Today’s 3 Best Stocks: Microchip Technology Inc. (MCHP), Biogen Idec Inc. (BIIB), Yum! Brands, Inc. (YUM)

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Another day, another new five-year high for the broad-based S&P 500, which caught flight on positive economic data and a flurry of strong earnings reports.

On the economic data front, China reported a 12.4% surge in exports in January, and Germany recorded its second-largest trade surplus in the past 60 years, signaling that both economic powerhouses may be in better shape than first thought. Domestically, a smaller U.S. trade deficit gave investors hope that U.S. goods are in high demand overseas.

Microchip Technology Inc. (NASDAQ:MCHP)No company gave the market a bigger boost from an earnings perspective than online professional network, Linkedin Corporation (NYSE:LNKD), which soared 21% after reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter results. For the quarter, LinkedIn recorded an 8% increase in membership, to 202 million, as revenue spiked 81%, to $303.6 million, and profit swelled to $0.35 per share. Both figures, as well as LinkedIn’s first-quarter forecast, trounced Wall Street’s loftiest expectations. Yesterday may have been a bit of a tech-wreck, but that’s certainly not the case today!

For the day, the S&P 500 finished higher by 8.54 points (0.57%), to close at 1,517.93.

Microcontroller maker Microchip Technology Inc. (NASDAQ:MCHP), whose semiconductor products are used in touchscreen devices, was today’s biggest gainer within the S&P 500, advancing better than 7%, after reporting robust fourth-quarter results. Microcontroller sales spiked 22% during the quarter and accounted for 64% of Microchip’s total sales, as net income rose 14%, to $0.41. Microchip’s first-quarter sales and EPS forecast also handily trumped Wall Street’s expectations. As long as smartphone and tablet usage continues to rise, which seems to be a foregone conclusion, Microchip’s microcontroller demand should increase, and the company could have room yet to run even higher.

Global restaurant chain Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE:YUM) gained 2.7%, at the expense of McDonald’s Corporation (NYSE:MCD) pain. McDonald’s, earlier today, posted a worse-than-expected 1.9% drop in restaurant sales in January, and forecast near-term continued weakness. Yum!, which has been dealing with weak sales in Asia due to allegations of serving chicken with excess amounts of chemicals, is benefiting on the hope that McDonald’s weakness might be its chance to take market share – especially in fast-growing Asia. At 17.5 times forward earnings, I don’t share the same enthusiasm as investors, but I’m keeping Yum! on my watchlist, nonetheless.

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