Today's 3 Best Stocks

It was another push-pull kind of day for the market, which was inundated with positive earnings reports and mixed economic data.

Looking solely at economic data, the University of Michigan consumer sentiment for April rose to 76.4. This isn't a particularly strong reading, but it's higher than last month and what economists had predicted for April. The fact that consumers feel better about the economy is a good sign that this rally could continue.

On the flipside, preliminary first-quarter U.S. GDP figures demonstrated 2.5% growth, well below most economists' forecasts for 3.2% growth -- yet considerably higher than the 0.4% reporting in the fourth quarter of last year. Within the GDP forecast, what really stood out was the tepid spending by most businesses that have been much more cautious with inventory buildup than in years past. If businesses aren't spending, then hiring could slow down.

All told, the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) finished the day fractionally lower by 2.92 points (-0.18%) to close at 1,582.24. In spite of another minute move in the index, the following three S&P 500 components put on a show.

Struggling retailer J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) led the charge today, rising 11.6% after well-respected hedge fund manager George Soros disclosed a 7.9% stake in the company via a regulatory filing. Penney has a well-known brand, so the promise of a turnaround is there, but the question really remains whether or not the damage that's been done is reversible. In addition, according to a Reuters report via CNBC, Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) has lined up a much-needed $1.75 billion financing package for J.C. Penney. We'll need confirmation from the company on this before I comment further.

The U.S.'s largest homebuilder, D.R. Horton (NYSE: DHI  ) , rocketed 8.7% higher after reporting groundbreaking first-quarter results, which saw profits rise by 173% and homebuilding revenue jump by 49%. All told, D.R. Horton's results crushed the Street's EPS estimates by $0.13 as it increased net sales orders by 34%. As long as homebuilders don't get too giddy with the return of their pricing power and flood the market with inventory, then they can utilize the lowest inventory levels in years to their advantage.

Finally, troubled PC and hardware producer Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) advanced 1.9% as value investors made it clear that HP's sub-six forward P/E might still be ripe for the picking. It's definitely a bit of gamble, considering that PC sales tumbled 14% in the first quarter -- their worst quarterly mark on record -- and HP is in the process of shedding 27,000 jobs. However, when all is said and done, HP is still producing a solid profit and good enough cash flow to tempt more risk-willing investors.

Is Penney a deep value play, or a blatant value trap?
J.C. Penney's stock cratered under Ron Johnson's leadership, but could new CEO Mike Ullman present the opportunity investors have been waiting for? 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 JCP's turnaround -- or lack thereof. Simply click here now for instant access.


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