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CNBC's Jim Cramer has been pinpointing the most investable stocks in sectors from health care to energy, and on Wednesday, he turned to what he called "the most fraught cohort in this entire market": the industrials.
"If there's one thing I know from running a hedge fund, it's that the industrials become very tough to own when interest rates are rising," the "Mad Money" host said after the Federal Reserve reaffirmed its aggressive rate hike agenda.
"The Fed thinks the economy got too hot and they want to cool it down," he continued. "But the industrials do really well in a hot economy; they do much worse in a colder economy."
Cramer didn't want investors to avoid the group entirely, but asked them to be more selective. He noted that some subgroups, like aerospace, are still holding up despite others, like the auto industry, seeing widespread weakness.
Here are the top five industrial stocks he believes are the most investable right now:
Railroad operator Union Pacific took first place in Cramer's ranking. The stock, which Cramer considers to be "best of breed," has notched an almost 12 percent gain so far this year.
"Even if we get the Fed-mandated slowdown that many people are worried about, I think the stock might be worth owning. Remember, part of the reason the Fed's so eager to tighten is that transportation costs are out of control, " he said. "Every time you hear about rising transportation costs, that's good news for the rails."
Cramer noted that he preferred Union Pacific's stock over fellow railroad giant CSX, which reported better-than-expected earnings on Tuesday.
"I think Union Pacific is the better buy. [The] stock's selling for only 17 times next year's earnings estimates thanks to last week's meltdown," he said. "The company reports next Thursday. I've got a good feeling about this one after what we heard from CSX."
In second place was aerospace colossus Boeing, shares of which are still up 24 percent for the year despite last week's sell-off and lingering concerns around how trade disputes could affect the company's business in China.
But Boeing's business cycle "transcends the gyrations of the broader economy" because its key driver is the "long-term rise of the global middle class," Cramer said.
As consumers in developing countries get wealthier, they spend on more luxuries, including air travel, he explained. That trend is directly correlated to business at Boeing and its only major commercial competitor, Airbus.
"That's why the demand for these planes vastly outstrips the supply. Two makers! Boeing's given us a series of fantastic quarters — I think we'll get another one soon — but, most importantly, the company has nearly 5,900 planes in its backlog. [...] That's years and years worth of production," he said. "In short, aerospace is so hot that I think Boeing's worth buying into weakness."
Aerospace and defense play Textron, which Cramer likes so much that he's been upping his charitable trust's position in the stock, placed third on the power ranking.
The company, which makes business jets, alternative vehicles like golf carts, helicopters and defense products like drones and simulations, is positioned to benefit from U.S. military spending increases, Cramer said. Better yet, it just announced a deal to sell planes to Berkshire Hathaway's NetJets.
"This is a high-quality company that's much more resilient than your typical industrial, yet Textron's stock is down more than 11 percent from its highs," Cramer said. "The company reports tomorrow morning. Textron's stock got clobbered on a very good quarter last time, although the stock quickly bounced right back and [went] right through where it was. It could do the same thing again — that'll allow you to get in at a better price than we've got right now."
Admitting it was "kind of a cheat," Cramer dubbed airline operator United Continental fourth on his industrial power ranking.
"Are the airlines really industrials? Well, as far as the is concerned, they are, " he said. "While many of these names have been clobbered this year, UAL has surged higher. [...] Why? Because the company has worked relentlessly to understand and connect with its customers."
Plus, based on United's third-quarter earnings beat, the company's investments in the business seem to be paying off. Shares of the United Airlines parent surged 6 percent on Tuesday after the report.
"Even after today's run, I think the stock has more upside. The darned thing's so incredibly cheap; it sells for merely seven times [its] 2020 earnings forecast," Cramer said.
Another defense play, Harris Corp., rounded out Cramer's ranking. The defense communications and electronics specialist was a "special case" on the list because of its impending merger with rival L3 Technologies, announced Sunday.
"I think that makes this a very attractive defense play," Cramer said.
"Defense spending is the one thing no one in Washington ever wants to cut — [the] president reiterated that stance just this afternoon — and the combined company will be a major supplier of components for all sorts of essential projects like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, " he continued. "I think it makes a lot of sense for these two companies to join forces, which is why I'm a fan of Harris even though the stock exploded higher on the news."
Even with the market's increased volatility and the questions surrounding how industrials will fare amid a full-blown trade war, Cramer didn't want investors to shy away from the brightest lights of the sector.
"Bottom line? If you want exposure to the industrial sector, I recommend sticking with companies like Union Pacific, Boeing, Textron, United Airlines and Harris Corp. that can keep climbing even if we get a Fed-mandated slowdown," he said.