at 1,560p are on forward P/E ratios of 14-15, now that EPS growth is set to return, and they offer a dividend yield of 5.4%. AstraZeneca's 4,470p shares, meanwhile, are on a multiple of 13.5, with growth looking likely in 2018, and offer a 5.1% dividend. Both look good value to me.

Telecoms, utilities, big oil, too, should all be pretty much immune to Brexit.

You can't hold a good share down

Another approach is to look for shares that have been unfairly punished but which could be depressed even further. I'm thinking mainly of the insurance sector here, as bad economic news tends to damage financial stocks across the board even if they don't deserve it.

Aviva dipped after the vote, and then came back strongly. But now it's falling again as the economic portents darken once more. After a fall in the past week to 429p, Aviva shares are down 4% since referendum day and down 12% in the past 12 months. And this is a stock with strong EPS growth forecast and a P/E that would drop to just nine in 2017 -- and with dividends of 5.5% to 6% predicted.

RSA Insurance shares dipped too, but their recovery was more impressive -- and despite a downturn over the past couple of weeks, they're up 9.5% since the Brexit vote. Forecasts suggest a 2017 P/E of 12 with dividends around 5%, and strong earnings growth. And that looks cheap too.

There are definitely some great bargains out there -- and further gloom will surely bring us more of them.

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Alan Oscroft owns shares of Aviva. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended GlaxoSmithKline. The Motley Fool UK has recommended AstraZeneca. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.