The materials sector includes companies engaged in the discovery, development, and processing of raw materials, which are used across many other sectors and industries. Materials stocks include manufacturers of products as varied as plastic, fertilizer, paper, concrete, and metals. Some prominent names in the materials sector include Dupont de Nemours Inc. (DD), Ecolab Inc. (ECL), and Dow Inc. (DOW). The materials sector, as measured by the Materials Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLB), underperformed the S&P 500 by a wide margin in the last 12 months. XLB posted a 12-month trailing total return of 18.2% versus the S&P's 31.6% as of January 3.

Below, we'll examine the top three stocks in the materials sector for best value, fastest earnings growth, and most momentum.

Materials Stocks with the Best Value

Here are the materials stocks in the S&P 500 with the lowest 12-month trailing price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio in the sector. Because profits can be returned to shareholders in the form of dividends and buybacks, a low P/E ratio shows you’re paying less for each dollar of profit generated.

Materials Stocks with the Best Value
  Price ($) Market Cap ($B) 12-Month Trailing P/E Ratio
Nucor Corp. (NUE) 55.12 16.7 9.4
LyondellBasell Industries NV (LYB) 93.86 31.3 9.8
Albemarle Corp. (ALB) 72.61 7.7 13.5
Source: Investopedia
  • Nucor Corp.: Nucor is a manufacturer of steel and steel products, among which are carbon and alloy steel, steel joints, steel deck, and metal building systems.
  • LyondellBasell Industries NV: LyondellBasell is chemical company based in the Netherlands, engaging in the refining and production of plastic resins and other chemicals. These are used in the manufacturing including lightweight plastics, construction materials, automotive components, durable textiles, and bio fuels. The company just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation ADS (SNP) to form a 50/50 joint venture that will expand Asian business interests.
  • Albemarle Corp.: Albermarle is a producer of specialty chemicals, which are used in the production of consumer electronics, petroleum refining, utilities, packaging, construction, among other things.

Materials Stocks with the Fastest Earnings Growth

Here are the materials stocks in the S&P 500 with the highest year-over-year (YOY) earnings per share (EPS) growth for the most recent quarter. Rising earnings show that a company’s business is growing and is generating more money that it can reinvest or return to shareholders.

Materials Stocks with the Fastest Earnings Growth
  Price ($) Market Cap ($B) EPS Growth (%)
CF Industries Holdings Inc. (CF) 46.40 10.1 123.1
Sherwin-Williams Co. (SHW) 571.85 52.8 65.6
Martin Marietta Materials Inc. (MLM) 276.61 17.3 39.0
Source: Investopedia; CF Holdings, Sherwin-Williams, and Martin Marietta Materials Investor Relations
  • CF Industries Holdings Inc.: CF Industries engages in the manufacture and distribution of nitrogen and phosphate fertilizer products worldwide.
  • Sherwin-Williams Co.: Sherwin-Williams develops, manufactures, and distributes paint, coatings, and related products. The company sells its products to professional, industrial, commercial, and retail customers.
  • Martin Marietta Materials Inc.: Martin Marietta Materials provides aggregates for the construction industry, including crushed stone, sand, and gravel. The company also engages in the manufacture of magnesia-based products used in industrial, agricultural, and environmental applications.

Materials Stocks with the Most Momentum

These are the materials stocks in the S&P 500 that had the greatest total return over the past 12 months.

Materials Stocks with the Most Momentum
  Price ($) Market Cap ($B) 12-Month Trailing Total Return (%)
Martin Marietta Materials Inc. (MLM) 276.61 17.3 63.3
FMC Corp. (FMC) 99.88 13.0 56.5
Air Products & Chemicals Inc. (APD) 231.14 51.0 48.0
S&P 500 N/A N/A 31.6
Materials Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLB) N/A N/A 18.2
Source: Investopedia, Yahoo Finance
  • Martin Marietta Materials Inc.: See above for company description.
  • FMC Corp.: FMC is a diversified chemical company serving agricultural, consumer, and industrial markets. The company's products include herbicides, insecticides, harvest aids, and other crop chemicals used for a variety of agricultural products. COO Mark Douglas will take the reins as CEO on June 1, 2020 when current CEO Pierre Brondeau steps down and becomes executive chairman.
  • Air Products & Chemicals Inc.: Air Products & Chemicals is a company engaged in the manufacture and distribution of atmospheric and specialty gases, as well as other related products. The company provides oxygen, nitrogen, argon, helium, polyurethane, epoxy curatives, and resins.