Let's face it: We live in a in a world where policymakers around the globe have equity markets in the palm of their hand. Somewhere, in a dark underground lair, bureaucrats are toiling over a bubbly cauldron, looking for a magic elixir of quantitative easing to unleash on markets and appease investors. Of course, we know this is going on, and in the current environment it appears to be a matter of when, not if, the magic potion is presented. In Europe, the remedy will come in the way of additional aid and austerity within struggling nations -- at least that's what they think. In China, there's belief that poor economic data is sure to spark additional stimulus. Here at home, well, we already hear the rotors spinning on Ben Bernanke's helicopter.
Nevertheless, as we enter the close of earnings season, a level of indecision is creeping into the market. That's evidenced by light trading volume, and while the S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC ) was able to extend its winning streak to six straight days, gaining 0.2% after a late-day boost, enthusiasm is trailing off as investors wait for tangible action to occur.
The best of the best
There's only so much an investor can do about general market activity. Instead, let's go on the prowl for relative outperformance in today's market.
Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) led the blue-chip charge higher today, rising 1.5% versus a 0.3% gain for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) . It's been a sharp move higher for shares of HP, rising 12.3% since hitting a 52-week low on Aug. 2. On Wednesday, the company upped its forecast for third-quarter adjusted earnings. And adjusted they'll be, as we also found out that the new numbers will back out a non-cash goodwill impairment charge of $8 billion related to its technology services segment. Nevertheless, we all know the rising tide lifts even the driftwood of the markets, and the stock remains down 23.5% for the year.
Within the S&P 500, shares of GameStop (NYSE: GME ) and J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP ) , two struggling retail stocks, scored some much-needed gains of 5.4% and 5.9%, respectively. Like HP, shares of GameStop have been drifting higher since Aug. 2. The secular headwinds are many in the retail video-game biz, which is transitioning toward more digital distribution and, in the process, making stores like GameStop seemingly obsolete. Negative prognosis notwithstanding, the stock trades at 7 times earnings, sports a decent dividend, and is expected to grow earnings despite weakness on the revenue line -- enough to attract a few buyers at these levels.
The story at J.C. Penney has been well documented. The company brought in Apple alumnus Ron Johnson to turn a boring apparel retailer into the next Apple-like retail experience. That's proved to be a tough chore for Johnson so far, but I've held the belief that investors weren't giving the man enough time. The store vision he's laid out is ambitious for any brand, let alone a tired one like Penney. His commentary on the earnings call laid out his vision once again and apparently won a few believers, as the stock rallied in spite of an atrocious same-store sales decline of 21.7% and the elimination of full-year guidance.
Know how to pick 'em
While none of these companies is at the top of my buy list, the odds are good that one of these value stocks will outperform in the coming years. While picking an embattled stock can lead to huge gains if the story plays out, it's also a good idea to pick stocks sporting highly sustainable businesses built for the long term. In our new special free report titled "The 3 Dow Stocks Dividend Investors Need," we lay out a few great candidates that fit the bill and sport nice dividends to boot. Make sure you claim your copy of this report today, completely free of charge.