I wouldn't pass judgment if the market volatility of the past two months convinced you to stay out of stocks. Making such a decision, however, might be the most costly mistake you'll ever make.
Instead of putting your hard-earned cash into federally insured accounts, or simply stashing it under your mattress, I suggest checking out some of the best defensive stocks our Rising Stars program has churned out over the past 10 months.
Below, I've highlighted five of our analysts' favorite stocks to ensure that your portfolio can weather the storm of uncertainty that's overshadowed our markets lately.
Philip Morris International
Fool analyst Dan Dzombak made his case for Philip Morris back in late February: "Philip Morris is the most powerful tobacco company in the world, with seven of the world's top 15 brands, including top-seller Marlboro. The company has an estimated 27% market share in its world markets -- excluding China, where only government-owned China National Tobacco is allowed to operate, and the U.S., where the company's former parent, Altria
This cigarette maker has performed exceptionally well since Dan recommended it six months ago, thumping the market by more than 20 percentage points since March 1 -- along with its above-average 3.6% dividend yield.
Philip Morris was a buy back in March, and Dan still holds it now -- meaning it deserves a place on your watchlist.
- Add Philip Morris to your watchlist.
Back on Feb. 25, Rex Moore tagged this medical specialist for his Rising Star portfolio.
Rex reasoned that Abbott was a safe, low P/E stock that had a high-yielding dividend: "It will be fun to explore the actual businesses in greater detail in future articles, but the highlights are easy. [Abbott has] been around for over 120 years and offers a broad -- make that, outstanding -- variety of consumer, health care, and pharmaceutical products."
Abbott, like Philip Morris, has held up exceptionally well since Rex wrote about it. It is beating the market by more than 15 percentage points, and it, too, offers a substantial dividend yield of 3.7%.
- Add Abbott Laboratories to your watchlist.
Alyce Lomax is handily beating her Rising Star counterparts by focusing on socially responsible investing.
She singled out Pepsi for her portfolio for a number of reasons. Chief among them are the efforts of CEO Indra Nooyi to diversify Pepsi's workforce and turn its Frito-Lay brand into a more eco-friendly venture.
Alyce goes on to say: "Pepsi's also got plenty of international growth in the works, targeting areas like Russia and China. Nooyi recently told BusinessWeek magazine that emerging markets make great 'learning labs,' through which Pepsi can devise new products and services."
Like the other two candidates thus far, Pepsi is soundly beating the market since being recommended -- this time by more than 10 percentage points. It also sports a healthy 3.2% yield for dividend-lovers.
- Add Pepsi to your watchlist.
Johnson & Johnson
Medical conglomerate Johnson & Johnson holds the distinct honor of being the only truly defensive stock to be recommended by two different Rising Stars in our program. On Feb. 25, Rex Moore picked J&J for his portfolio; on March 24, Anand Chokkavelu followed suit.
Anand, in particular, appreciated the way this behemoth of a company gives relative autonomy to all of its moving parts:
The secret to [Johnson & Johnson's] ability to offer so many health-care products so effectively is its decentralization. It allows for entrepreneurial activity under the umbrella (and financing costs) of a AAA-rated balance sheet. That's a powerful combination when done correctly.
Johnson & Johnson is beating the market by more than 15 percentage points for both Rex and Anand, who are both holding their shares and collecting the company's sweet 3.5% dividend yield in the process.
Our best defensive stock
The final stock that our Rising Stars have picked as a great defensive play happens to also have a special place in Fool co-founder Tom Gardner's heart.
He has selected the stock as one of his five "Core" stocks in his Stock Advisor service. Since selecting it in 2002, Tom's pick of this stock is whooping the market by 70 percentage points! If you'd like to find out what this stock is, I encourage you to read The Motley Fool's special free report: "The Death of Wal-Mart: The Real Cash Kings Changing the Face of Retail." Inside, you'll find out about not only Tom's defensive pick, but also a high-growth stock that aims to be the e-tailer of the future. The report is yours today, absolutely free!