Health care is the only major sector to earn positive gains since the stock market topped out last month, suggesting that sentiment has shifted to a more traditional bear-market perspective.
The Health Care Select Sector SPDR exchange traded fund is up 1.2 percent since June 12, compared with a 6.75 percent decline for the S&P 500. Other traditionally defensive industries such as consumer staples and utilities have also outperformed, while economically sensitive industries such as energy have fared the worst.
"We're getting into the second half, and the numbers are not that great," S&P market strategist Alec Young said in an interview. "People are taking profits on cyclical high-beta stuff and running to defensives, where sales and earnings are less dependent on what happens in the economy."
Young advises investors to avoid consumer discretionary stocks and industrials. He recommends using the current pullback to accumulate energy and technology shares instead.
The drop in energy and materials stocks marks a reversal from March and April, when they led the market higher as traders priced in a sharp recovery.
The market will get the first taste of how the economy is affecting companies this afternoon when aluminum giant Alcoa reports second-quarter results. Economic reports have shown few signs of a recovery gaining momentum.
Last week, the Labor Department reported a higher-than-expected 467,000 unemployment number as initial jobless claims have yet to fall below the key 600,000 level on a weekly basis. On Monday, the Institute for Supply Management's services index had its highest reading since September but still showed contraction.
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David Russell is a reporter and writer for OptionMonster.