Investors got conflicting reports Friday about the health of the U.S. consumer. Retail sales jumped a better-than-expected 1.1% in September, but a gauge of consumer sentiment posted an unexpected decline in October.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg said its consumer comfort index is hovering near a record low. [ETFs and Consumer Sentiment]

With so much uncertainty over the economy and further Federal Reserve stimulus, many investors are favoring dividend stocks and ETFs tracking defensive sectors.

As I mentioned in a recent Forbes interview, consumer ETFs are the “toilet paper and beer” trade. These are the basic consumer items that everyone needs, hence the defensive nature of the sector.

Consumer staples ETFs are less sensitive to economic cycles and may also provide diversification benefits.

The sector is made up of companies that provide household items such as food, beverages and tobacco. A top consumer staples ETF holding is Proctor & Gamble (NYSE: PG), for example. [Consumer Staples ETFs: Investing in Safe Companies]