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It was another day of sanguine moves in the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) , as monthly retail sales figures released this morning painted a somber growth picture with tax increases now firmly in place. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, retail sales rose just 0.1% in January after jumping 0.5% in December. Although higher taxes definitely appear to be tapering growth expectations, it was nonetheless a positive growth report, which allowed for a fractional move higher. Overall, the S&P 500 finished higher by 0.90 points (0.06%) to close at 1,520.33.
Despite the move lower, there were three companies within the index that greatly outperformed the overall market. Here's a quick glimpse at those top-notch performers.
Domestic cigarette maker Lorillard (UNKNOWN: LO.DL ) , known best for its premium Newport brand, rose nearly 5% following its fourth-quarter earnings report and boosting its quarterly dividend by 6.5% to $0.55 per share. For the quarter, Lorillard noted an 8% increase in adjusted profits as sales jumped 5% and its market share expanded for the 10th consecutive year overall to 14.4%. Its quarterly profit topped estimates by $0.03. Lorillard has consistently been scraping away market share from Altria's premium Marlboro brand for the past few years, and Altria's latest cost-cutting efforts (i.e., layoffs) are another reason why, if you're going to dare venture into domestic tobacco makers, Lorillard appears to be the best choice.
Streaming online content provider and DVD-rental service Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX ) is once again soaring, up another 4.7%, following a price target upgrade from Doug Anmuth of J.P. Morgan Securities to $205 from $180. The price increase comes after analyst meetings that left Anmuth encouraged that Netflix was back on track. I'd, however, point to Netflix's incredibly high earnings multiples and the rapidly growing cost of content as all the more reason to think twice before diving into the stock.
Finally, General Electric (NYSE: GE ) shares spiked 3.7% (trust me, that's a huge move for GE) after announcing the sale of its remaining stake in NBC Universal to Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA ) for $16.7 billion. GE will use the proceeds from the Comcast sale to fund additional acquisitions, as well as help with a very aggressive $10 billion share repurchase program. For Comcast, it had been experiencing stronger-than-anticipated growth with NBC Universal, so purchasing the remaining portion only seemed logical. This looks like a win-win for both parties involved, with Comcast shareholders probably seeing the most immediate positive impact on the bottom line.
Does the NBC Universal sale make GE a buy? Find out now!
For GE, the recent financial crisis struck a blow, but management took advantage of the market's dip to make strategic bets in energy. If you're a GE investor, you need to understand how these bets could drive this company to become the world's infrastructure leader. At the same time, you need to be aware of the threats to GE's portfolio. To help, we're offering comprehensive coverage for investors in a premium report on General Electric, in which our industrials analyst breaks down GE's multiple businesses. You'll find reasons to buy or sell GE, and you'll receive continuing updates as major events unfold during the year. To get started, click here now.