As we muddle through this latest pullback in the stock market, it's interesting to note the sectors that have held up best. In fact, it's often those same sectors that lead the charge off the bottom once the market retracement is complete.

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The three worst-performing sectors during the pullback are the materials, energy and technology groups, each of which has dropped more than 10%. Below we highlight three highly ranked stocks from the sectors that have declined the least since the broad averages topped out several weeks ago, along with key financial information and relevant recent developments.

Best of the Bunch
As the rest of the market is down roughly 9% since highs hit on January 19th, the consumer staples segment has lost less than 5%. And perhaps the best overall pick from that sector is Universal Corporation (NYSE:UVV), an operator in the smoky realms of the tobacco conglomerates.

Universal has a market cap of slightly over a billion dollars, trades with a price/earnings ratio of 8.95 and yields an annual 4%. For those looking for more evidence of strength, price/sales comes in at a low 0.47 and price to book a competitive 1.25.

Universal stock put on better than 85% in gains since bottoming in March of 2009, besting the Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR Fund (NYSE:XLP) by more than 50% over that period.

Top 'O the Telecoms
The second-best performer among the of the major market sectors has been the telecoms, which as a group fell just over 6% from the market top. And of the standouts in the sector, Communications Systems (Nasdaq:JCS) is perhaps most noteworthy. JCS pays a 4.7% annual dividend and trades with a one-year trailing P/E of 16.

In the last 12 months, JCS stock has appreciated by more than 41%, outdoing the iShares Dow Jones US Telecom Index (NYSE:IYZ), which rose only 11.15% over the same period.

The Roar of the Markets
In the third-best performing sector, the consumer discretionaries (which are down roughly 6.75%), hospitality and leisure standout Red Lion Hotels Corporation (NYSE:RLH) sports some very compelling fundamentals. Price to sales on the stock is 0.62 and price to book 0.58. For the last twelve months RLH is up 118%. (For more information about consumer discretionary investment ideas, refer to Using Consumer Spending As A Market Indicator.)

The Wrap
When the rebound ensues off the current pullback, look for the best-performing sectors on the downside to be those that attract the most attention on the way up. The above mentioned issues are good candidates to lead the pack when that turnaround ultimately comes. (Can mutual fund managers successfully pick stocks or are you better off with an index fund? Read Is Stock Picking A Myth?)

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