Even sinful-pursuit stocks said to be resistant to recessions are suffering

ECONOMIC NAVIGATION AND SIGHTSEEING

January 11, 2009|By JAY HANCOCK | JAY HANCOCK,jay.hancock@baltsun.com

You know it's a bad recession when even investments in sin, war and debauchery aren't holding up.

The Vice Fund, which trucks in alcohol, tobacco, gambling and defense stocks, advertises that such businesses benefit from "steady demand regardless of economic condition."

Not this economic condition. The fund is down 40 percent from a year ago - more than the S&P 500.

While cigarette maker Philip Morris has held up pretty well, rival Reynolds American has plunged, and so have other tobacco merchants. Very high tobacco taxes - Maryland recently increased its cigarette tax by $1 a pack - have made nicotine less attractive, even for the addicted.

Nor does an economically challenged world seem to be resorting to the bottle in a big way. Anheuser-Busch InBev stock is down by half. Constellation Brands (Robert Mondavi wine, Fleischmann's gin) has also plunged.

Defense stocks have done OK. But casinos are awful. Wynn Resorts, based in Las Vegas, ground zero of the housing meltdown, has fallen from $114 last year to below $50.

Reliance on sin spending hasn't worked very well for Maryland government, either. Legal cigarette sales have plunged, although smuggling has probably boomed. Growth in alcohol tax collections is slowing. State bean counters project lottery sales to decline this fiscal year. It's enough to drive you to drink.

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