With gas prices surging and the threat of war looming, Americans may feel the need to bunker down to endure the long winter weeks ahead. But you can be proactive in battling the bills and the blues.

Today on Fool.com, Jeff Fischer reminds us that the media's daily barrage of gloom and doom should be taken with a grain of salt. And personal finance expert Robert Brokamp suggests 18 (yes, 18!) ways to cut fuel costs this season.

Six more weeks of winter? Bah! Are you gonna let a pesky groundhog get you down? We didn't think so.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

J&J Snags Scios

Affirming rumors, Johnson & Johnson(NYSE: JNJ) will indeed buy drug company Scios(Nasdaq: SCIO) for $2.4 billion in cash. When word of the deal leaked Friday, shares of Scios rose 22% to $42.20, and are up again today almost 4% to $44. Scios shareholders will get $45 a share from J&J. From its 1999 lows of just above $2 a share, it has been quite a ride.

Johnson & Johnson will acquire Scios to boost its drug pipeline. Much has been made of the smaller company's two-year-old congestive heart failure treatment, Natrecor. Scios expects the drug to generate sales of $160 million to $170 million in 2003, and it may eventually ring up $500 million in annual sales.

The more interesting story, though, is a drug awaiting approval. Scios' experimental rheumatoid arthritis treatment, SCIO-469, is in phase II trials and could be years away from approval. However, should the drug's promise hold up, sales could one day eclipse those expected for Natrecor.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body's own defenses turn against it and attack the sufferer's joints. It's a crippling and incredibly painful illness with no cure.

SCIO-469 is creating a good deal of buzz because of the way it works. The drug blocks the p38 kinase enzyme responsible for stimulating inflammation-causing proteins, such as TNF and COX-2. Other companies are also attempting to create a p38-inhibiting drug, but this one is in the most advanced testing stages.

Another great thing about SCIO-469, compared to existing rheumatoid arthritis treatments, is its dosage. Amgen's(Nasdaq: AMGN) Enbrel, J&J's own Remicade, and Abbott Lab's(NYSE: ABT) Humira are all given as injections. SCIO-469 would likely be approved in pill form, a huge advantage.

One thing must be underlined, though. SCIO-469 hasn't been approved, and similar drugs in the past have been shot down because of safety concerns. Still, J&J will get ahold of an existing successful drug and a potentially promising one -- a healthy dose of optimism for the drug maker.

Quote of Note

"My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income." -- Errol Flynn (1909-1959), actor

Cut Your Fuel Costs

Americans are paying an average of $1.60 per gallon of gas, according to the Lundberg survey of more than 7,000 gas stations nationwide. That's an 11-cent increase over the past two weeks, and the highest price since June 2001.

The causes are clear: strikes in Venezuela, a possible war with Iraq, and the failure of the controversial "Turn your teenager's face into oil profits" program.

You can't control the cost of a barrel of crude, but you can take steps to cut your heating bills. Here are a few tips:

  1. Properly insulate your house. Check the attics, walls, and basement/crawl space, especially the spaces between the floorboards and joists.

  2. Seal the leaks. Go around the outside walls of your house with a candle, particularly the windows, doors, electrical outlets, and baseboards. If the flame flickers, it might be due to a tiny crack that lets hot air out and cold air in. Seal it with caulk or weather stripping.

  3. Warm your windows. Anywhere from 25% to 40% of heat loss is due to windows. One solution: Put a blanket or, better yet, a sheet of plastic or a shrink-wrap product (available at hardware stores) around the window. This will block drafts and create an insulating pocket of air.

  4. Humidify the house. Moist air feels warmer than dry air.

  5. Give your furnace a checkup. Clean filters can make a furnace 10% more efficient. Also, if the heating ducts are in an unheated area (such as the attic), they should be insulated.

  6. Install a digital thermostat. By turning down your thermostat when you go to work and turning it back up when you get home, you could save $300 this year. A digital thermostat -- which costs about $30 and is a breeze to install -- can regulate the temperature for you.

  7. Close crawl space vents. If you have a crawl space, there are probably vents around the foundation of your house. Close 'em up for the winter, but make sure you reopen them in the summer to prevent moisture from accumulating.

  8. Turn on ceiling fans. Since hot air rises, a fan on low will circulate the heat throughout the room.

  9. Move to Cuba. We hear Guantanamo Bay is very popular these days.

Read the full Take to learn 9 more ways to save on your gas bills....

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SBC Fights for Hughes

Who's getting Hughes(NYSE: GMH)? Another company's hat is in the ring today, after SBC Communications(NYSE: SBC) is said to be considering a $10 billion bid for the DirecTV owner.

General Motors (NYSE: GM) owns 80% of Hughes. After regulators quashed EchoStar's(Nasdaq: DISH) $18 billion bid, the auto maker has been trying to sell off all or part of the satellite TV unit. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.(NYSE: NWS) has long-lusted after Hughes like a money-hungry girl for Joe Millionaire, and SBC's move could throw a serious kink into its plans.

SBC is the country's second-largest local telephone provider. What does it want with a satellite TV company? SBC hopes Hughes and DirecTV can help it compete more effectively against cable companies like Cox(NYSE: COX) and Comcast(Nasdaq: CMCSK), which are increasingly stepping on the toes of local phone companies. Additionally, as core business revenues decline (SBC anticipates 2003 sales will drop off by a low, single-digit percentage), DirecTV could give the company other much-needed revenue streams.

With declining revenues and more than five times as much long-term debt as cash, though, now might not be the time for SBC to branch out into the satellite market. Besides, it's common knowledge that Murdoch and Co. don't give up easily when they've got their minds set on something. Like another episode of Celebrity Boxing, this fight could get ugly.

Discussion Board of the Day: UPS

After its announcement that pink slips are in the pipeline for pilots, can United Parcel Service bounce back, or is this just a clever yet cruel negotiation ploy between the company and its pilots union? Can its strength in international business cover for its domestic shortcomings? All this and more -- in the UPS discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

Quick Takes

With the Middle East being much more of a hot spot than usual, oil companies are looking elsewhere for oil (for example, Alaska). The England-based oil giant BP(NYSE: BP)aims to invest more than $4 billion in what will be Russia's third-largest oil company -- a firm formed by the merger of three smaller oil companies. It would be one of the world's top 10 producers. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil(NYSE: XOM) plans to spend some $10 billion developing new oil resources in West Africa.

Did you know that when you use a credit card overseas, you get slapped with currency-conversion fees and other surcharges by Visa, Mastercard, and many card-issuing banks? Apparently, many people were unaware, and a suit has been filed against Visa and Mastercard. In a preliminary decision, a judge involved ruled against the card companies, raising the possibility that they'll be forced to refund $500 million or more.

Heating oil prices spiked up some 20% last week, and with the vast majority of U.S. heating oil households in the Northeast, Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy have asked President Bush to release $100 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds to follow $200 million released a few weeks ago.

While IBM(NYSE: IBM) and Hewlett-Packard(NYSE: HPQ) try to eat its lunch, Sun Microsystems(Nasdaq: SUNW) is fighting back. Sun launched a new technology called "blades," along with some new, aggressively priced hardware. It also boosted the strength and lowered the price of some of its existing products. According to Dow Jones, blades technology involves building computers "out of many small circuit boards, known as blades, that are placed in racks vertically -- like books on a shelf -- instead of larger boards that are stacked horizontally."

The Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG) , the advertising company and parent to McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, Lowe Group, and more, is facing the prospect of its debt being reduced to "junk" status. In order to prevent this and prop itself up, it has put on the block its NFO WorldGroup unit, hoping to close a deal by March. Early bidders include the U.K.'s WPP Group(Nasdaq: WPPGY), parent of Young & Rubicam and Ogilvy & Mather, which offered up to $400 million for the company. Fool analyst Bill Mann wrote positively about WPP Group in Stocks 2003, our guide to many promising companies for the year ahead -- check it out.

And Finally...

Today on Fool.com:

  • For updated stories throughout the day, bookmark our ever-changing News section.
  • Bombs Away, Everyday: The media's fear factor may be hurting our economy. Jeff Fischer says enough's enough.
  • UPS delivers pink slips to pilots. Will the package specialist shape up or ship out?
  • The battle over taxes on Internet commerce heats up.
  • Matt Richey explains why a portfolio of eight to 10 stocks might be your best bet for beating the market.
  • In Fool's School, what's the point of renter's insurance, and is it necessary?

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Jeff Fischer, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim