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Naughty or Nice: 7 Stocks Topping Santa's Lists

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In the spirit of the season, The Fiscal Times presents seven headline-making companies that have earned extra stocking stuffers or big lumps of coal.

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Nice: The Gap (NYSE:GPS)
A year ago, Gap was a drag on the retailing industry; this year, thanks to being on target with trends like colored denim and "Mad Men" fashion looks at its Banana Republic stores, it ranks among retailing's big winners. Better still, the company's management seems to have a grip on what had been a pesky inventory problem. Those fixes have made the stock fashionable again, driving it 72 percent higher.Bottom of Form

Naughty: Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK)
Chesapeake Energy has not only lost 23 percent so far this year, but it courted controversy and gave investors headaches with some fairly major governance missteps along the way. Chesapeake may have been named one of the best companies to work for in America, but it didn't have to prove it deserves that title by giving its founder and CEO Aubrey McClendon unusual financial perks. The SEC has been looking into McClendon's special deals. Admittedly, the company has made progress with asset sales, but not rapidly enough, and capital spending still outstripped revenue in the third quarter.

Nice: PulteGroup (NYSE: PHM)
The homebuilder is buying back $1 billion or so of its debt, just the latest piece of good news from this beneficiary of the housing market rally that has lifted the entire industry. Earnings are coming in higher than expected, and the company reported more closings on new home purchases and higher sales prices on those homes for the third quarter. The company clearly seems to have navigated the financial crisis and the real estate debacle that accompanied it, and the market has rewarded it with a 161 percent gain.

Naughty: Knight Capital (NYSE: KCG)
Another big piece of coal goes to Knight, once a powerful Wall Street trading firm that was brought to its knees this year when one of its trading programs ran amok and cost the firm $461.1 million in losses. The only question now is which of the rival bidders will end up acquiring the rights to Knight as the company approaches the end of its independent life.

Knight isn't the only one of this year's crop of losers that likely won't survive as independent companies until this time next year. JC Penney's future may be in doubt, absent a restructuring under the protection of a bankruptcy court. It remains to be seen whether the advent of the BlackBerry 10 in January will be enough to save Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) from a dire fate, though the company hasn't done much to make the "nice" list this year. And Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) is facing an impossible tradeoff: Watch its sales vanish to online competitors, or come close to wiping out its margins in order to hang on to market share.

While the stock market seems likely to end the year with a respectable if not awe-inspiring gain – barring any last-minute shocks – it has been anything but a tranquil year, and outperforming has required the kind of smart execution on the part of financial managers that is hard to find at the best of times. Nor are there many signs that headwinds will turn to tailwinds in the new year. That Grinch-like market environment makes the solid gains achieved by some companies all the more impressive, even if it doesn't excuse the missteps made by others.

Editor's Note: This article by Suzanne McGee originally appeared on The Fiscal Times.

For more from The Fiscal Times:


AIG Bailout: A $22.7B Profit, but Was It a Success?

How Small Business Could Get Slammed by the Fiscal Cliff

Health Costs Take Bigger Bite Out of Family Budget


Follow The Fiscal Times on Twitter @TheFiscalTimes.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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