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

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

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 become somewhat the norm on Monday, the anticipation of upcoming earnings reports for the remainder of the week and mixed economic data caused the broad-based S&P 500 to stay within a very tight trading range.

On the economic data front, industrial production for September came in at 0.6%, higher than economists had expected. Strong industrial production could be an indicator that GDP growth may beat the Street's expectations for the third quarter, but we still have to see how badly the government shutdown affected the manufacturing sector before that judgment can be made.

Conversely, pending home sales dipped 5.6% for September, which was worse than anyone expected and the fourth-straight month of declines. The really disturbing factor with weakening pending sales is that interest rates have been on the decline for weeks now, hitting a four-month low recently. If we're having trouble encouraging consumers to take out loans to buy a house with present lending rates, we could be in for big trouble in the not-so-distant future if lending rates do rise.

Despite the mixed economic data, the S&P 500 still managed to chug higher on the day by 2.34 points (0.13%) to close at another all-time record high of 1,762.11. The iconic index has now risen in 11 of the past 13 trading sessions.

Leading all gainers among the S&P 500 today was struggling retailer J.C. Penney, which added 8.8% after CEO Myron Ullman commented positively about the company's prospects at the Women's Wear Daily conference. According to reports, Ullman noted that he believes Penney's will achieve positive same-store sales as of the third quarter. This would represent the first stabilization in Penney's same-store sales trends in about two years and would mark the first encouraging sign of a turnaround in a long, long time. I'm of the "I'll believe it when I see it" camp, but Penney's upcoming earnings report and cash burn rate will go a long way to determining how excited investors really should be.

Global biopharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb had a fantastic day thanks to a double-dose of good news that sent its shares up 6.7%. The primary reason Bristol rose had to do with positive early stage results for its anti-PD-1 inhibitor nivolumab, for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer. Bristol noted that 42% of patients treated with nivolumab were still alive after the first year and 24% alive after two years. That may not sound remarkable, but considering that it's a second- or even third-line therapy, these survival figures are extremely encouraging. On the heels of this news, Morgan Stanley upped Bristol-Myers to outperform from equal weight and raised its price target to $60 from $45.

Finally, CF Industries tacked on 4.2% after announcing that it had forged a deal to sell its phosphate business to Mosaic for $1.2 billion in cash. CF's operations in question produce about 1.8 million tons of phosphate fertilizer annually and should get Mosaic to nearly 10 million tons in annual phosphate production. Mosaic notes that the transaction should add $0.30 in earnings per share by 2015. The deal gives CF much-needed capital to refocus its efforts on nitrogen fertilizer. That has been less volatile in price and should bring CF Industries to a roughly breakeven cash-to-debt position from the $1.17 billion net debt position it was in as of last quarter.

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