Stock sectors

Breaking down the 11 major sectors of the stock market.

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Investing in the stock market goes far beyond selecting a profitable company. The key to portfolio diversification is understanding how the stock market is organized so you can allocate your funds accordingly. Read on to learn about stock sectors that are popular both in Australia and around the world.

What are stock sectors?

Stock sectors help investors organize stocks. According to the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS), there are 11 economic stock sectors, that are further subdivided into 24 industry groups, 68 industries and 157 subindustries.

The GICS was developed by Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) and Standard & Poors (S&P) in 1999 to help global companies and investors compare and sort stocks. The system is used by MSCI indexes and has been modified many times since its inception to account for major shifts in the global economy.

Energy

Companies that make a profit from oil, natural gas and coal fit into the energy sector. This includes companies that help locate, mine, produce, refine or market fuel. The profitability of this stock sector relies on the price of crude oil but stock prices tend to be stable and often pay large dividends.

The big names in this sector include:

Materials

Companies that process raw materials fit into the materials sector. These companies typically sell to other businesses at the head of the supply chain. They provide manufacturing staples like oil, natural gas, metal, paper and chemicals.

Popular companies in the materials sector include:

Industrials

The industrial sector consists largely of companies that produce aircraft, construction and agriculture equipment, and industrial machinery. These companies tend to generate positive cash flow and pay regular dividends.

A number of big-name, blue-chip stocks come from the industrials sector, including:

Consumer discretionary

Businesses in the consumer discretionary sector include companies that sell nonessential services and products to consumers. These are services and products consumers purchase with discretionary income — that portion of their income left after paying taxes and essential living expenses. Businesses in this sector include automobile, retail, hotels, restaurants and luxury goods.

A variety of companies crop up in this sector, including:

Consumer staples

The consumer staples sector is filled with companies that manufacture and distribute essential goods and services like food, household goods and personal care products. This sector is especially well-positioned to weather recessions because people continue to purchase these goods and services, even during an economic downturn.

Major players in this sector include:

Healthcare

The healthcare sector is made up of four major pillars: medical services, healthcare equipment, biotech services and pharmaceuticals. These businesses are typically well-positioned to weather the ups and downs of the market.

Big names in the healthcare sector include:

Financials

The financial sector includes banks, insurance providers and real estate firms. Revenue generated in this sector is directly correlated with interest rates on mortgages and other loans.

This sector is where you’ll encounter the financial big wigs:

Information technology

Information technology companies manufacture, develop and distribute software and electronics. This sector is deeply rooted in Silicon Valley and operates as one of the leading stock sectors of the 21st century.

Tech giants in the information technology sector include:

Telecommunication services

Media, entertainment and communications companies form the backbone of the telecom sector. Here, you’ll encounter Internet service providers, streaming services, cable companies and more. With the advent of the Internet, this sector was forced to evolve alongside our consumption habits.

Many will recognize the businesses that belong to the telecom sector:

Utilities

Businesses in this sector provide water, gas and electricity. These businesses have little competition thanks to the high cost of entry but the prices they charge are strictly controlled by local governments. Like consumer staples, an investment in the utilities sector is considered a safe bet during market downturns because of how essential utilities are.

Popular companies in this sector include:

Real estate

In the real estate sector, we find developers, management firms and real estate investment trusts (REITs). These companies own and operate commercial real estate that includes apartment buildings, shopping malls, office parks and more. Rent income and property value provide revenue and shareholders receive dividends.

Popular real estate sector companies include:

How to invest in stock sectors

If you’d like to invest in a particular sector of the stock market, consider exchange-traded funds, or ETFs. ETFs are funds that contain a collection of securities — typically stocks or bonds — that track a particular stock sector or index. ETFs can be bought and sold for a single price like stocks and offer investors in Australia the opportunity to gain exposure to a specific industry sector.

Each sector has many ETFs to choose from. While you can purchase individual stocks within each sector, ETFs offer a basket of sector-specific investments that can help protect against market volatility.

Here are some of the most popular ETFs available in each sector for Australians to invest in:

Stock sectors and portfolio diversification

Stock sectors offer Australian investors the opportunity to diversify their portfolios. The stock market can be impacted by a variety of factors, including world events, exchange rates, interest rates and global politics.

Spreading your investments across multiple stock sectors can help reduce portfolio risk when a major event impacts the stock market. Instead of pooling your eggs in a single basket, spread your investments across multiple stock sectors and industries to broaden your opportunities, while reducing losses triggered by market volatility.

Compare stock trading platforms

Name Product Standard brokerage fee Inactivity fee Markets International
eToro (global stocks)
US$0
US$10 per month if there’s been no login for 12 months
Global shares, US shares, ETFs
Yes
Zero brokerage share trading on US, Hong Kong and European stocks with trades as low as $50.
Note: This broker offers CFDs which are volatile investment products and most clients lose money trading CFDs with this provider.
Join the world’s biggest social trading network when you trade stocks, commodities and currencies from the one account.
IG Share Trading
$8
$50 per quarter if you make fewer than three trades in that period
ASX shares, Global shares
Yes
$0 brokerage for US and global shares plus get an active trader discount of $5 commission on Australian shares.
Enjoy some of the lowest brokerage fees on the market when trading Australian shares, international shares, plus get access to 24-hour customer support.
Superhero share trading
$5
No
ASX shares, US shares
Yes
Earn up to 15,000 Qantas frequent flyer points when you transfer an exisiting balance or trade. Offer valid for all new and existing Superhero members until 28 February.
Pay zero brokerage on US stocks and all ETFs and just $5 (flat fee) to trade Australian shares from your mobile or desktop.
ThinkMarkets Share Trading
$8
No
ASX shares
No
Limited-time offer: Get 10 free ASX trades ($0 brokerage) when you open a share trading account with ThinkMarkets before 31 December 2021(T&Cs apply). $8 flat fee brokerage for CHESS Sponsored ASX stocks (HIN ownership), plus free live stock price data on an easy to use mobile app.
Bell Direct Share Trading
$15
No
ASX shares, mFunds, ETFs
No
Finder Exclusive: Get 5 free stock trades and unlimited ETF trades until 31 Dec 2021, when you join Bell Direct. T&Cs apply.
Bell Direct offers a one-second placement guarantee on market-to-limit ASX orders or your trade is free, plus enjoy extensive free research reports from top financial experts.
Saxo Capital Markets (Classic account)
$5
No
ASX shares, Global shares, ETFs
Yes
Access 19,000+ stocks on 40+ exchanges worldwide
Low fees for Australian and global share trading, no inactivity fees, low currency conversion fee and optimised for mobile.
CommSec Share Trading Account
$10
$0 for ASX shares, US$25 for global
ASX shares, Global shares, Options trading, ETFs
Yes
Trade with Australia's largest online stockbroking firm.
Enjoy fast, simple and affordable trades, with market leading research and broker recommendations all in one platform
CMC Markets Invest
$11
No
ASX shares, Global shares, mFunds, ETFs
Yes
$0 brokerage on global shares including US, UK and Japan markets.
Trade up to 9,000 products, including shares, ETFs and managed funds, plus access up to 15 major global and Australian stock exchanges.
SelfWealth (Basic account)
$9.5
No
ASX shares, US shares
Yes
Trade ASX and US shares for a flat fee of $9.50, regardless of the trade size.
New customers receive free access to Community Insights with SelfWealth Premium for the first 90 days. Follow other investors and benchmark your portfolio performance.
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Important: Share trading can be financially risky and the value of your investment can go down as well as up. Standard brokerage is the cost to purchase $1,000 or less of equities without any qualifications or special eligibility. Where both CHESS sponsored and custodian shares are offered, we display the cheapest option.

Bottom line

There are many ways to invest in the stock market in Australia, and understanding the major stock sectors can help you decide where you’d like to invest and how to broaden the reach of your investment portfolio.

To invest, you’ll need to sign up for a brokerage account with a trading platform in Australia. Explore your trading options across multiple platforms to ensure you find the best account for your investment goals.

Frequently asked questions

Disclaimer: This information should not be interpreted as an endorsement of futures, stocks, ETFs, CFDs, options or any specific provider, service or offering. It should not be relied upon as investment advice or construed as providing recommendations of any kind. Futures, stocks, ETFs and options trading involves substantial risk of loss and therefore are not appropriate for all investors. Trading CFDs and forex on leverage comes with a higher risk of losing money rapidly. Past performance is not an indication of future results. Consider your own circumstances, and obtain your own advice, before making any trades.

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