Today’s 3 Best Stocks: Staples, Inc. (SPLS), Sealed Air Corp (SEE) and More

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Apparently, the three-day weekend served as a refresher for the broad-based S&P 500 , which picked up right where it left off, heading to a new five-year high.

Staples (SPLS)With very little economic data on the table, and most earnings reports taking a back seat to the holiday, another possible merger announcement spurred investor optimism. Talk of a potential merger between struggling office-supply retailers OfficeMax Incorporated (NYSE:OMX) and Office Depot Inc (NYSE:ODP) was the impetus sending stocks higher. Following a private-equity deal to purchase Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL), and last week’s American Airlines/US Airways Group, Inc. (NYSE:LCC) merger announcement, investors are taking the latest wave of M&A activity as a sign that businesses see growth and economic clarity improving.

For the day, the S&P 500 finished higher by a robust 11.15 points (0.73%) to close at 1,530.94. As you might imagine, today’s broad rally produced quite a few standouts. Here’s a glimpse at three of them.

Office-supply superstore Staples, Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLS) was the biggest winner within the S&P 500, advancing 13.1% on the day. You might think it counterintuitive to think that Staples would be up on a day that its two primary rivals announced the possibility of a merger, but Staples looks to be a winner as well. As Nomura analyst Aram Rubinson surmised, Staples’ North American revenue could pick up as much as 2% if there are any disruptions from the potential merger, and it will benefit from picking up customers in areas where store closures occur. If you recall, Staples is one of my One Person’s Trash Is Another Person’s Treasure selections, and today’s action further solidifies its spot as a genuine value play.

Food-safety products supplier Sealed Air Corp (NYSE:SEE) did its best to give Staples a run for its money, rising by 9% today after reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings results. For the quarter, Sealed Air reported just shy of a 1% increase in revenue to $1.98 billion and an adjusted profit of $0.34. Both figures easily sailed past the $1.94 billion and $0.29 Wall Street had expected. But before you get out your pompons, consider that Sealed Air’s 2013 forecast generally missed the mark because of ongoing difficult conditions in Europe. Sealed Air is basically planning on boosting profits through cost-cutting measures at the moment, and that’s not a business strategy I would suggest chasing higher.

Finally, the sun continues to shine on solar stocks, with First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) jumping another 6%. While there was no specific news regarding First Solar today, multiple upgrades have occurred in the solar sector in recent weeks, as orders have picked up in the U.S. and pricing power has shifted handily from Chinese producers to U.S. producers. I still have my doubts that First Solar can head higher, but if management can meet or beat its profit projections, First Solar at nine times forward earnings could be considered a steal.

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