Shares in Reckitt Benckiser(LSE: RB) have risen by over 6% after it released an encouraging set of full-year results. It posted better-than-expected sales for the 2015 financial year, with like-for-like (LFL) sales increasing by an impressive 6% versus the previous year. It saw a particularly strong showing from its health division, which recorded a rise in LFL sales of 14% and this helped Reckitt Benckiser's adjusted net income to rise by 15% on a constant currency basis.
This figure was aided by gross margin expansion of 140 basis points, which increased to 59.1% for the period. And with continuing investment in brand equity set to take place, its long-term future appears to be very bright.
Of course, Reckitt Benckiser has also warned today of the potential for challenging trading conditions during 2016. However, with the company's product offering being biased towards staples, it remains a very appealing defensive option. This is especially the case due to the high degree of uncertainty that's present in the markets at the current time. With Reckitt Benckiser trading on a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 24.6, it appears to be expensive but may still be of interest given the volatile nature of the FTSE 100 in 2016.
Also offering excellent defensive appeal is utility company Pennon(LSE: PNN) that recently updated the market on its performance. It's on track to meet full-year expectations and given the high degree of fear among investors, the relative resilience and robust nature of Pennon's operations could prove to be a major ally in the coming months. With the company offering a yield of 4.3% as well as being on target to increase dividends per share by 4% above RPI inflation over the next four years, it remains an income stock with huge appeal.
Certainly, the utility sector could be hurt by rising interest rates over the medium term. That's because with Pennon and its peers generally having highly leveraged balance sheets, the market may become concerned surrounding their ability to service debts based on current earnings outlooks. However, with interest rates unlikely to move upwards at a rapid rate, Pennon still seems to be a strong buy right now.
Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline(LSE: GSK) remains a worthy defensive purchase too. Its recent update showed that sales rose by 6% in the last financial year. And with the company having a robust and well-diversified pipeline, further growth is on the cards over the medium term.
In fact, in 2016 GlaxoSmithKline is forecast to increase its top line by 3.7% and this has the potential to build on the improved investor sentiment that has been present since the turn of the year. Evidence of this can be seen in GlaxoSmithKline's share price performance, with it beating the FTSE 100 by 8% year-to-date.
In addition, GlaxoSmithKline continues to offer an excellent yield and while its dividends are set to flatline over the next couple of years as it prioritises internal investment, it still yields a whopping 5.7%. This enhances its defensive appeal and makes it a sound long-term buy - especially if markets continue to offer little in the way of certainty.
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Peter Stephens owns shares of GlaxoSmithKline and Pennon Group. The Motley Fool UK has recommended GlaxoSmithKline. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.