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

By Sean Williams - Feb 7, 2014 at 5:15PM

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The S&P 500 soars for a second straight day, while athenahealth, Puma Biotechnology, and bebe stores all rally by double-digits.

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 (^GSPC -0.12%) 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 (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 (PBYI -9.12%) 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 (BEBE -2.80%) 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.

Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.

The Motley Fool recommends Athenahealth. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

S&P 500 Index - Price Return (USD) Stock Quote
S&P 500 Index - Price Return (USD)
$4,140.06 (-0.12%) $-5.13
athenahealth, Inc. Stock Quote
athenahealth, Inc.
Bebe Stores, Inc. Stock Quote
Bebe Stores, Inc.
$7.29 (-2.80%) $0.21
Puma Biotechnology, Inc. Stock Quote
Puma Biotechnology, Inc.
$3.49 (-9.12%) $0.35

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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