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Although stocks remained on a relatively uninterrupted upward path during the opening weeks of 2011, global headwinds have begun to mount more recently, once again testing the resilience of the market's recovery. With the political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and rising commodity prices dominating the headlines, concerns are fresh on investors' minds.
Rather than fleeing, however, investors can use the market's recent bout of turmoil to add to defensive positions. One sector which may prove attractive in the near term is health care. Over the past six months this sector has lagged the broader indices considerably as the market's relentless climb caused investors to pour into riskier asset classes. Although unloved at this point, if these global economic issues present the markets with hurdles in the coming weeks, this market segment and its stability will likely fall into favor once again.
Health care providers and biotechnology, in particular, appear to be two areas of the health care sector which could offer protection.
Investors can tap into these two industries through the
iShares Dow Jones U.S. Healthcare Providers Index Fund
iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology Index Fund
. These two funds have already seen a nice jump, ascending higher in our short-term momentum rankings.
IHF and IBB are designed to track baskets comprised of companies hailing from their particular industries. IHF's index is headlined by bellwethers, such as
. IBB meanwhile lists
as some of its largest positions. Both funds' indices are well diversified, with IHF and IBB boasting 50 and 127 holdings, respectively.
The heavy exposure to the stable, large-cap stocks provided by these two funds will prove essential to weathering economic storms down the road. In the past, we have seen that even though the health care sector as a whole is typically viewed as conservative, certain individual components tend to behave in a volatile manner.
On a number of occasions during the past year, the markets have watched companies hailing from the biotechnology industry swing in a wild fashion due to events such as drug approvals or rejections and earnings reports. For instance, in October 2010, shares of
tumbled over 40% in a single day after the FDA rejected approval of the company's diabetes drug, Bydureon.
IBB's index has exposure to Amylin and other vulnerable members of the biotechnology industry. However, by setting aside only small slices of the fund's total portfolio to firms such as AMLN, the fund will be able to offset any gut-wrenching, roller coaster performances down the road. AMLN represents only 0.5% of the fund's total portfolio.
Although I remain confident that the markets are on the road to recovery, I am not blind to the fact that global economic tensions could produce turmoil in the near term. Defensive sectors, such as health care, should remain on investors' radars in the coming weeks as market analysts and commentators continue to debate the overall effect that global political and economic events will have on the domestic marketplace.
At the time of publication, Dion Money Management held no positions in any of the securities mentioned.
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.