Dow futures flash crashed overnight and were down nearly 200 points Friday morning after reports House Speaker John Boehner told House Republicans to head home for Christmas after he failed to garner enough support for the fallback "Plan B" fiscal cliff deal.
Investors are gearing up with the fiscal cliff about a week away. Those who are risk-averse are seeking defensive areas of the market, such as the following sector exchange traded funds.
"The defensive sectors generally act as a safe haven and can be a great option for investors who desire to play safe. When it comes to investing in defensive sectors, utility and consumer staples come first to mind," Zacks Equity Research wrote.
Classic defensive sectors such as utilities and consumer staples are back in focus as investors seek stable, cyclical plays that can pad their portfolio from major damage, should the markets react to the expiration of government spending and tax cuts.
The Consumer Staples Select Sector Fund (NYSEARCA:XLP) tracks the S&P Consumer Staples Select Sector Index, one of the oldest indices in this area. The fund invests its $6,483.7 million assets in a small basket of 44 stocks, and has lots of liquidity to keep trading in and out efficiently, reports Zacks. The 0.18% expense ratio beat out the following Vanguard ETF.
The Vanguard Consumer Staples (NYSEARCA:VDC) is another fund that tracks this sector of the market, at the low price of 0.19%. VDC tracks the MSCI U.S. Investable Market Consumer Staples 25/50 Index and tracks a broader basket of 109 consumer staples stocks. The fund has a total asset base of $1.2 billion. The ETF tracks companies that are direct to consumers and those that are sensitive to consumer spending habits.
The Utilities Select Sector SPDR (NYSEARCA:XLU) has posted small losses as we near the end of 2012, but not because of anything more than the upcoming fiscal cliff. The dividend focus of sector ETFs has caused investors to pile out of this area of the market because of the fear of Bush-era tax cuts expiring. In fact, many dividend focused ETFs have been hurt by the headlines of the fiscal cliff. XLU has a 4% dividend yield and has lost 7.9% over the past month.
The iShares Dow Jones US Utilities Sector Fund (NYSEARCA:IDU) has a 3.2% yield and has lost about 7.3% over the past month. The 60-stock index is more robust than XLU, but generally tracks the same companies that XLU holds as top assets.
The recent sell-off is most likely the outcome of the uncertainty in stock markets and the unknown. Utilities and consumer staples are sectors that will be stable over the long term and will provide consistent diversification and stability in a portfolio.
Tisha Guerrero contributed to this article.