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Twinkie maker is in the fight for its life.

By Jonathan Berr Jan 10, 2012 3:50PM
Image: Close up of fresh sliced loaf of bread (© Adam Gault/OJO Images/Getty Images)Hostess Brands, maker of Twinkies, Ho-Hos and Ding Dongs, is on the verge of filing for bankruptcy protection for the second time since 2004 in the face of mounting debt and skyrocketing prices for ingredients, according to the Wall Street Journal.

As the Journal noted, times are tough for the privately held Irving, Tex. baker, which had been held up as a model of corporate restructuring since emerging from its first bankruptcy in 2009. Not only does the maker of Wonder Bread carry $860 million in debt, it owes "more than $50 million to vendors, which have been demanding payments on shortened time frames because of Hostess's financial condition," the paper said. 

Some investors brag on message boards about achieving great returns on earnings-based trades. That was just dumb luck.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 10, 2012 3:30PM

Image: Stock market (© Zurbar/age fotostock)By Thomas Kee, guest columnist

 

Thanks to Alcoa (AA), earnings season is off to a positive start. But I predict that this earnings season will still leave investors with lots of questions unanswered -- questions about future growth rates and current market multiples. 

 

In addition to Alcoa, I'm also looking for clues about the broader market's direction in results from Lennar (LEN), and JP Morgan Chase (JPM). In each case, I'll be looking to see if concerns about future growth come to the surface. I won't trade in these stocks, but I'll work the earnings news into my broader market thesis. 

 
Tags: AAJPMLEN

The leader in private schooling benefits from China's one-child policy and emphasis on credentials.

By TheStockAdvisors Jan 10, 2012 3:29PM
Image: High school students with arms raised in classroom (© Image Source/Getty Images)This post is one in a series in which over 50 newsletter advisors share their Top Picks for 2012.

By Paul Goodwin, Cabot China & Emerging Markets Report

New Oriental Education (EDU) is the leader in the private education sector in China. The company specializes in teaching languages, especially English, and test preparation courses; it  also offers a varied curriculum that includes primary and secondary education.  
Tags: EDU

A spike in oil prices due to Iran's threats could divert traffic from trucks, but higher fuel costs would pressure railroad margins.

By Trefis Jan 10, 2012 3:18PM
Image: Railroad Crossing with Train (© Edmond Van Hoorick/Photodisc/Getty Images)Iran's threat to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost 35% of the world's seaborne oil shipments travel, could lead to a sharp increase in oil prices worldwide. This alone has kept oil prices above $100 per barrel in the last week.

Energy analysts have stated that Iranian action could lead to an increase of 50% or more in the price of oil. Rising fuel prices could help fuel-efficient railroads, such as Norfolk Southern Corporation (NSC), CSX Corporation (CSX), and Union Pacific Corporation (UNP) as traffic would be diverted away from trucking. However, it could also put pressure on rail companies' margins as fuel represents a major portion of their operating costs. 
Tags: csxNSCUNP

Homebuilding stocks have recently rebounded strongly, and investors can now look to buy select stocks on future pullbacks.

By MoneyShow.com Jan 10, 2012 2:48PM

Image: Home under construction (© Corbis)By Tom Aspray, MoneyShow.com

 

As I noted in last week’s sector review, the weekly relative performance analysis of the Select Sector SPDR - Industrials (XLI) has turned positive and it is leading the S&P 500.


The homebuilding industry group is one of the stronger components of this sector, and it now appears that it completed a significant bottom in October. It has been a long time since the Dow Jones Home Construction Index completed a weekly head-and-shoulders top in 2006.

 

Overall, earnings growth is likely to slow this year, so investors should look to cash-rich, US-focused companies that might deliver upside surprises.

By The Fiscal Times Jan 10, 2012 2:29PM
AlcoaBy Suzanne McGee, The Fiscal Times
 
Fourth-quarter earnings season got off to a sorry start Monday when aluminum producer Alcoa (AA) reported results that were just as disappointing as the market had been expecting, including its first loss in more than a year.

But don't get too distracted by Alcoa's bleak results and outlook. True, it's the first company in the Dow Jones Industrial Average to report, but that doesn't mean it's a harbinger of bad news to come. Companies generally have been revising their earnings outlook downward, but that simply reflects the need for caution in turbulent times and leaves room for upside surprises.  

With monthly dividends and an attractive yield, this school bus operator is going for growth.

By TheStockAdvisors Jan 10, 2012 1:52PM
Image: Student (© Stuart Pearce/age fotostock)This post is one in a series in which over 50 newsletter advisors share their Top Picks for 2012.

By Roger Conrad, Canadian Edge

You won't have income for long without growth. Student Transportation (STB) has plenty of both, with monthly dividends that produce a yield of more than 8.5% and contracts in place to grow revenue 18% this fiscal year.  
Tags: STB

We believe this North American pure play energy infrastructure company will be able to generate highly visible cash flow and dividend growth.

By Zacks.com Jan 10, 2012 12:29PM

Kevin Phillips/Digital Vision/age fotostockBy: ‎Zacks Equity Research

 

Following the successful separation of its upstream operations via a tax-free spin-off, we have upgraded Williams Companies Inc. (WMB) to "outperform" from "neutral."


Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams is a premier energy infrastructure provider in North America. The company’s core operations include finding, producing, gathering, processing, and transporting natural gas. Boasting of a widespread pipeline system, Williams is one of the largest domestic transporters of natural gas by volume. Its facilities -- gas wells, pipelines, and midstream services -- are concentrated in the Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Gulf Coast, and Eastern Seaboard.

 
Tags: WMB

Many regional and local banks are starting to do better as the economy expands.

By MoneyShow.com Jan 10, 2012 12:13PM

Cory Docken/Spots Illustration/JupiterimagesBy Igor Greenwald, MoneyShow.com


Two months ago, I called bank stocks "lepers," harping on the market's lack of faith in the financial health of Morgan Stanley (MS), Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (C), and other money-center banks trading at vast discounts to alleged book value.


Lower lows followed shortly, but for the past six weeks much of the banking sector has been rebounding. The charts of Wells Fargo (WFC), US Bancorp (USB), and even JP Morgan (JPM) are resurgent, making Citi and B of A look more like laggards than canaries in a coalmine.

 

But a long-term plan may not be enough to ward off short-term risks.

By InvestorPlace Jan 10, 2012 12:05PM
By Jeff Reeves


Eastman Kodak's (EK) stock soared Monday -- well, relatively speaking -- on news that the company is restructuring to adapt to the digital age. The company is creating two distinct business units to separate commercial from consumer products and will streamline costs even more.


Many folks watching Kodak were expecting a much different announcement: that the once-dominant photography company was declaring bankruptcy and possibly disappearing forever.


So does the new move change anything or secure Kodak's future?

 

Hyatt Hotels and Marriott are upgraded to 'buy,' while Starwood Hotels is downgraded to 'neutral.'

By MSN Money Partner Jan 10, 2012 11:59AM
Information provided by Theflyonthewall.com

Tuesday's noteworthy upgrades include:
  • Juniper (JNPR) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at Piper Jaffray
  • EOG Resources (EOG) upgraded to Buy from Hold at Deutsche Bank
  • Valeant (VRX) upgraded to Overweight from Equal Weight at Morgan Stanley
  • Tractor Supply (TSCO) upgraded to Neutral from Sell at Goldman
  • Hyatt Hotels (H) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at BofA/Merrill
  • Marriott (MAR) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at BofA/Merrill
 

This cost-containment company helps keep fraud and overpayments down while healthcare spending goes up.

By TheStockAdvisors Jan 10, 2012 11:41AM
Image: Medical doctor (© Creatas/SuperStock)This post is one in a series in which over 50 newsletter advisors share their Top Picks for 2012.

By Jim Oberweis, Jr., The Oberweis Report

For a play on healthcare reform in this country, HMS Holdings (HMSY) is a small cap to own. The company provides cost-containment services for state Medicaid programs and other third-party payors by ridding the system of fraud and errors.   
Tags: HMSY

When it comes to spending, the rich aren't so different.

By Jonathan Berr Jan 10, 2012 11:06AM
Image Source/CorbisShares of Tiffany & Co. (TIF) are slumping this morning after the luxury retailer reported weaker-than-expected holiday sales. This is further evidence that the economic recovery may be starting to falter.

Tiffany reported that holiday revenue rose 7% to $952 million, fueled by double-digit gains in Asia along with smaller increases in Europe and the Americas. Same-store sales rose 4%, the New York-based company said. 
Tags: TIF

With expectations low, a beat-and-raise quarter may be in the cards.

By InvestorPlace Jan 10, 2012 10:30AM
Photodisc/Getty ImagesBy Dan Burrows

Aluminum giant Alcoa (AA) kicked off fourth-quarter earnings season on Monday by swinging to a deep net loss compared with a strong year-ago profit. And Alcoa's report was actually pretty good news. If the Dow component's results are any indication of things to come, a relatively lackluster earnings season could still provide a lift to stocks.


That's because even though Alcoa recorded a net loss, on an adjusted basis it matched Wall Street's estimate, according to data from Thomson Reuters. Even better, revenue came in well above analysts' average forecast, and the company said demand for aluminum is rising.

 

The reinvention of the iconic car is the first creation with truly integrated Chrysler and Fiat technologies.

By InvestorPlace Jan 10, 2012 9:58AM
By Jeff Reeves

Chrysler was already sputtering when the financial crisis hit, and the Great Recession caused the automaker to break down entirely. Only a partnership forged with Italy's Fiat allowed the once-great automaker to survive bankruptcy in 2009.


Merging the car companies has been slow and sometimes painful for both sides. However, American motorists will have their first real chance to explore what the Chrysler-Fiat partnership can offer with a blast from the past: a sleek redesign of the iconic Dodge Dart compact.


It is the first true test of shared platforms and technology. But will it sell?

 

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Top Stocks provides analysis about the most noteworthy stocks in the market each day, combining some of the best content from around the MSN Money site and the rest of the Web.

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[BRIEFING.COM] Equity indices remain mixed with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (+0.2%) and the S&P 500 (+0.1%) trading near their flat lines, while the Nasdaq (unch) and Russell 2000 (-0.5%) continue to lag.

Even though the major averages have climbed off their lows, four sectors are still trading in the red. The energy sector (-0.2%) is the weakest performer, while consumer staples (-0.2%), materials (-0.1%), and technology (-0.1%) sit near their flat lines.

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