Today's 3 Best Stocks in the S&P 500

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Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

So the U.S. government is officially shut down, and the stock market soared. Raise your hand if you saw that one coming. Stop that... put your hand down. No, you didn't!

Shrugging off the uncertainties surrounding the potential for a government shutdown, the broad-based S&P 500 rallied for only the second time in the past nine days. The true impetus sending it higher is the expectation that the shutdown will be short-lived. As my Foolish colleague Alex Dumortier pointed out yesterday, a government shutdown isn't something that has meaningfully affected the stock market in the past. Conversely, I've taken the standpoint that a government shutdown could harm your investments in a number of ways. Regardless of how you want to view it over the long run, today's certainty of a shutdown, as odd as that may seem, is enough reason to push stocks higher.


One bit of sour news, though, on the data front: U.S. auto sales dipped for the first time in two years. There were two fewer shopping days in this September period, so that may have come into play. Ford was one of the bright spots with September sales up 5.8% while General Motors walked the plank, with sales dipping 11%. If there is a pot of gold to be found here, it's that GM's sales weakened because of lack of new Sierra and Silverado truck supply. In other words, these remodeled trucks of GM's appear to be selling very well. Now if they could just speed that production along...

Overall, the S&P 500 advanced by 13.45 points (0.80%) to close at 1,695 on the nose -- its best day in two weeks.

Leading the charge higher today is content streaming kingpin Netflix , which gained 5% following a price target hike by research firm MKM Partners to $370 from $320. The reason behind the boost relates to an expectation by MKM that overseas streaming subscriptions will surprise to the upside when Netflix reports its earnings in the upcoming quarter. Its push away from DVDs to streaming wasn't pretty, but it's working really well when it comes to subscriber additions. Now if we could just get some substantially positive free cash flow (hint, hint!) to back up this enormous valuation!

Despite no company-specific news, solar panel producer First Solar tacked on a 4.8% gain. Chinese solar stocks vaulted higher yesterday after the Chinese government began lining up projects for the struggling sector. While this news seems to be more contained within China, it also alludes to the utter dominance of First Solar in the U.S. and in some overseas markets. First Solar's huge net cash position and the imposition of anti-dumping tariffs against previously cheaper Chinese solar products in key markets has made it very difficult for indebted and supply-glutted Chinese solar manufacturers to compete directly with First Solar.

Finally, drugstore Walgreen added 4.6% after reporting robust growth in its fourth-quarter earnings report. For the quarter, it reported earnings growth of 86% year over year, adjusted EPS of $0.73, and 5% revenue growth to $17.94 billion. Comparatively, Wall Street had been looking for $17.96 billion in sales and $0.72 in EPS. Ultimately, Walgreen produced record free cash flow and revenue this year, and with the kickoff of Obamacare's state- and federally run health exchanges today, it could be in line for a surge in pharmacy prescriptions in as early as three months from now. I'd suggest keeping a close eye on Walgreen.

Is this what takes Netflix to $400?
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The article Today's 3 Best Stocks in the S&P 500 originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Ford and Netflix. It also recommends General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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