Dow stocks Pfizer and UnitedHealth could be safety plays amid market volatility

In a wild week for the Dow, one corner of the index has proven immune to the worst of the volatility: health care.

Dow stocks Pfizer, UnitedHealth and Merck remain within reach of 52-week highs, while the Dow hangs 5 percent from its own.

Two of those Dow stocks look like a buy to Erin Gibbs, portfolio manager at S&P Global Market Intelligence.

"Pfizer and UnitedHealth both have really above-average earnings growth coming into next year, about 13 percent, and even though they're trading at 52-week highs, there's still a pretty reasonable valuation," Gibbs said Wednesday on CNBC's "Trading Nation."

UnitedHealth trades at nearly 19 times forward earnings, while Pfizer trades at 14.5 times. The two straddle the S&P 500's 16 times multiple.

"We like Pfizer because they've actually just done a big restructuring, we think that they're able to potentially sell off some of their generic drug pricing group," Gibbs said. "Our second favorite would also be with UnitedHealth just because they've had really good organic growth membership."

Matt Maley, equity strategist at Miller Tabak, said a fading headwind should give further rise to the entire group.

"Back in 2015, Hillary Clinton came out and made these comments about going after the health-care companies for their drug pricing issues and of course everybody started jumping on the bandwagon," Maley said Wednesday on "Trading Nation." "Everybody thought this was going to be big long-term problem."

President Donald Trump also voiced support for a political solution to high drug prices in May, though Maley said "it didn't have much teeth at all."

"As we've learned, the president focuses on one issue at a time. He started with Obamacare, then it was taxes and then it became, of course, trade so that theme seems to be pushed to the side. I think that's helped the group a lot," said Maley.

Since the beginning of May, the XLV health care ETF has rallied 13 percent. By comparison, the Dow and the S&P 500 are up 5 percent.

Disclosure: S&P Global Market Intelligence holds PFE. Gibbs does not personally own PFE nor UNH.

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Michael Santoli

Michael Santoli joined CNBC in October 2015 as a Senior Markets Commentator, based at the network's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.  Santoli brings his extensive markets expertise to CNBC's Business Day programming, with a regular appearance on CNBC's “Closing Bell (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET).   In addition, he contributes to CNBCand CNBC PRO, writing regular articles and creating original digital videos.

Previously, Santoli was a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance, where he wrote analysis and commentary on the stock market, corporate news and the economy. He also appeared on Yahoo Finance video programs, where he offered insights on the most important business stories of the day, and was a regular contributor to CNBC and other networks.

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