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A good reason to invest in the typical habits of Americans

Only three industry sectors within the S&P 500 have beaten the broad index so far this year: consumer discretionary (11 percent), health care (11.6 percent) and ...

... consumer staples, up 3.4 percent. And in the just-started third quarter, consumer staples is up 5.6 percent, moving ahead of discretionary, up 4.78 percent over that same time period. The staples sector is now trading at an all-time high.

But recent performance in the consumer staples sector hasn't been easy to capture as a sector bet. The minimal outperformance versus the S&P 500 year to date, compared with consumer discretionary's big run, illustrates a problem for consumer staples: some really big dogs are weighing on the sector.

Wal-Mart Stores declined 16 percent year to date, through the end of the second quarter. Whole Foods Market fell 28 percent and Keurig Green Mountain more than 43 percent.

"The story here is that even though it's up a little bit more than the index and you would think people have done well, there have been big winners but a lot of junk on the other side, lots of mines," said Scott Mushkin, consumer analyst at Wolfe Research. "So you really better pick the right ones or you're not reflecting the opportunity."

With that in mind, here are three themes boosting consumer staples stocks that can help you to pick the spots in the sector that are working.

The bad habits of Americans are paying off for consumer staples investors. Leading the way have been some stocks that don't necessarily bring out the best in us—or leave the best inside us—tobacco names, liquor stocks and energy drink makers.

Monster Beverage was the No. 1 stock in the sector through the end of the second quarter, up 42 percent. Tobacco company Reynolds American was No. 2 among consumer staples, up 34 percent. But arguably the biggest trend has been how much Americans, especially younger ones, are taking to drink, and drink finer distillations.

"Liquor stocks have their own set of fundamentals," said Tim Ramey, head of consumer research at Pivotal Research Group. The whiskey sector grew for a century at a rate of plus or minus 1 percent, but in the past five years, it's been growing at high single-digit...


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