So far in 2013, the U.S. stock market has soared higher on hopes that the economic recovery is finally on track to return to a more normal pace of growth. This morning's economic data, which included the final take on fourth-quarter GDP growth -- just 0.4% -- as well as rising jobless claims and a slower expansion in manufacturing activity, seemed to provide evidence to the contrary, yet investors nevertheless reacted favorably to news that banks in Cyprus reopened for business. By 10:55 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) were up 43 points, or 0.29%, potentially heading for another record high and set to close the quarter up more than 11%.
One big question for the coming quarter is whether stocks will hold on to their gains or follow last year's script of having a massive sell-off in April. On the plus side, consumer-oriented stocks continued to do well. McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) and Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) have both climbed about 0.8%. With investors getting increasingly nervous about the rising market, defensive stocks have gained greatly in popularity, and both McDonald's and Coca-Cola tend to trade with less volatility than the overall market. Even though both companies have faced business-related pressures, including falling sales and concerns about obesity in the U.S., their solid dividends have led investors to pile in, making their shares somewhat expensive on a valuation basis but still offering ballast against a potential stock market reversal.
Yet the conundrum conservative investors face right now is that stocks that have traditionally been more volatile may nevertheless provide more of a margin of safety against a possible downturn in the stock market. Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), which are both down slightly this morning, certainly wouldn't make anyone's list of defensively oriented stocks, especially as both companies face the challenges of adapting their legacy of leadership to rapidly changing conditions in the technology industry. But with dirt-cheap multiples, the stocks are priced as if the giants will never successfully catch up with the tech revolution. Anything better than a worst-case scenario could produce strong gains for investors, even if the overall stock market's bull run comes to an end.