Why athenahealth, Puma Biotechnology, and bebe stores Are Today's 3 Best Stocks

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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.

Just when you thought it was safe to read economic data at face value, the monthly U.S. jobs report arrives and the "bad news is good news" mentality reemerges on Wall Street.

Helping to push the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) decisively higher for a second straight session was the Labor Department report that just 113,000 jobs were added in January. While some of this weakness can be blamed on colder weather across much of the U.S., it also points to a weakening hiring environment. By comparison, most economists had pegged U.S. payroll growth in the 150,000-175,000 range. Despite a second month of weak jobs growth, the unemployment rate fell by 0.1% to 6.6%, a five-year low.

Investors viewed this report's weakness so positively because it could give the Federal Reserve cause to slow down the tapering of its monthly economic stimulus which is a mixture long-term U.S. Treasury and mortgage-backed securities purchases. The Fed has already trimmed $20 billion off its original $85 billion in monthly bond-buying, but weak job additions could be the catalyst to slow that rollback and relax lending rates for an even longer period of time.

Other encouraging news included the announcement that total consumer credit increased $18.8 billion in December to $3.1 trillion. While increasing consumer debt can certainly be worrisome, our economy is also dependent on consumer spending to drive GDP. This higher level of spending could signal that retailers are in for a better holiday season than many analysts expect when they begin to report their results.

By day's end, investors had pushed the broad-based S&P 500 higher by 23.59 points (1.33%) to close at 1,797.02, fully erasing Monday's nearly 41-point tumble, and tacking on its second consecutive day of greater than 1% gains.

Leading all stocks to the upside today with a gain of 25.1% was cloud-based electronic health records and care coordination software developer athenahealth (NASDAQ: ATHN  ) . Shares of athenahealth rocketed higher after the company trounced Wall Street's fourth-quarter estimates by reporting a 48% jump in revenue to $171.6 million as adjusted earnings per share climbed to $0.57. Comparatively speaking, the Street was looking for $168.6 million in revenue and EPS of just $0.44. Huge spikes higher during earnings season are starting to become the norm for athenahealth; which is certainly benefiting from uncertainties surrounding Obamacare that are pushing medical practices toward cost-saving and efficiency-improving cloud platforms like athenaNet. However, at approximately 130 times forward earnings much of athenahealth's growth has likely been baked into its share price. As such, it's a company I'll happily watch from the sidelines.

Sticking within the health care sector, Puma Biotechnology (NYSE: PBYI  ) shares advanced by 18.2% after the company announced a favorable patent ruling from the European Patent Office. According to Puma's press release, the EPO upheld its patent with regard to treating cancer patients with the T790M mutation, which privately held Boehringer Ingelheim had opposed. But here's the kicker: Puma has no intent of developing neratinib (its lead experimental breast cancer drug) to treat T790M mutation cancers at the moment. In other words, today's rally is a bit of a head-scratcher from an investing perspective. The real focus should be on neratinib's progress. I'm very curious to dig into the data and see how the drug actually performs in treating breast cancer rather than relying on Bayesian predictive models when the company releases its final midstage results.

Finally, bebe stores (NASDAQ: BEBE  ) rallied 14.6% after the women's apparel and accessories retailer reported a narrower than expected second-quarter loss and topped Wall Street's revenue forecasts. For the quarter, Bebe reported a 4% decline in sales to $130 million on a 1.9% decline in comparable-store sales. The company's net loss increased slightly to $0.07 per share from $0.06 in the prior year. However, the Street consensus had been for a wider loss of $0.14 per share on just $121.6 million in sales. Before you get too excited, though, keep in mind that Bebe's third-quarter guidance points right back to an EPS loss in the low-to-mid teens, proving that the landscape remains very difficult for retail apparel companies. I'd suggest sticking to the sidelines until bebe is back in the black.

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  • Report this Comment On February 09, 2014, at 8:26 PM, hydrazone wrote:

    With respect to your comment "In other words, today's rally is a bit of a head-scratcher from an investing perspective", ask yourself why it was Boehringer Ingelheim that opposed the patent.

    Recall the BI sells afatinib (Gilotrif ), which is an irreversible kinase inhibitor that is used to treat cancers having the T790M mutation. This would imply that at least in Europe (so far) BI is infringing Puma's patent and therefore will have to get a license from Puma and pay royalties.

    Several other firms are also developing entities that target the T790M mutation. They will be in the same boat as BI.

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Sean Williams

A Fool since 2010, and a graduate from UC San Diego with a B.A. in Economics, Sean specializes in the healthcare sector and in investment planning topics. You'll usually find him writing about Obamacare, marijuana, developing drugs, diagnostics, and medical devices, Social Security, taxes, or any number of other macroeconomic issues.

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Athenahealth CAPS Rating: **
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