Longview

Wednesday left the stock market playing a waiting game, as important announcements later this week from the European Central Bank and the U.S. Labor Department have investors pondering what impact the current state of the global economy might have on their investments. For the most part, the path of least resistance for stocks has been up, with relatively quiet trading and little volatility. Still, a few stocks posted sharp gains: SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR), Smith & Nephew (NYSE:SNN), and DryShips (NASDAQ:DRYS) were among the biggest winners today.

Spwr
Source: SunPower.

SunPower gained 7% on a host of positive reports. The solar giant announced plans to build a 19-megawatt solar power facility at Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base, marking the company's second foray into projects at that location. Despite all the attention that residential solar has gotten recently, larger projects like these military contracts represent a huge source of revenue for SunPower and its rivals, and such victories can have a huge impact on a company's reputation. SunPower also benefited from new tariffs against Chinese solar companies that should give the company and its Malaysian manufacturing capacity a big competitive advantage over its Chinese peers.

Smith & Nephew jumped 11% on reports that the U.K. manufacturer of medical devices could be the target of an acquisition bid from U.S. medical-device giant Medtronic (NYSE:MDT). As we saw with a similar proposed deal between pharmaceutical giants last month, the benefit to Medtronic of buying Smith & Nephew would go beyond simple cost savings and other corporate synergies, as the ability to execute a tax-inversion strategy to have Medtronic's tax home moved to the lower-tax U.K. has huge potential value. The Bloomberg report said that no deal was expected in the immediate future, but given the huge prospects for savings, as well as bolstering bargaining power in the face of pressures from the Affordable Care Act, such an offer wouldn't be surprising -- although it could prove expensive for Medtronic.

Drys
Source: DryShips.

DryShips rose almost 7% after the shipping company said that its Ocean Rig subsidiary had signed a new drilling contract for one of its rigs. Sentiment in the dry-bulk shipping arena has been mixed lately, as expectations for higher shipping rates haven't yet materialized. Nevertheless, many remain optimistic that rising shipments of commodities will improve rates in the near future. In the meantime, DryShips can continue to benefit from its ownership interest in Ocean Rig and its lucrative exposure to the deepwater drilling industry.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Medtronic. 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.