BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- The S&P 500 has had a blockbuster year so far in 2013. At last count, shares of the big index have rocketed 23% higher since the start of the calendar year. So if you're not thinking defensively right now, you could be in for a rude awakening.
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In football, the saying goes: The best defense is a good offense. That might be good advice for Super Bowl contenders, but it's terrible advice for investors.
As an investor, the best defense is a, well, good defense. And the best offense is a good defense too.
That's not just some investing platitude. It's backed up by stock market research. According to data collected by Cambria Investment Management CIO Mebane Faber, missing the best and worst days of the year with a defensive market posture actually outperforms a buy-and-hold approach.
So today, we're going defensive with five "sin stocks."
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Don't let the name fool you; sin stock companies aren't in the business of burning down old folks' homes. Instead, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and weapons firms are all classical examples of sin stocks. So what makes sin stocks so attractive when anxiety ratchets higher?
For starters, sin stocks tend to be businesses that provide a stress outlet for consumers. As a result, recession resistant revenues and sticky customer bases are the norm. The devil's in the details with sin stocks; because these firms generally sport wide economic moats and deeper margins than traditional consumer plays, sin stocks benefit from an extra qualitative boost that you can't find in any other group right now. That's not to say that sin stocks are recession-proof -- they're not. But they are certainly recession-resistant, which is more than an offense-centered investment strategy can offer.
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Here's a look at five sin stocks that could outperform in this market.
First on our list is Reynolds American (RAI), the $27 billion tobacco stock. Reynolds is one of the biggest tobacco firms in the country, with around 26% of the U.S. cigarette market. The firm's brands include Camel, Cool and Natural American Spirits. Best of all, Reynolds pays out a hefty 5% dividend yield at current price levels.
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Reynolds American lays claim to five of the 10 most popular cigarette brands in the country. In the last decade, the firm has made significant investments outside of the conventional cigarette world and into more growth-oriented niches such as smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes. But let's not mince words: Reynolds is no growth stock. Its customer base is dying a slow death (so to speak) as overall tobacco use declines in the U.S. Because the firm sold off its international rights to Japan Tobacco in 1999, high-growth markets in Southeast Asia and Latin America are off-limits to RAI.
But the decline of U.S. tobacco is slow indeed -- less than 5% a year -- and RAI's hefty exposure to the premium segment of the cigarette and smokeless markets means that the firm should continue to throw off considerable cash. That makes Reynolds a stellar income name for investors looking to offset the record low rates that are plaguing their returns.
The firm's year-to-date 21% rally should prove to investors that capital gains aren't off the table either.
It surprises some people to think of Boeing (BA) as a sin stock. After all, Boeing is probably best known for the wide-body jets that bear its name. But building airliners only makes up half of this aerospace giant's business -- the other half comes from the defense sector. And defense stocks certainly fit in the category of controversial in 2013.
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Boeing's flagship government projects include the replacement of the Air Force's KC-46A refueling tanker fleet, a deal that could be worth $75 billion by itself. The firm has also been retrofitting old F-16s into unmanned aerial targets for military pilots to take aim at (Boeing was no doubt thrilled to help them blow up the retired Lockheed Martin (LMT) fighter jets). One of the differentiating factors that makes BA more attractive than its defense sector competitors is its exposure to the commercial market; with new offerings such as the 787 and the re-engined 737, the firm is well-positioned for growth in the years to come.
That's in spite of the budgetary hiccups that have been plaguing the government lately. No, Congress can't seem to get its act together, but with a $410 billion backlog, Boeing's revenues offer considerable protection from trimmed project budgets. This sin stock is infinitely more attractive than its pure-play rivals.
Las Vegas Sands
Don't let the name fool you. Like Boeing, Las Vegas Sands (LVS) is another firm that's not quite what it first appears. That's because this $60 billion gaming stock actually earns just 15% of its revenue Las Vegas. The real money gets made in Asia.
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Sands owns an impressive collection of properties spread across big-dollar gambling havens such as Macau, Singapore and Cotai, which are high-barrier markets. For example, casino megaresorts cost billions to develop, and in crown-jewel locations such as Macau, competition is limited to the few firms that can grab one of just six licenses to operate casinos in China. LVS owns two of them. Destination resorts offer some big benefits for LVS because customers are willing to go out of their way to stay and play at properties such as Sands, Venetian and Palazzo, as well as LVS's Four Seasons franchise in Macau.
LVS chairman Sheldon Adelson owns more than 50% of LVS' outstanding shares, a level of ownership concentration that should provide comfort (not concern) for smaller shareholders. That's because Adelson's stake puts management's objectives in line with long-term owners of the stock. And to date, he's done a good job of delivering on it.
I've got a special place in my heart for Beam (BEAM) -- and not just because the $11.3 billion distillery owns Maker's Mark. It's because Beam became a standalone stock back in 2011, its management has shown some stellar execution. Beam is one of the biggest spirits distillers in the world, with a collection of labels that includes Jim Beam and Maker's Mark bourbon, Sauza tequila, Pinnacle vodka and Cruzan rum.
Beam has a well-earned reputation for bourbon, but it's been differentiating to include other liquors in its line up since spinning off. The acquisitions of Pinnacle and Ireland's Cooley Distillery in 2011 gave Beam instant access to popular brands with pedigrees -- and the firm did it all while unsaddling itself from the debt load that its separation from Fortune Brands left behind.
At the end of the day, Beam still means bourbon. That's a very good thing, though, particularly as bourbon gains in popularity worldwide. The small-batch bourbon movement has been an exciting trend for smaller distillers, and even big names like Beam have partaken thanks to a unit that specializes in making higher-margin niche bourbons. That same small-batch approach could spill over to the firm's other liquor brands in a very positive way; Beam already has a winning model to copy, after all.
Beam may be the least defensive sin stock name on our list, but it's worth taking a closer look at.
Finally, we're adding some international flavor to our sin stock lineup with Ambev (ABV). Ambev is the largest brewer in Latin America with operations in 14 countries in total -- its biggest business units produce beer in Brazil and Argentina as well as PepsiCo (PEP) soft drinks in a handful of Latin American countries. Ambev also owns Canada's Labatt brand of beer.
Beer is an international language. That's a big part of why Ambev has historically been one of the most profitable brewers in the world, with net margins that weigh in above 30%. While Ambev's soft drink bottling operations don't have all of the same advantages that its beer business does, it's able to leverage its distribution prowess across both businesses for great results.
ABV is in the process of going through some big structural changes. The firm is undertaking a stock swap merger in November that will result in some administrative changes, but the differences should be pretty hard to notice for U.S. investors. Currently, the firm pays out a hefty 4.41% dividend yield that's not as tightly tied to economic conditions here in the U.S.
Keep an eye on earnings scheduled for Oct. 31.
To see all of these sin stock trades in action, check out The Sin Stocks Fall 2013 Portfolio on Stockpickr.
-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.
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At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.
Jonas Elmerraji, CMT, is a senior market analyst at Agora Financial in Baltimore and a contributor toTheStreet. Before that, he managed a portfolio of stocks for an investment advisory returned 15% in 2008. He has been featured in Forbes , Investor's Business Daily, and on CNBC.com. Jonas holds a degree in financial economics from UMBC and the Chartered Market Technician designation.
Follow Jonas on Twitter @JonasElmerraji