Today's 3 Best Stocks

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.

If things come in threes, then investors and the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) are certainly glad to see this three-day losing streak come to a grinding halt. Amazingly enough, earnings, not the Fed, was the big reason the broad-based S&P 500 found its legs today -- but it did get a nice bump from today's jobless claims figure, as well.

Weekly jobless claims, coming off their best levels in nearly six years, rose by 5,000 this week, to a seasonally adjusted 333,000. In a perfect world, we'd like to never see a rise in jobless claims, though all things considered, this was below economists' forecasts. which had called for a rise in jobless claims of 12,000. To economists and investors, this data would signal that the jobs market is a lot healthier than anyone imagines, and would portend that the unemployment rate has a decent shot at heading even lower from its current level of 7.4%.

Following a topsy-turvy morning, the S&P 500 finished the day higher by 6.57 points (0.39%), to close at 1,697.48.

Leading today's "Can you hear me now chant" is audio equipment specialist Harmon International (NYSE: HAR  ) , which rose 10.7% after outlining its fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2016 forecast. On Tuesday, Harman reported rather tepid fourth-quarter results that were constrained by an ongoing restructuring charge, despite the fact that it also announced a doubling of its dividend (from $0.15/quarter to $0.30/quarter). What really invigorated investors was Harman's projection that it will earn $3.85 in EPS next year with EBITDA margins of 10.5% on approximately $4.7 billion in revenue, and that by 2016, it expects to generate $6.05 billion in revenue with EBITDA margins of 13%. By those standards, Harman would still be relatively cheap, and its dividend could have a lot of room to run higher.

Today's two other top gainers were heavily shorted mining companies Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF  ) and Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM  ) , which added 8.9% and 8.7%, respectively. Although there was no company-specific news that sent either stock higher, gold prices had their best day in weeks, with a $27/oz. scamper higher as the dollar weakened dramatically against overseas currencies.

For Newmont Mining, one of the nation's largest gold miners, this is a particularly big deal, because each tick higher in gold prices means beefier margins and a potentially higher dividend payout, because it tied its dividend to the average quarterly price of gold.

In the case of Cliffs Natural Resources, one of the world's premier iron ore producers, today's jump in gold prices and other commodities gives the company a chance to scare short-sellers, which accounted for 36.5% of outstanding shares as of the end of July -- the highest total among all S&P 500 components. Cliffs' quarterly results were recently much better than expected, with higher demand for iron ore than anyone could have predicted. Short-sellers just might be underestimating Cliffs' potential here.

Gold has outshined the stock market with strong returns since 2000, but more recently has given way to big declines. Could today's $27/oz. boost signal a turnaround for these stocks is around the corner? The Motley Fool's new free report, "The Best Way to Play Gold Right Now," dissects the recent volatility and provides a guide for gold investing. Click here to read the full report today!


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