Healthcare stocks have been doing well lately, even though healthcare is recognized as one of the more defensive market sectors. For the past year, the group is up nearly 33%, as measured by the Healthcare SPDR ETF (NYSE: XLV). Against the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSE: SPY), which gained nearly 50% for the year, healthcare's rise is noteworthy, especially with speculation about how the new reforms will impact the industry. Furthermore, investors should note that generally corporations in the healthcare industry carry smaller price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios than those in other sectors.

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Year to date, the rise has been nearly 4% as compared to the broad market's 5.35% increase for the same period. Below, we highlight three healthcare performers who stand out from a fundamental value perspective.

Vaccines That Pay

Sanofi-Aventis SA (NYSE: SNY) is a Paris-based pharmaceutical giant that specializes in vaccine production. The company's shares have risen by almost 36% in the past year and currently trade with a dividend yield of 4.37%. The present P/E ratio is 13.78, and the market cap is just a tad lower than $100 billion.

Last month, Sanofi-Aventis completed its acquisition of Chattem, thereby acquiring several popular American health-related brands and gaining a solid base from which to grow in the U.S. The deal was worth $1.9 billion and includes the well-known Gold Bond and Selsun Blue products.

Second Pharma Giant Also Acquiring

Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) is another healthcare heavyweight, with a market cap in excess of $139 billion and a business that's focused in a number of different areas including pharmaceuticals, human and animal vaccines as well as a well-known line of consumer healthcare products.

In the last year, Pfizer shares were up 26%. They currently trade with a multiple of 12.73 times last year's earnings and carry a yield of 4.17% per annum.

Grupo Casa Saba SA (NYSE: SAB) is a Mexican distributor of health, beauty and pharmaceutical products. Last year the company's stock gained 25%. It currently sports a 2.95% annual dividend and trades with a competitive P/E of just 10.97.

SAB's price-to-book ratio is also attractive at 0.82, significantly below the industry and broader S&P 500. The company's market cap is $437 billion.

The Wrap

Healthcare shares are largely defensive plays, like utilities and telecoms, and those issues that carry strong dividends offer even more safety to investors concerned about the bull market's sustainability. The above three stocks lead the healthcare sector, offering some of the best fundamentals that group has to offer. (To learn about implications of the new healthcare reforms, refer to 10 Ways The New Healthcare Bill May Affect You.)

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