Today's 3 Best Stocks

Today's 3 Best Stocks

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.

As has been the trend lately, things are not as they appear based on the daily move in the broad-based S&P 500 .

On the surface, the S&P 500 gnawed its way to modest gains today on the heels of a few strong earnings reports and a simple easing of the weakness we've been experiencing over the past three weeks. What made little sense, though, was that it occurred with absolutely dismal news from the housing sector, where new home sales fell 13.4% to an annual rate of 394,000 -- a nine-month low. We may already be seeing the fear of higher interest rates pushing on-the-edge homebuyers back into renting, and that would not be an encouraging sign for the U.S. economy.

However, looking at this from a glass-half-empty standpoint, the weak new home sales data could suggest that the Federal Reserve has no reason to reduce its monthly bond purchases anytime soon, which would make Wall Street very happy.

By day's end, the S&P 500 seemed willing to ignore the abysmal housing data and embrace the opportunity for more QE3, rising by 6.54 points (0.39%) to finish at 1,663.50.

Leading the pack today was design software developer Autodesk , which added 7.7% after reporting mixed second-quarter results. The bottom-line EPS figure of $0.45 handily topped the $0.42 Wall Street was expecting, but Autodesk also delivered a 1% decline in year-over-year revenue and issued third-quarter guidance that was below the current consensus. Its saving grace appears to be an upgrade from research firm B. Riley to "buy" from "neutral," with a price target of $42. B. Riley's upgrade is based on comments from Autodesk that it plans to shift to a subscription-based revenue model going forward. While I do agree with B. Riley's optimism and also happen to like Autodesk over the long run, shifting to subscription-based models is often a four- to six-quarter gray cloud for revenue and EPS, so prepare yourself for potentially more earnings misses in the not-so-distant future.

Speaking of software giants, shares of Microsoft rallied 7.3% after it was announced that CEO Steve Ballmer plans to retire in 12 months or less. Many on Wall Street view this as a positive, as Microsoft's growth has languished under Ballmer with numerous failed experiments and only its legacy Windows operating system to rely on for the bulk of its profits. I, for one, think Ballmer has done an exceptional job of tying his interests with those of shareholders and has made Microsoft into an attractive income play -- but I also know I'm heavily in the minority on this one! With no one sure who will take over the helm at Microsoft, perhaps now isn't the best time to chase shares higher until we have more answers.

Finally, online travel booking company Expedia received clearance for takeoff and gained 5.1% after announcing a partnership with privately held Travelocity. No financial terms of the deal were disclosed, but it entails Expedia's using its technology platforms on Travelocity's websites in the U.S. and Canada. The deal is expected to allow Travelocity to lower its costs thanks to Expedia's heavy technological investments in recent years, while giving Expedia the opportunity to get more eyeballs on its site and into hotel rooms.

The tech world has been thrown into chaos as the biggest titans invade one another's turf -- and things got even more interesting with Steve Ballmer ready to step aside. At stake is the future of a trillion-dollar revolution: mobile. To find out which of these giants is set to dominate the next decade, we've created a free report called "Who Will Win the War Between the 5 Biggest Tech Stocks?" Inside, you'll find out which companies are set to dominate and give in-the-know investors an edge. To grab a copy of this report, simply click here -- it's free!

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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 owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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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