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If you put a group of economists in a room together about three months ago and asked them which country might cause the next global calamity, I'm nearly 100% certain that not a soul would have guessed that country would be Cyprus.
Faced with the prospect of needing a bailout, Cyprus scared the greenbacks out of investors by unveiling a savings tax reform bill that would place a 9.9% tax on depositors with more than 100,000 euros in Cyprus' banks and a 6.75% tax on those with less than 100,000 euros. Although this sweeping reform raises a few eyebrows about what could happen in other tax havens around the world, as my Foolish colleague Morgan Housel astutely notes, Cyprus' situation is probably being given more than its fair share of weight.
In light of this news, U.S. markets suffered their largest retracement in weeks, with the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) dropping 8.60 points (-0.55%) to close at 1,552.10. Yet despite today's weakness, three companies really stood out from the crowd.
The biggest winner within the index today was troubled retailer J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP ) , which jumped 6.2% after an analyst at ISI Group suggested that Penney could take 300 of its top 1,100 stores and convert those into a real estate investment trust-like entity. According to the analyst, Omar Saad, Penney could sublease square footage in its stores to premium brands while still focusing on its traditional brand in the remaining 800 other stores. Saad valued the REIT-like entity at approximately $40 a share, with the remaining business worth $6 a share. To me, it's another sad attempt to value a brand that's decaying quicker than its management team can answer analysts' questions.
Robotic surgical device maker Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ: ISRG ) was the second-best performer, rallying $26, or 5.7%, after surgeons came to the defense of the company and its da Vinci surgical system. A report released late last week from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists discouraged the use of robotic surgeries in hysterectomies. President Dr. James Breeden noted that standard procedures for hysterectomies were cheaper and caused no longer a stay at the hospital than Intuitive's da Vinci surgical system. This has all the signs of emotional trading in the interim. Over the long run, I think Intuitive's product will be vindicated for the benefit it provides, and the government probe into its safety will turn up inconclusive evidence. That's just an opinion, of course, but I believe it gives long-term investors reason to sleep easy at night.
Finally, big-box retailer Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) continued its all-out assault on short-sellers by tacking on another 3.2% after receiving an upgrade from JPMorgan Chase to "overweight." The covering analyst, Chris Horvers, specifically noted that having the right management team in place, seeing a pick-up in television and appliance sales in correlation with a rebounding housing market, and aggressively matching prices are the key components to its turnaround. Particularly, I think Best Buy's price-matching, while a negative to its margins in the near term, will kill the showrooming effect that's plagued the company for two years and driven consumers to Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN ) . Amazon's ability to undercut Best Buy in price was its original allure. Now, with state taxes beginning to creep into the picture for Amazon, and Best Buy getting more aggressive with its pricing tactics, the pendulum is beginning to swing back in the big-box retailer's favor.
Can J.C. Penney turn it around?
J.C. Penney has been a train wreck whose comeback always seems just around the next earnings corner, but investors are beginning to doubt that CEO Ron Johnson can weave the same magic that he did at Apple. 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 Penney's turnaround-or lack thereof. Simply click here now for instant access.