Sixty-eight percent of American households own their own homes. That's an even greater percentage than those who own stocks (about 50%). Yet we spend considerably more time talking stocks here on

Well, today we're giving you real estate buffs (as well as anybody whose head has spun around in frustration at a mortgage loan closing) something to chew on. We're unveiling a brand new real estate column, written by Tom Jacobs (TMF Tom9). We hope you'll find it useful. Stop by our Home Center any time for help with everything from refinancing to home maintenance.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Abercrombie Looks Hot

Sexy retailer Abercrombie & Fitch(NYSE: ANF) reported expectation-beating fourth-quarter results yesterday after market close. The company capped off a difficult year filled with a seemingly endless supply of controversy.

From naked college kids hawking clothes in its juicy catalog Quarterly, to thongs for young girls sold in their children's stores, to racial missteps with some of its T-shirts, Abercrombie & Fitch is undoubtedly happy to breeze into fiscal 2003.

Despite (or perhaps because of) all the controversy, the retailer pulled off a solid quarter and year. Sales for Q4 rose 14.6% to $534.5 million. For the entire year, revenues jumped 17% to $1.6 billion. The only catch remains same-store sales. They were off 4% for the quarter and 5% for the year.

Back in January, Abercrombie raised earnings guidance for its fourth quarter to $0.86 to $0.88 a share. Yesterday, it reported $0.93 a share, ahead of revised expectations by three cents and last quarter's results by 19%. It earned $194.9 million for the year. That's 15.5% ahead of 2001's $168.7 million.

Its balance sheet also looks as fresh as one of its nubile models. Accounts receivables are nearly half of what they were last year. Inventory levels are up 32%, which might be cause for concern given the 17% sales growth, but the company has an explanation. Last year, it was left with too little inventory after Christmas and going into spring. It's correcting that mistake this time around so as not to lose sales.

While Abercrombie should certainly be congratulated on a great quarter and year, it faces some challenges. First, it needs to improve its flagship store's men's business. For the past several quarters, the women's side has been outperforming the men's. Hopefully, its spring mix will draw 'em in like frat boys to a kegger.

Also, the retailer has been squeezing every possible part of its business over the last year for cost savings. It's cut down on the hours worked by its well-outfitted employees. It's shrinking its fulfillment costs for the online business and reducing its sourcing costs. However, the company admits it's just about eked out all the available savings. Given this, Abercrombie won't be able to rely on this strategy as much in the coming year to strengthen its bottom line.

Shares have risen dramatically since Abercrombie raised its guidance back in January. Assuming the company continues executing and meeting its challenges head-on, it wears its P/E of around 15 well.

Quote of Note

"We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. It was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization." -- Petronius, 100 B.C., author of the Satyricon

The AOL Shuffle

The revolving door of top management at AOL Time Warner(NYSE: AOL) has spun out yet another executive. This time, it's Turner Broadcasting head Jamie Kellner. He joins Chairman Steve Case, cable news guru Ted Turner, and CNN chief Walter Isaacson in the ranks of the recently departed.

Kellner says he's stepping down after two years on the job to "spend more time with family." Isn't that what they all say? Regardless of his reasons, he'll hang around as the head of the WB Network long enough to finish out his contract, which expires in the summer of 2004.

Coming in to shake things up at Turner is Philip Kent. Perhaps we should say, returning to shake things up, since Kent was the head of Turner's CNN News division until August 2001. He left that post so Isaacson could fill it. Now, Isaacson's gone, and Kent will have much more responsibility than before.

Turner Broadcasting has an array of television stations, including TNT, TBS Superstation, Turner Classic Movies, the Cartoon Network, and, of course, CNN. Kent will lead them all, and will also be in charge of Turner Sports, which owns the Atlanta Braves, Hawks, and Thrashers.

He'll immediately start working with Kellner to fashion a transition plan, and will officially take the reins on March 10.

Will this returning executive have the right mojo for CNN and the rest of Turner? Well, at least one shareholder is happy he's coming back -- Ted Turner. Others will just have to wait and see how it plays out.

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Hasta La Vista, AltaVista

If Company A agreed to acquire Company B for $140 million last night, and Company A's stock gets shelled in after-hours trading to the tune of a $110 million hit to its market cap, does that mean the market thinks Company B was really worth only $30 million?

Not exactly.

Let's flesh out these unnamed widget havens to get to the bottom of things. Overture(Nasdaq: OVER) will dole out the bucks to buy AltaVista from fallen dot-com incubator CMGI(Nasdaq: CMGI). The Web portal has been swapped around like an Old Maid card over the years. It's an interesting family tree: AltaVista was the handiwork of Digital Equipment before a pre-Hewlett-Packard(NYSE: HPQ) Compaq absorbed Digital. While Compaq filed to take AltaVista public, the market conditions weren't right. In 1999, CMGI acquired an 83% stake in the search engine for a whopping $2.3 billion in stock and greenery.

Even adjusting for the dot-com bubble burst, it looks like Overture's getting a sweet deal on some high-traffic portal real estate. While it's no Google, AltaVista is still a popular online destination with nearly eight years of search technology. Yahoo!(Nasdaq: YHOO) is an $11 billion company, and Lycos was faring well before it was swallowed into Terra Lycos(Nasdaq: TRLY).

While it may appear to be a conflict of interest, Overture has made a profitable living by selling its paid search services to different portals. Owning one and the technology behind it won't change things, though Google may argue otherwise, as it arms itself with one more reason for sites to go with Google's newer yet similar performance-based AdWords Select offering.

That's fine. Let Overture's nervous sellers mark AltaVista down to nothing if they want to. The opportunistic buyers will get a proven dot-com success story with a well-traveled portal for free.

Discussion Board of the Day: Yahoo!

How will Overture's buyout of AltaVista affect the Web portals? Is this the start of more sector consolidation? How has Yahoo! managed to stay far above its portal peers? All this and more -- in the Yahoo! discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

The great East Coast blizzard of '03 helped dump U.S. chain store sales lower for the week ended Feb. 15 by 1.5% on a year-over-year basis.

Move over Merrill Lynch(NYSE: MER), Morgan Stanley(NYSE: MWD), and Citigroup's(NYSE: C) Smith Barney... there's a new full-service broker in town. Prudential Financial(NYSE: PRU) and Wachovia(NYSE: WB) have joined forces to create a new firm with over 12,000 employees.

Do you own a 1997 Ford(NYSE: F) Escort or Mercury Tracer? If so, your car is being recalled so dealers can install a shield over the air bag monitor to help prevent unintended deployment.

After the bell yesterday, semiconductor maker Micron Technology(NYSE: MU) announced cost-cutting measures that include laying off 10% of its workforce, or about 1,800 employees.

In earnings news, Qwest Communications(NYSE: Q) posted a loss of $0.02 a share from operations, better than the $0.23 loss a year ago. Revenue, however, was down more than 11%.

Pharmacia (NYSE: PHA) reported an 11% jump in adjusted earnings to $0.40 a share on a disappointing 1% rise in sales. The company will soon be swallowed by fellow pharma Pfizer(NYSE: PFE); the deal is expected to close sometime this quarter.

In local news, Ledbetter Seed & Feed completed its hostile takeover of next-door neighbor Hank's Seed & Feed. The deal was assured only after Dennis Ledbetter promised Dorothea Smith -- Hank's mother and majority shareholder in his company -- that he would keep her son on as weekend manager. "That Dennis... he's such a nice boy," said Dorothea.

And Finally...

Today on

  • For updated stories throughout the day, bookmark our ever-changing News section.
  • Whitney Tilson highlights 4 cheap retail stocks worth further investigation.
  • Bill Mann begins a 360-degree look at Rule Maker, past, present, and future.
  • The Big Three auto makers don't want to give you more fuel efficiency.
  • Chuck E. Cheese says earnings will suffer due to higher cheese prices -- but we have the real reasons.
  • In Fool's School, what's the price-to-sales ratio?

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