Today's 3 Best Stocks

One day after powering to an all-time record high on the broad-based S&P 500 , investors thought the euphoria was so nice that they wanted a repeat experience. Luckily for investors, today's economic data, and a select few strong earnings reports, were more than happy to oblige.

Leading the charge was this week's initial jobless claims figure, which dropped by 10.8% to a seasonally adjusted 346,000. This was well below economists' expectations, and could signal the job market is improving at a faster rate than many are forecasting.

The other half of the coin had to do with a strong performance from the retail sector, which had been a laggard of late. We'll get to that in a moment.

For the day, the S&P 500 finished higher by 5.64 points (0.36%), to close at 1,593.37, yet another fresh all-time record high.

Today was all about retail, retail, retail, with discount brand-name retailer Ross Stores leading the way. Ross shares advanced a strong 5.9% after reporting a March sales increase of 6%, and a same-store sales increase of 2% over the comparable period last year. This was well above the company's own forecast for a same-store sales decline of 1%-2%. Further, sales in the first three months of the year grew 4% (1% on a same-store basis). Ross CEO Michael Balmuth noted that its EPS results are likely to come in "slightly above the high-end of our previous range of $1.00 to $1.04" for its upcoming quarter. Ross's ability to appeal to customers with fresh and in-demand brands, as well as control its inventory, is one reason I made a recent CAPScall of outperform on the company.

A day after collapsing under the weight of a CEO change, struggling department store J.C. Penney bounced higher by 5.4%, after activist investor Bill Ackman threw his support behind new CEO Mike Ullman, calling him, "the right guy at the right time," according to a Reutersreport. However, I'm not so sure Penney's will be seeing a rebound anytime soon, with Ullman admitting that he doesn't have his ducks in a row yet as to how to turnaround the company he led from 2004 to 2011. Ullman does have good rapport with J.C. Penney's vendors, but I'm not sure that's going to be enough to coax disgruntled customers back into its stores.

Finally, Victoria's Secret owner Limited Brands jumped 4.3% after following Ross's lead, and reporting impressive March sales results. For the five-week period, net sales rose 6%, while comparable store sales ticked higher by 3%. For the rolling nine-week period, comparable sales are up 3%, as well. Limited has taken a lot of heat for slowing same-store sales growth in recent months after years of high single-digit growth. However, I believe this was largely unwarranted pessimism given the company's penchant for putting the right product in front of its customers, and minimizing discounts.

Does a new CEO mean a new direction for J.C. Penney?
J.C. Penney's stock cratered under Ron Johnson's leadership, but could new CEO Mike Ullman present the opportunity investors have been waiting for? If you're wondering whether J.C. Penney is a buy today, you're invited to claim a copy of The Motley Fool's must-read report on the company. Learn everything you need to know about JCP's turnaround -- or lack thereof. Simply click here now for instant access.

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