Today's 3 Best Stocks


All good things must come to an end, and the S&P 500's eight-day winning streak is now history. Mixed economic data and mild profit taking were enough to push the broader market index modestly lower for the day.

Pending homes sales took the wind out of the market's sails early this morning with a 4.3% month-over-month decline in December. Pending sales are still nearly 7% higher than last year, but a sudden lack of inventory on the market appears to be sacking near-term hopes for building material suppliers such as Weyerhaeuser , which finished the day down nearly 3%. Homebuilders are going to be particularly cautious about ramping up production and overextending themselves as they did last decade. This means Weyerhaeuser and its peers' profit estimates could wind up being a bit overoptimistic. For the day, the S&P 500 ended lower by 2.78 points (-0.18%) to close at 1,500.18.

Even with the modest downdraft, three companies, in particular, found plenty of room to charge higher.

The day's big winner was Hess , which announced its intention to sell its storage terminal network and exit the refining business completely. It's estimated that the sale of Hess' storage facilities, located on the East Coast, could free up around $1 billion in capital and will leave the company as a pure oil and gas exploration play. The move makes a lot of sense given that refining margins are often lower than E&P margins and the company's liquid assets in the Bakken region look promising. Shares of Hess advanced 6% on the news.

Printing service and information technology specialist Xerox crept its way into the plus column, rising 4%, following an upgrade from BMO Capital Markets to "outperform" from "market perform." The covering analyst, Keith Bachman, noted improving operating margins and cited the chance that a diverse capital allocation could lead to a positive 2013. As usual, I often advise against paying too much credence to analyst upgrades and downgrades, but this is one I wholeheartedly agree with. Just last week, I made my case for why Xerox could be a big turnaround candidate in 2013, especially with its move into handling Medicaid payments in the state of California. I'll be looking for continued momentum higher from Xerox.

Finally, biotechnology company Biogen Idec rose just shy of 3% after its fourth-quarter earnings results and 2013 guidance impressed Wall Street. For the quarter, revenue rose 7% to $1.42 billion, although EPS came up $0.06 shy primarily because of a $0.12 tax charge incurred from an error in previous returns. Sales expectations next year call for 10% growth with EPS in the range of $7.15-$7.25. Wall Street had expected sales growth of about 9% and EPS of $7.27. The bigger news was the expected launch of BG-12, Biogen's potential blockbuster multiple sclerosis drug that's set to launch in March. According to ISI Group analyst Mark Schoenbaum, Biogen's indirect sales estimate for BG-12 is $350 million to $450 million this year. That'd be a fantastic start for BG-12 and would certainly support Biogen's already pricey valuation.

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