Over 3,000 people voted in this week's poll. The question: "What do you expect from our political leaders when it comes to the economy?" The responses have been decidedly split, with 49% saying we need strong political leadership and the president and Congress should step up, and 41% agreeing that politicians should just stay out of it and let the business cycle run its course. You can still vote and tell us what you think.

If you prefer not to mix politics with your money, we can't argue with that. Get out there and have a great weekend, Fool -- after you read today's Take!

In today's Motley Fool Take:

A Dell of a Quarter

After the bell yesterday, Dell(Nasdaq: DELL) turned in solid second-quarter earnings, once again proving that a sluggish PC industry isn't enough to stop the company from achieving impressive growth. As the story has long been, its ultra-efficient direct sales model continues to reap market-share gains, allowing it to thrive while the rest of the industry stagnates.

For the quarter, Dell reported earnings per share of $0.19 on revenue of $8.46 billion. This performance was slightly ahead of the already increased guidance it issued on July 12 (covered here). This marked the sixth straight quarter the company surpassed its stated guidance.

The most dramatic statistic in the report is that, with the exception of Dell, PC industry shipments declined 4% for the quarter -- but Dell managed to grow shipments by an astounding 18%. Other impressive highlights include strong growth in revenue from external storage systems -- which grew more than 70% and is now at an annual run rate of more than $1 billion -- and the fact that North American corporate customers rated Dell No. 1 in notebook satisfaction for an unprecedented 17th straight quarter.

Taking a more in-depth look at the quarter, revenue growth was solid at 11% -- although when compared to the 18% shipment growth, it becomes evident that Dell's average sales price is slipping. As detailed in its fabulously data-rich earnings press release, the average revenue per unit for the quarter was $1,770, down from $1,850 a year ago.

Gross margin for the quarter came in at 17.9%, a respectable increase from 17.4% in last year's comparable quarter. But this result is still quite a bit lower than Dell's glory days of 20%-plus gross margins, which prevailed throughout the late 1990s and up through 2000. Those days may be gone forever.

Moving down the income statement, Dell did an excellent job on cost containment, holding operating expenses to only 9.9% of revenue. This record level of expense control allowed the company to achieve an operating profit margin of 8%, its highest in seven quarters and up from 7.2% a year ago. All of this translated into earnings-per-share growth of 19% -- a superb performance within an industry that's not growing at all.

Looking ahead, Dell is now calling for Q3 revenue of $8.9 billion -- notably higher than the current analyst consensus of $8.6 billion -- which would be up 19% from the prior year's quarter. The company expects Q3 EPS of $0.20 to $0.21, slightly ahead of the current consensus estimate of $0.20. At a P/E of close to 39, Dell investors are clearly already anticipating this type of strong revenue and earnings growth based on continued gains in market share.

Discussion Board of the Day: Dell

Ask not for whom Dell toils, it toils for thee... if thee is a shareholder, that is. Find out all you need to know about the company, and join the current debate on its valuation, in the Dell Discussion Board. Only on Fool.com.

Your 401(k) Doesn't Need Fixing

Newsweek magazine ran a big cover story by Jane Bryant Quinn this week (Aug. 19 issue) entitled "5 Ways to Fix the 401(k)," preying on fears of "your melting money." And while everyone likes a good hyperbolic headline, you know you should be skeptical about what you read. Just because something graces the cover of a national publication doesn't mean it's correct -- God forbid you should follow advice you get from a measly website (we jest).

Quinn's main point seems to be that we need legislation enacted to save us from ourselves, and that's part of the problem with a lot of her writing: She seems to think the average American is a complete ignoramus. While that may be debatable -- Anna Nicole Smith's new television show ranks very highly in the ratings -- Jane, at least try to pretend you don't think we're all stupid.

The problem is not with 401(k) plans themselves but with the lack of education to go with them. And what's more efficient? Getting yourself educated -- we think you can do it in 60 seconds -- or waiting for Congress to do something?

Let's take a quick look at Quinn's five ways to save the 401(k):

1) Limit the choice of funds
Her argument is you have too much to choose from, so you foul it up. But why should people who want to put in the effort to choose different kinds of funds be penalized? And why doesn't she even mention the most important choice here: a broad market index fund, which is best for most 401(k) participants?

2) Don't bury workers in company stock
Solid advice here. The last thing you want is too much of your livelihood -- your job and your retirement -- tied up in one company. Don't let your loyalty get the best of you. Diversify.

3) Put the squeeze on easy 401(k) loans
Again, you're limiting options for everyone because of the mistakes of some. Overall, once your money goes into a 401(k), it should stay there -- particularly if you have cockamamie ideas like trying to double your money in silver now (or in dot-coms a couple of years ago). But it's your money, and sometimes this kind of loan can work for you.

4) Provide independent investment advice
Now there's one we can all agree on. The question is how to pay for it. You'd have to pay for advice directly or through the plan. We have a cheaper solution right here: TMF Money Advisor.

5) Push everyone into the pool
Here she means that companies should automatically enroll employees in 401(k)s to get more people saving. Nearly 9 million workers who have retirement plans available to them don't join. Saving more is a great idea for everyone, but do you want it mandated by the government? And where would the money go? A cash account? Stocks? Bonds? Who decides?

In short, the 401(k) is a great tool for building your retirement nest egg. Despite scary headlines, it's not broken. It doesn't need fixing. It needs to be used. So, just do it, Fool.

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Fool Radio Wants You

Labor Day is just around the corner, and The Motley Fool Radio Show on NPR would love to hear from you for its "How's Business?" special. If you've got an interesting job, call us at 866-NPR-FOOL or drop us an email at radio@fool.com. Farmer? Performance Artist? Steelworker? Puppeteer? Pet mortician? We want to hear from you!

Grubman Out at Salomon

Today's Analyst Rant by Bill Mann

Jack Grubman earned $20 million per year as a sell-side telecommunications analyst at Salomon Smith Barney, but was from the outset prized by the firm for his ability to generate huge investment-banking business for the company. He resigned yesterday amid regulatory questions as to whether his calls were designed to provide retail investors information or to attract the big bucks from corporate transactions.

His letter of resignation included the regret that he "failed to predict" the collapse of the telecommunications sector, including companies that he held as "strong buys" all the way down to bankruptcy, such as WorldCom and Global Crossing. If he was actually paid those enormous sums for his analytical chops, Salomon hardly got its money's worth.

Grubman came to Salomon from AT&T(NYSE: T) in the early 1990s at a time when telecommunications was going through technological as well as regulatory revolutions. He worked closely with Global Crossing during its merger with Frontier Telecommunications and its failed takeover of US West. He also advised former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers on literally dozens of deals.

Given this kind of access, is there any wonder that he had no incentive to rock the boat with, say, actual research? He was paid far too well to be a "pawn," but he will go down as the poster boy of a hopelessly corrupt Wall Street analyst. His willingness to sell the retail investor up the river in order to keep investment banking deals coming to Salomon meant his services were valued by his company. It barely seemed to matter to Salomon Smith Barney that one of its analysts put misleading and inaccurate documents in the hands of its retail investors -- its own customers.

Frankly, I hope Grubman tips well at restaurants, because those are the very kinds of people he deceived for his money.

Quote of Note

"First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do." -- Epictetus, 50-138 AD

Quick Takes

The New York Stock Exchange will not open for business until 11 a.m. on Sept. 11, the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks. "It's fitting and appropriate that the New York Stock Exchange remains silent during the memorial services," said NYSE Chairman and CEO Dick Grasso. Other exchanges are expected to follow suit.

Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) is changing, but there's no need to worry: The "new Coke" will be new in appearance only. The world's No. 1 soft drink company is making a few subtle changes to the design on its cans and bottles, adding a bright, intertwining ribbon. You'll see the new look sometime next year.

Charter Communications (Nasdaq: CHTR) says it has received a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. attorney's office, making it the second large cable television company currently under scrutiny for possible accounting irregularities. Adelphia Communications is also being investigated.

Navistar International (NYSE: NAV) reported a loss of $0.27 a share during the third quarter, and said it may have to lay off 500 workers. Blaming "very difficult market conditions," the truck maker says it will likely post another loss next quarter.

Major League Baseball players have set an Aug. 30 deadline for labor negotiations with the owners. If significant progress isn't made by then, they could go on strike. What had once been surprisingly positive talks have turned sour these past few days.

And Finally...

Today on Fool.com: Bill Mann tells companies how to rebuild the trust of American shareholders.... The ins and outs of online banking, in Fool's School. Before you loan money to family and friends, check out our Tax Center.

Contributors:
Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Jeff Hwang, Tom Jacobs, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim