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As the majority of the S&P500 companies have already reported their first quarter earnings it is time to make up the balance and see which stocks have fared the best during the earnings season. Below you will find the best performing stocks, with a market capitalization of at least $1 billion, during the last three months.

Atlas Energy Limited Partners (ATLS) the independent developer of natural gas and oil operations in the Illinois Basin and Rocky Mountains region returned 59% over the last thirteen weeks. In March the company announced the acquisition of operations in the Barnett shale region from Carrizo Oil & Gas for a consideration of $190 million which caused shares to spike up 20% in a single day. From here on shares steadily gained ground. Last week the company lost 4% ahead of the earnings release on Monday the 7th of May.

Dillard's (DDS) the fashion apparel and home furnishing retailer saw a 45% run up in its shares in the last quarter which propelled shares to all time highs around $66 at the moment. The announcement of a $250 million addition to its share repurchase program in February and a strong sentiment in retail stocks in general were the driving forces behind the massive rally. After decent third and fourth quarter results in 2011 investors stepped in as the retailer is currently still valued at a mere 7.5 times 2011's earnings, despite the 45% rally.

American Eagle Outfitters (AEO), the specialty retailer with operations in the United States and Canada returned 43% in line with competitor Dillard's. American Eagle's comments in early March that the company is expecting a modest sales increase, marked the start of a steady upwards trend which picked up speed after the company announced it would raise first quarter earnings per share expectations from $0.08-$0.10 to a range of $0.18-$0.20 which caused a 20% jump in the share price last Wednesday.

GNC Holdings (GNC) the holding company focusing on nutritional supplements, diet products and other wellness products saw its shares return 40% during the last quarter. A strong full year 2012 guidance delivered in March marked the beginning of an upward trend. After the company revised the guidance upwards at the end of April shares continued their rally to peak at $42 per share. Since then shares have fallen some 10% after regulators blocked the marketing of an ingredient in some of the company's products.

Lender Processing Services (LPS) the provider of integrated technology and outsourced services to the mortgage industry rose 40% during the quarter. The recovery in the share price comes after a dramatic year for shareholders. Shares in the company have fallen from levels of low forties in the beginning of 2010 to lows of $14 in the beginning of this year and have bounced back to $24 at the moment. Signs indicating improving trends in the housing sector and mortgage affordability triggered a rebound in the company's shares.

Chico's FAS (CHS) is another retailer which made the top-performing list. Shares in the specialty retailer known from Chico's and the White House / Black Market brand have returned 37% during the period. A strong fourth quarter report in February triggered a 17% surge in the stock price as the company reported quarterly earnings per share of $0.15 beating consensus of $0.11 per share. From that moment on shares have traded in the $14-$16 range and settled down.

The Gap (GPS) the retailer known from apparel brand including Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Paperline with operations across the globe saw its shares return 33% during the quarter, marking the fourth retailer appearing in the top 10 list of gainers during the last quarter. Just like many of its competitors shares have fallen near the end of 2011 on dismal holiday season expectations but have recovered after the company raised its expectations for the results of the fourth quarter of 2011. In addition, the company announced a $1 billion share repurchase program later that month and it issued an earnings per share guidance for the first quarter coming in ahead of analyst expectations, as recent as last week.

Heartland Payment Systems (HPY) the provider of bankcard payment processing services to merchants in North America returned 32% over the last quarter after the company issued a strong full year 2012 outlook in February. The revenue and earnings outlook came in above analysts consensus. Furthermore the company announced a modest increase in its quarterly dividend to $0.06 per share. Last week the company increased its full year earnings guidance to $1.59-$1.63 per share after this week's earnings report.

Sturm, Ruger & Company (RGR) the designer and manufacturer of firearms returned 31% in the last thirteen weeks. Shares have hit all time highs of $54 per share compared to $15 in the beginning of 2011. Shares have been steadily increasing as the company had to stop taking new orders to catch up on demand. Demand for guns has been growing amidst economic uncertainty and worries that President Barack Obama might seek to reduce gun rights.

Lennar Corporation (LEN) the homebuilder and provider of financial services saw its shares return 31% during the quarter. Shares hit $28 per share, the highest level in five years after the company reported strong quarterly results and the general sentiment for the construction industry has been improving amidst record low mortgage rates and a catch-up in housing demand.

The general equity markets have seen a quarter of consolidation. The S&P500 index has moved up 2.4% to 1,369 after hitting highs of 1,420 in the beginning of April 2012. The retail sector has seen a broad-based rally after depressed expectations during the key holiday season pushed down valuations across the industry. Furthermore improvements in the housing sector sparked a rally for Lennar Corporation and Lennar Processing Services.

Source: The 10 Winners Of This Earnings Season