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KMB) embodies the "quality is leading" rally that we're in the middle of right now. Shares of the $40 billion tissue and paper towel maker have rallied close to 24% year-to-date, tacking close to 10% performance onto the run that the S&P 500 has managed since the first trading session of 2013.
KMB fits our defensive mold. The firm's worst drawdown in 2008 was just 34.3%, well shy of the 53% peak-to-trough decline in the S&P 500. Kimberly-Clark also boasts 21% more volatility when it's moving up than when it's moving down.
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With a brand portfolio that includes stalwart names such as Kleenex, Scott and Huggies, Kimberly-Clark's positioning doesn't get much more defensive. This stock may be a consumer staple, but products such as diapers tend to be less subject to consumers' trading down. That added stickiness gives KMB an economic moat that rivals lack. While declining birth rates in the West pose a challenge for KMB's diaper business right now, a burgeoning middle-class population in emerging market countries holds the keys to growth right now.
KMB has been working hard to shore up its business in recent years. Management has been making some arguably drastic moves to right the ship, and investors should applaud that willingness to take risks. One of Kimberly-Clark's biggest attributes is cash -- the firm generates a lot of it. And in turn, KMB passes that cash onto shareholders; the firm's 3.1% dividend yield helps to up its defensive bent.
Investors looking for downside protection could do worse than this paper product company.