Today's 3 Best Stocks in the S&P 500

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.

I certainly haven't been able to say this very often lately, but given that trading volume is light and the bond market is closed for Veterans Day, the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) was stuck in a tight trading range today, ending only fractionally higher.

As you might figure, with the bond market closed we also didn't receive any financial reports. This left investors to simply trade off of the third-quarter earnings reports which are predominantly now in the rearview mirror. In a third-quarter earnings analysis review released over the weekend, FactSet said that 73% of S&P 500 companies topped earnings-per-share estimates while just 52% beat on revenue. To me, this signals that cost-cutting and share buybacks are doing the trick for now, but I remain concerned that a lack of genuine organic growth could derail this rally.

By days end, the S&P 500 had trudged higher by 1.28 points (0.07%) to close at 1,771.89, just a few points from another all-time record high.

Big-box retailer Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) was among the day's top performers, gaining 4.5% after receiving positive commentary from two separate analysts. Jefferies analyst Daniel Binder kept his buy rating on the company amid heavy cost cuts and operating efficiency investments which should improve bottom-line results this holiday season. Binder did, however, boost his price target on Best Buy by 30% to $52. Similarly, UBS' Michael Lasser upgraded Best Buy to buy from neutral and boosted his price target to $49 from $35 on the expectation of better results stemming from expense reductions. With Best Buy now matching Amazon.com's pricing I would indeed expect a very robust holiday season for the retailer.

Struggling department store J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) continued its winning streak, gaining another 4% after reporting an October same-store sales increase of 0.9% last week. This marked Penney's first same-store sales increase in nearly two years and could be a sign that traffic and sales are finally stabilizing. The thing to remember here is that just because things aren't getting worse doesn't mean they'll get better anytime soon -- they'll just be slightly less bad. CEO Myron Ullman understands this is a multiyear turnaround effort, and Penney's disadvantageous debt load and cash burn leave it difficult to make drastic changes to its underperforming business model.

Finally, auto retailer CarMax (NYSE: KMX  ) added 2.5% after Moody's upgraded a number of CarMax's debt tranches on Friday and placed numerous others on review for a possible upgrade. The thought process for investors is that Moody's would only do this if the outlook for used car sales was improving, or if CarMax's underlying liquidity or fundamentals were improving. Either way, it marks a signal to shareholders that CarMax is in good shape and it could be a cue for you to dig deeper into the company if you haven't already done so.

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