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Topping off our list is fast-food giant McDonald's ( MCD). With more than 33,500 locations in 119 countries, McDonald's is clearly the standard bearer in the quick service restaurant business. A few years ago, the McDonald's brand was tired. Challenged by an unhealthy image as the lowest rung on the restaurant ladder, McDonald's poured cash and effort into revamping its stores, adding healthier options, and upping its premium food offerings.

While the Big Mac is still big business for McDonald's, it's now flanked by Angus burgers and McCafe drinks that can compete with anything a Starbucks (SBUX) barista can dish out. That new positioning proved prescient for MCD because it shored up the brand at the exact same time that swarms of consumers were trading down in their eating out. As a result, McDonald's was one of the few names that actually thrived during the recession.

Financially, the firm is in stellar shape, bolstered by a business model unique among restaurant chains that has the MCD owning most of the land that franchised stores are built on. One result is that McDonald's generates plenty of cash -- enough to support a bigger dividend than the 70 cents Mickey D's currently pays.

>>5 Huge Stocks Ready to Slingshot Higher

Investors looking for a defensive core income holding can look no further than McDonald's. The timing is good too -- McDonald's is one of five Rocket Stocks that I talked about on July 23.

McDonald's also shows up on a recent list of 5 Volatile Stocks to Buy More Of.

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