NEW YORK (ETF Expert) -- Recently, market participants have been adding to their stock risk. The activity seems to fly in the face of how markets tend to react to significant uncertainties like the fiscal cliff.

While many expect a financial deal to get done, the market's collective calm is reminiscent of the debt ceiling stalemate of 2011. Stocks pulled back in May and June of last year, then rallied back in July. Investors expected that cooler heads in the U.S. Congress would prevail. When they didn't, stocks collapsed in late July-early August.

Nearing the end of 2012, the

S&P 500

is currently presenting a very similar pattern to the one that we witnessed in 2011. In fact, the only thing missing is the monstrous finale where negotiations fall apart completely.

Could the present equanimity turn ugly on yet another botched political impasse? The prevailing wisdom today is that U.S. leaders learned their lesson from the previous go-around. To be frank, it is difficult to imagine any other scenario than one where Republicans acquiesce on taxes and Democrats allow for a small amount of spending cuts.

However, the wisdom of commentators as well as the markets themselves may be tested in the days ahead. For one thing, House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, are publicly stating that an agreement is unlikely to come by Christmas. This means investors will need to rely on the proverbial 11th-hour arrangement. Expect some itchy trigger fingers to pursue additional tax-related trading.

What's more, these are the same leaders that faltered in the 2011 negotiations. As days continue to pass without tangible progress, will the "risk-on" crowd find itself changing its collective heart? Once bitten (2011), twice shy (2012)?

My guidance is to remain relatively defensive. This doesn't mean abandoning the markets when key indices are above 50-day and 200-day moving averages. What it means is... profit from sectors that hold individual companies with competitive leverage.

For instance, consumer staple stalwarts --

Procter & Gamble

(PG) - Get Procter & Gamble Company Report

,

Heinz

(HNZ)

,

Hershey

(HSY) - Get Hershey Company (HSY) Report

,

General Mills

(GIS) - Get General Mills, Inc. (GIS) Report

-- are individually thriving.

Consider a non-cyclical sector ETF like

PowerShares Dynamic Consumer Staples

(PSL) - Get Invesco DWA Consumer Staples Momentum ETF Report

or

iShares S&P Global Consumer Staples

(KXI) - Get iShares Global Consumer Staples ETF Report

. Both exhibit strong technical uptrends and both are less sensitive to recessionary pressure in the global economy.

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If you're

willing to take on a bit more beta risk, biotechnology stocks continue to show enormous staying power.

Amgen

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,

Celgene

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and

Gilead

(GILD) - Get Gilead Sciences, Inc. (GILD) Report

individually hit new 52-week highs last week.

Meanwhile, the exchange-traded funds that hold these brand-name biggies --

Market Vectors Biotech

(BBH) - Get VanEck Vectors Biotech ETF Report

and

iShares NASDAQ Biotech

(IBB) - Get iShares NASDAQ Biotechnology ETF Report

-- are benefiting from the biotech share price surge.

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This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Disclosure Statement: ETF Expert is a website that makes the world of ETFs easier to understand. Gary Gordon, Pacific Park Financial and/or its clients may hold positions in ETFs, mutual funds and investment assets mentioned. The commentary does not constitute individualized investment advice. The opinions offered are not personalized recommendations to buy, sell or hold securities. At times, issuers of exchange-traded products compensate Pacific Park Financial or its subsidiaries for advertising at the ETF Expert website. ETF Expert content is created independently of any advertising relationships. You may review additional ETF Expert at the site.

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