BOSTON (TheStreet) -- If you're worried that bad Italian bonds and beaten-down eurozone stocks will infect your portfolio, it's time to consider what may be the top investment refuge today: U.S. industrial and materials stocks.

There are a couple of issues at work to support that contention.

First, U.S. equities have just entered their best six-month period, at least according to market history. Since 1945, the

S&P 500 Index

has gained an average of 6.8% from November through April, compared with a rise of only 1.2% from May through October, according to research by S&P Capital IQ.

Even more compelling is that since 1990, stocks in the industrial and materials sectors have beaten the S&P 500's 6.7% increase 76% of the time from November to April, 14 percentage points more than the second-place industry. Materials shares returned an average of 10.4% in that period and industrials climbed 9.4%.

Also worth noting is that industrial and materials stocks do best in the early stages of an economic recovery, which could be the case today.

But so far this year, industrials and materials have been losers. As of Nov. 8, industrials stocks are down 2.9% and materials are down 6.3% versus the S&P 500's 1.5% gain.

And it's important to note that the volatile and highly correlated markets of today behave quite differently than those of even 10 to 15 years ago and, as such, cast a shadow on the worthiness of long-term statistics.

Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P, said in a research note this week detailing the historic trends that, "if the flow this year mimics that of other years, it may be better to adopt a more cyclical mindset, despite the planet's present plethora of perplexing problems."

Indeed, those problems are continuing. Alec Young, S&P Capital IQ's global equity strategist, told


that even though the U.S. economy appears to be moving away from the threat of another recession, "there's just no getting away from Europe" and what the impact of a failed Italian economy could mean to stocks worldwide.

His firm's latest 12-month target for the S&P 500 is 1,360, a 10.6% premium to the current level, "much lower than most Wall Street firms," Young said, "but we're still looking for stocks to move higher."

The materials sector represents a wide range of commodity-related manufacturing industries, including: chemicals, construction materials, metals, minerals, mining, glass, paper, forest products and related packaging products.

Top-performing exchange traded funds (ETFs) in the sector include a slew of gold-focused funds led by

iShares Comex Gold Trust

(IAU) - Get iShares Gold Trust Report

, up 26% this year. The leading materials ETF is the

Vanguard Materials Index Fund

(VAW) - Get Vanguard Materials ETF Report

, down 4.7%.

The industrials sector includes companies involved in aerospace and defense, construction, engineering and building products, electrical equipment and industrial machinery. The sector's stocks grew by an average of 24% in 2010, versus a 12.8% increase for the S&P 500. Defense and aerospace companies have done the best of the category and are up an average of 6% this year.

Among ETFs in the industrials sector, the

Vanguard Industrials Index Fund

(VIS) - Get Vanguard Industrials ETF Report

, is down 3.5% this year, while

the iShares Dow Jones U.S. Aerospace and Defense Index Fund

(ITA) - Get iShares U.S. Aerospace & Defense ETF Report

is up 3.5%.

The following are

10 of the top-performing materials and industrials sector stocks




(VHI) - Get Valhi, Inc. Report

is a Texas-based conglomerate that makes everything from security locks and ergonomic work stations to titanium ingots used in industrial manufacturing. It also operates a hazardous waste disposal business. Its shares are up 173% this year, giving it a $7 billion market value.


TheStreet Recommends

Terra Nitrogen


produces and distributes nitrogen fertilizer products to agricultural and industrial customers. Its shares have gained 81% this year, giving it a $3.3 billion market value.


Buckeye Technologies

(BKI) - Get Black Knight, Inc. Report

, a $1.3 billion company in the forest products industry, has seen its shares rise 52% this year. The company manufactures and distributes cellulose-based specialty products.


Royal Gold's

(RGLD) - Get Royal Gold, Inc. Report

shares have gained 48% this year, giving it a $4.4 billion market value. The company owns royalty interests in various producing, development, evaluation, and exploration stage projects in the quest for gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc metals.



(ECL) - Get Ecolab Inc. Report

, the global leader in the cleaning and sanitation industry, develops and markets products and services for the hospitality, food-service, health-care and industrial markets. Its shares have gained 12% this year, giving it a market value of almost $13 billion. The shares carry a projected dividend yield of 1.25%. The company has an amazing 15-year average annualized return of 13%.



(KEX) - Get Kirby Corporation Report

, provides inland waterways marine transportation and diesel engine services in the U.S. Its shares are up 43% this year, giving it a market value of $3.5 billion.



(FAST) - Get Fastenal Company Report

is a wholesaler and retailer of industrial and construction supplies. It has 2010 revenue of $2.2 billion. Its shares are up 36% this year, giving it a market value of $12.8 billion. It has a 1.38% dividend yield.


Precision Castparts


is one of the few providers of highly complex castings that are used to make jet engines and power turbines that have to have structural integrity under intense thermal conditions. Its shares have risen 22% this year, giving it a market value of $24 billion. Its shares' average annual return over 15 years is 19.5%, almost three times the yearly average of the S&P 500.




is the largest industrial gas supplier in North America and South America. Its shares have risen 8.6% this year, and a 10-year average annual return of 16.4%. It has a $30 billion market value and its shares carry a 1.96 projected dividend yield.


H.B. Fuller

(FUL) - Get H.B. Fuller Company Report

formulates, manufactures and markets adhesives, sealants, paints, and other specialty chemical products worldwide. Its adhesives include thermoplastic, water-based, and solvent-based products. Its shares are up 11% this year, giving it a $1 billion market value. Over 15 years, its average annual return is 6.3%.

>>To see these stocks in action, visit the

10 Stocks Poised for Rebound

portfolio on Stockpickr.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.