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3 of the best ASX stocks today

The S&P / ASX 200 Index (Index: ^AXJO) (ASX: XJO) has added 0.5% today, ending at 4,810.2, after a measure of China’s growth suggested the world’s second-largest economy is steadily recovering. China’s manufacturing index hit a two year high, as Chinese companies hire more staff and increase production to meet rising orders, according to a private survey by HSBC.

Offshore markets also continued their run upwards overnight, with the Dow Jones adding 0.5%, while the S&P 500 rose 0.2%.

The Australian dollar has fallen slightly against the US dollar, currently buying around 105.2 US cents.

These three stocks were the best performers in the ASX 200, rising more than 4%.

Poker machine maker, Aristocrat Leisure Limited (ASX: ALL) added 5.4%, closing at $3.51. Investors may be hoping the company can repeat its 2012 performance of more than doubling its net profit over the previous year. Although there may be some bad news ahead. According to IBISWorld, the gaming and vending machine sector is tipped to show the biggest decline in revenues this year, hit by restrictions on number of machines, and competition from online gambling sites.

Southern Cross Media Group (ASX: SXL) rose 4.6% to end at $1.14. A federal government proposal to relax free-to-air licencing rules could see Southern Cross and Ten Network Holdings consider joining together. That would give TEN access to 14 regional free-to-air TV licences, as well as Southern Cross’ commercial radio station network. Investors may be speculating that a merger is not far away.

Ardent Leisure Limited (ASX: AAD) saw its shares rise 4.1%, closing at $1.525. The company’s shares have risen 12.5% over the past 3 months, as investors are likely attracted to its dividend yield of over 5%, and potential to grow earnings from its theme parks because of better summer weather. Ardent owns Dreamworld and WhiteWater World, as well as bowling and family entertainment centres and health clubs.

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The Motley Fool’s purpose is to help the world invest, better. Click here now for your free subscription to Take Stock, The Motley Fool’s free investing newsletter. Packed with stock ideas and investing advice, it is essential reading for anyone looking to build and grow their wealth in the years ahead.  This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson. Motley Fool writer/analyst Mike King doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned.

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