Why Cray, Ellie Mae, and Bankrate Are 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.

You can certainly tell it's Valentine's Day because investors are showing a lot of love to the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) on a day when the economic data was mixed at best.

On one hand, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index came in with a preliminary reading of 81.2 for February, slightly higher than Street expectations and matching its January reading. A rising reading would signify that consumers are more confident about their short and long-term financial outlook and could bode positively for retailers and the economy, especially since our GDP is strongly biased toward consumer spending.

On the flip side, industrial production and capacity utilization for January missed the mark, declining 0.3% and coming in with a reading of 78.5%, respectively -- both notably lower from December. Partly to blame for this reduction is the exceptional cold and snowy weather that blanketed much of the country in January. However, if this pattern of industrial production weakness continues, it could signal a slowdown in the recovery process.

By day's end Cupid's arrow, and a number of strong earnings reports, had found their mark and pushed the S&P 500 higher by 8.8 points (0.48%) to close at 1,838.63, its sixth gain in seven sessions.

Pushing past all other companies to lead the markets higher today was high-performance computing systems manufacturer Cray (NASDAQ: CRAY  ) , which gained 39% after reporting better than expected fourth-quarter results after the bell last night. For the quarter, Cray reported robust revenue growth of 63% to $307.4 million as its adjusted earnings per share more than tripled to $1.48 per share from $0.44 in the year-ago period. By comparison, Wall Street had been calling for a profit of just $1.31 per share on $300.8 million in revenue. Looking ahead, Cray anticipates its gross margin will remain consistent with its full-year 2013 results to stay in the mid-30% range. It's pretty evident that the introduction of new supercomputers is working wonders for Cray, yet its cyclical nature and heavily lopsided revenue stream (it receives about half of its revenue in the fourth quarter) are enough to keep me firmly planted on the sidelines for the time being.

Financial content distributor Bankrate (NYSE: RATE  ) vaulted higher by a lesser degree than Cray, but still turned heads with its 19.5% gain after reporting fourth-quarter results. Revenue for Bankrate's quarter exploded higher by 31% to $122.3 million, with adjusted income nearly tripling to $0.17 per share from $0.06 in the prior period. Both figures edged past the $0.15 in EPS and $120.1 million in revenue that analysts had called for. Looking at 2014, Bankrate is forecasting revenue to be in the range of $520 million to $530 million, an increase of 15% at the midpoint, and perfectly bracketing Wall Street's expectations. I'm certainly glad to see Bankrate's growth picking up after a shaky 2013, but even with 15% growth expected on the top line, its forward P/E of 24 may make the company a bit lofty in terms of its current valuation.

Finally, mortgage industry automation software developer Ellie Mae (NYSE: ELLI  ) , tacked on 17.9% after reporting fourth-quarter results after the closing bell last night. During its fourth quarter, Ellie Mae delivered a modest 1.5% increase in revenue to $30.4 million, while adjusted EPS actually fell by a third to $0.18 from $0.27 in the year-ago period. Both figures were relatively spot on with the consensus estimates. Where investors appeared to take their cue to send Ellie Mae to the heavens was in its forward guidance which calls for $150 million-$153.5 million in full-year revenue, 18% growth at the midpoint from 2013, on $1.08-$1.11 in EPS. Comparatively, the Street was expecting $150 million in revenue and $1.08 in EPS. Honestly, I'm a bit shocked by the enormity of today's move higher, but can at least partially understand the excitement shareholders are showing given how weak mortgage loan originations have been of late. But I remain very skeptical of the spoiled U.S. consumer and feel there's little upside potential left in companies specifically tied to the mortgage service sector at this time.

Cray, Ellie Mae, and Bankrate may have soared today, but all three may be hard-pressed to keep up with this top stock in 2014
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