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Tickers in this Article: DHR, MMC, HIG, AAPL, GOOG, POT, UTX, GE
By now, everyone is fully aware of just how strongly the market has been coming off its March lows. But does a market rally make it safe for investors to eschew boring stocks in favor of high-beta issues in sexy industries? Maybe, maybe not.

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The answer may lie in what investors consider boring. Boring, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. Obviously, there aren't many investors that consider the likes of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) or Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) boring. Apple and Google operate in the high-tech space and their products appeal to the cutting-edge crowd. On the other hand, most investors would consider fertilizer to be a boring industry. Fertilizer certainly is boring in comparison to iPods and search engines, but watch a stock like Potash (NYSE: POT) trade on a daily basis and you'll see it is anything but boring.

Since boring is often up for debate, we're going to take a look at three stocks that are likely to be considered universally boring, but may have market-beating potential.
Company Forward P/E YTD Performance
Marsh & McLennan (NYSE: MMC) 13.4 -3%
Hartford Financial (NYSE: HIG) 6.1 40%
Danaher (NYSE: DHR) 17.4 10%


Not Invited to the Party
Marsh & McLennan is the second-largest U.S. insurance broker, but that girth apparently has been enough to stoke investor interest in the shares as the flat year-to-date performance indicates. Insurance isn't the most exciting business to be in, but that may not be a virtue as Marsh & McLennan's most recent quarterly results attest to. The company lost $193 million, or 37 cents a share, in the second quarter compared with a profit of $65 million, or 12 cents a share, a year earlier.

The company has been doing what it can to stave off the effects of the recession and that has included 2,000 job cuts and the sale of some non-essential businesses. Investors may be starting to warm to the Marsh & McLennan story. The stock is up 20% in the past month and that's about four times ahead of the S&P 500.

In addition, the shares only trade for 13.4 times forward earnings and yield a decent 3.4%. The dividend appears safe as the company has been significantly reducing its debt load over the past several years.

Less Boring Insurance
Hartford Financial, the property and casualty insurance giant, was one of the poster children for the financial sector's calamity in 2008. Hampered by $597 million in goodwill write-downs in 2008, Hartford shares tumbled from around $100 in early 2007 to $3.62 in March 2009. To make matters worse, Hartford had its debt ratings downgraded by both Moody's and Standard & Poor's in February and had to repay $375 million it borrowed from a commercial lending facility.

How things can change in a matter of months. Hartford's mutual fund business saw net inflows surge to $40.7 billion as of July 31. That has helped boost Hartford's shares more than 60% in the past month. The stock has almost been a seven-bagger off its March low, but Deutsche Bank recently raised its price target on Hartford to $25 from $20.

Hartford did receive $3.4 billion in TARP funds in late June and there hasn't been much talk about when the company will pay that tab, but it's fair to argue the darkest clouds have probably passed over the stock. (Learn about P&C insurers in our tutorial Intro To Insurance: Property And Casualty Insurance)

Conglomerates Are Boring, But Are the Returns?
Industrial conglomerates like General Electric (NYSE: GE) and United Technologies (NYSE: UTX) are stodgy companies, and rival Danaher can join them in terms of generating excitement. That doesn't mean the shares can't be exciting. The stock is up 10% year-to-date, but just 4% in the past three months.

There are signs that Danaher shares may be ready to take a break and the fact that insiders sold 1.3 million shares in late July isn't necessarily the most encouraging signal in the world. Another knock on Danaher is its paltry dividend. The 12-cent annual pay out substantially lags almost every other major conglomerate.

Bottom Line: Be Selectively Boring
Boring isn't always bad, but if you're going to opt for investments in mundane industries, ensure you at least get a dividend or a chance for substantial capital appreciation. On that basis, it's probably time to take a pass on Danaher and look at Marsh & McLennan. For the boring speculator in you, a small position in Hartford may also be worthwhile at this point.

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