JetBlue's Soaring Quality

It may not even feel like spring here in the Mid-Atlantic, where we're currently subjected to January-type wind chills, but have hope. The boys of summer are back. Despite a questionable rollout in Japan last week, it's officially Opening Day for Major League Baseball. So, get your hot dogs, Cracker Jacks, and steroids. It's time to play ball!

Will the Yankees win 120 games? Will Ken Griffey play 120 games (he's already out with a calf injury). Will curses once again bury the Red Sox and Cubs? Will Barry Bonds challenge his home record or succumb to allegations of steroid abuse?

Disillusioned with the greed and commercialism of America's pastime? Put your skills to good use. Apply to be the Fool's bat boy -- or a writer, or an editor.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

JetBlue's Soaring Quality

By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

Has Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation JetBlue(Nasdaq: JBLU) turned the phrase, "You get what you pay for" on its ear? After all, that's the phrase that illustrates what lots of people take as a truism -- that cheaper isn't better. However, discount airline JetBlue earned itself some news headlines today, having landed the No. 1 slot in a study of airline quality. Now, that's got to be music to the ears of air travelers -- not to mention those watching the outlook for this stock.

Much has been made of JetBlue's attempts to make itself a cheap alternative to traditional air travel, while differentiating itself in other ways as well. It's shaken up the industry by introducing leather seats with plenty of legroom and other perks, like satellite TV with XM Satellite Radio(Nasdaq: XMSR) service on the way.

Although JetBlue is known for its unconventional perks, its No. 1 spot is based on the more conventional -- and arguably, more important -- needs of passengers, which were monitored in the study by the University of Nebraska-Omaha and Wichita State University. For example, JetBlue had the second-highest ratings when it came to punctuality. Anyone who hates being bumped would be interested to know that so few JetBlue passengers got that treatment, it couldn't even be included for the category. It had the fewest customer complaints followed by Southwest(NYSE: LUV), which snagged the No. 3 slot overall.

In addition to low-cost carriers like Southwest and AirTran(NYSE: AAI), even the traditional carriers have launched low-cost versions, such as UAL Corp.'s (OTC BB: UALAQ.OB) Ted and Delta's(NYSE: DAL) Song. (Of course, this data makes one wonder if quality lacking in the full-service airlines will be inherited by their cheaper offspring.)

For those of us who always fly coach, air travel may very well seem a necessary discomfort and inconvenience. Even people I know who love to travel could do without the general hassle and discomfort of just about everything having to do with airplanes, not to mention the often steep price of airfare. According to this study, traditional carriers United, American, and Delta were towards the bottom of the list of quality, at numbers 9, 11, and 12, respectively.

JetBlue may have been getting some word of mouth based on the clever ways it makes it differentiates itself from its rivals. However, in delivering No. 1 quality, that translates into a heck of a lot of buzz as happy customers spread the word -- and the idea that this airline stock really might be on the verge of taking off.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned, nor does she particularly like to fly. However, she has to admit, JetBlue sounds like a winning way to go.

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Mandalay Hotels Bring Jackpot

By Seth Jayson

Gambling may be a sucker's game, but these days, gambling stocks have made pretty good bets. Mandalay Resort Group(NYSE: MBG) got a 4% bump upward this morning, sending shares to $60 a stub, a 52-week high. The reason: an announcement that first-quarter earnings would be much better than expected.

Peers followed suit, with Isle of Capri Casinos(Nasdaq: ISLE) and Boyd Gaming(NYSE: BYD) trading near their year's high-water marks. MGM Mirage(NYSE: MGG) followed Mandalay's lead to a 52-week high, along with Harrah's Entertainment(NYSE: HET) and Caesars Entertainment(NYSE: CZR).

Mandalay's profit prediction of over $1.10 per share blows away analysts' estimates of $0.84 per share and would soundly beat the $0.69 per share that the firm inked in last year's first quarter.

Must be good to be the folks with the key to all those slot machines, eh? Well, maybe -- Mandalay's slot revenues are up 30% -- but it turns out that's not the real source of the firm's growing stash of green. Fool casino ace Jeff Hwang recently penned an interesting article that reminded us that the big bucks for casino and resort operators don't always come from the gaming floor. Often, the payoff can be found in the casino's hotel properties.

Mandalay appears to be the shining example of this, as revenue per room at its flagship hotel has advanced at a double-digit rate. Much of this comes on Las Vegas' increasing strength in the convention business, as the desert strip continues to draw business away from other convention centers.

The resort industry and gaming industry look well-positioned to capitalize on an improving economy and an expected travel rebound. But Fools should remember to take a look at the individual merits of the companies, and not bet on an entire industry. W.D. Crotty's recent look at Trump Hotels(NYSE: DJT) shows that there are ways to lose your shirt in even the best of businesses.

Fool contributor Seth Jayson once gambled nine bucks on a steak dinner at the Stardust. He lost. He owns no interest in any company mentioned above. View his Fool profile here.

Quote of Note

"I'm living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart." -- e e cummings

REITs Fall

By Mathew Emmert (TMF Gambit)

After years of stellar performance, fears of rising interest rates have finally put the kibosh on real estate investment trusts (REITs) -- at least for now. The release of various bits of economic data, including today's stronger-than-expected reading on the non-manufacturing sector, has had REIT investors running for the hills instead of buying them.

The Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate Fund(AMEX: IYR) and the streetTRACKS Wilshire REIT Fund(AMEX: RWR), both good barometers of the overall REIT sector, are down about 4% today. And, many large REITs, such as Equity Office Properties(NYSE: EOP), are down more than 3%.

It appears that the piecing together of this economic data has resulted in a belief that the economy will be moving full steam ahead. That supposition could mean that the Fed, led by Alan Greenspan, may decide to get into the game -- raising interest rates sooner than expected.

So, what should you do with your REITs? Run for the hills! Get out while you still can! Sell, sell, sell! Just kidding.

Try this on instead: Certainly REITs have experienced some sizzling gains over the past few years, and many are pricey, but reasonable values can still be found, so don't panic.

The idea that anyone can accurately predict the nature of short-term interest rates is about as silly as the idea that anyone can predict the short-term nature of the stock market. Plenty of folks say they can do it -- some of whom are even delusional enough to believe it themselves -- but the truth is that it just isn't possible.

Sure, you might be lucky enough to guess right once, twice, or even three times. And, that's often enough to make the career of a Wall Street talking head. Heck, there are some pundits out there who are still coasting on the fact that they "called" the 1987 stock market crash, despite the fact that they haven't gotten a single thing right since.

Wow, is that all it takes? One lucky shot makes a long-term success? Well, that may be true for the pundits of Wall Street, but it isn't going to work for you and me, which brings us back to what we should do about our REIT holdings.

If you bought your REITs to add diversity to a well-balanced, long-term portfolio, then you should -- insert drum roll here -- do nothing. That's right, nothing.

First off, yields on REITs are still generally the best available in this market. Second, the fact that these investments tend to move independently of the overall market makes them an excellent diversification tool, and we don't simply abandon our diversification strategy because of short-term fluctuations, as that's the whole point of diversifying in the first place.

Last, do you really think the fact that interest rates are at generational lows has escaped the attention of most REITs? Me either. These are companies that tend to borrow great sums of money to fund their real estate purchases, so interest rates matter to them. To that end, many REITs, such as Vornado Realty Trust(NYSE: VNO) and Chelsea Property Group(NYSE: CPG), have already taken steps to insulate themselves from the long-term inevitability of higher rates.

The bottom line is this: Now may not be the time to load up on REITs, but you shouldn't let short-term gyrations and interest-rate speculation shake you out of a prudent long-term strategy.

Mathew Emmert doesn't own stock in any of the companies in this story.

Discussion Board of the Day: Real Estate & REITs

REITs piquing your interest? Are you nail-biting over the recent dip in industry bellwethers? Head on over to the Real Estate & REITs discussion board for some raucous and good humored but well-informed banter on the industry and its prospects.

More on Fool.com Today

A deal with Roche gives ArQule's drug program a leg up. Find out more in Charly Travers' A Biotech's Transition to Drugs.... And don't let a higher yield jeopardize the money you need within five years. Matthew Emmert's got the answers in Stretching for Short-Term Yield.... Could it be that we have more information than we need? Bill Mann says, absolutely. Read on for the difference between Information Vs. Knowledge.

In other news:

For a list of all our stories from today, see our Today's Headlines page.




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