In this work we present a stabilized finite element method for the stationary magneto-hydrodynamic equations based on a simple algebraic version of the subgrid scale variational concept. The linearization that yields a well posed linear problem is first identified, and for this linear problem the stabilization method is designed. The key point is the correct behavior of the stabilization parameters on which the formulation depends. It is shown that their expression can be obtained only on the basis of having a correct error estimate. For the stabilization parameters chosen, a stability estimate is proved in detail, as well as the convergence of the numerical solution to the continuous one. The method is then extended to nonlinear problems and its performance checked through numerical experiments.