Stop the presses! Nice guys don't finish last anymore, at least according to last night's season finale of The Bachelorette.

The twittering, baby-talking Trista chose the sensitive, poetry-writing fireman over the strapping financial analyst.

Sorry, Charlie! Everyone thought you were a shoo-in, with those piercing blue eyes and witty retorts to her parents' pressing questions. Oh well, we never trusted those analysts, anyway.

Roses are red. Violets are blue. The FOOL 50 thinks writing love poems is lame, and so do we.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Lucent Dials for Profits

Lucent Technologies (NYSE: LU) is one of a few large companies in the country with a female CEO, Patricia Russo, and it was just announced that soon she'll be Lucent's chairperson as well. Russo's been chopping ranks and not taking names as she rights this wobbly ship.

Lucent has lost a body-blowing $29 billion since 1999, but the company is finally stemming the spew. In its most recent quarter, it lost a relatively absorbable $389 million. By the end of its fiscal year in September, it expects to post a profit.

Holy mackerel. Did we just utter the word "profit"? We did. But Lucent won't be out of the frying pan yet. Although the company expects to hold $2 billion in cash by fiscal year-end, it has $3.2 billion in long-term debt -- $1 billion of which could be due in August 2004 if bank credit isn't extended.

That, in addition to declining sales, thinned ranks, and Russo's expectation for only 5% to 7% long-term growth in telecom, makes for a long upward haul ahead. To help prepare for the slow recovery, the company is considering a reverse stock split.

The New York Stock Exchange can delist a stock if it doesn't average above $1 a share in price over a 30-day period. A reverse stock split would put the share price around $15 to $25 by decreasing the number of shares outstanding.

Reverse stock splits alone will never save a company. Lucent needs to start earning enough profits to pay down its debt, reinvest in R&D and sales, and fund its underfunded pension fund. In other words, there's still a lot stacked against the company.

Quote of Note

"The best measure of a man's honesty isn't his income tax return. It's the zero adjust on his bathroom scale." -- Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction author

Should You Go It Alone?

Need a hand filling out that 1040 EZ form? No one's snickering. Even the IRS estimates it'll take the average taxpayer about 13 hours to fill it out its simplest form this year.

If you need a helping hand figuring out this year's return, Consumer Reports has got your back with tips on deciding whether or not to go it alone.

What considerations should go into your decision? If you had unusual gains, decreases in income, a boost in assets via inheritance, or some other windfall (are you listening, Joe Millionaire?), you might want to consider getting a pro's input. Those who own a business or are self-employed may also need tax help. And any new life circumstance -- becoming a homeowner, a new parent, or realizing significant gains on stocks or rental income -- may complicate matters.

Our own Tax Center, managed by Tax Superman Roy Lewis (behold the library of tax minutiae!), can help you get to the bottom of most of these issues and reduce your tax bill through retirement investments and college savings plans.

Still, when it comes to calling in reinforcement, it pays to be cautious. Consumer Reports recommends avoiding preparers who promise a large refund before looking at your information, and those who charge a fee based on the size of the return. Be sure to ask how the firm handles sensitive data (you're looking for the word "shred" in the answer). Check out the rest of the magazine's advice on finding good tax help.

For those planning to go it alone, the IRS has a treat for you. It recently unveiled a new, free Internet filing service, "Free File," which enables taxpayers to complete and transmit returns over the Internet without any special software. See if you qualify -- about 60% of individuals do.

Now, go clear out next weekend's calendar so you can plod through that 1040 EZ form.

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Target's Average Marks

All discounters are not created equal. Though Target(NYSE: TGT) may have Cynthia Rowley offerings, splashy commercials, and a more yuppie-oriented image, its fourth-quarter results still lagged Wal-Mart's(NYSE: WMT).

Sometimes being the coolest kid on the block just doesn't pay as much as being the biggest.

Target's sales for the quarter ended Feb. 1 rose 6.4% to $14.061 billion. Comps declined by 2.2%. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, booked sales of $71 billion for the fourth quarter, an increase of 10.7%, and managed a comps gain of 2.7%. With incomes tight and war looming, it appears shoppers opted for "Everyday Low Prices" this season.

On the earnings side, there's even greater disparity. Target netted $688 million, ahead of the previous quarter's $658 million by 4.4%. It hit the analysts' bull's-eye with earnings per share of $0.75. Wal-Mart's earnings, though, ballooned 15.5% to $2.5 billion.

An area of concern for Target is its enormous growth in accounts receivable. They shot up at year's end by 45% to $5.6 billion. Sales for the fiscal year only improved 10.3%. That's a scary deviation.

Its credit operations may end up biting the company, much like they bitSears(NYSE: S). On its store credit card, for instance, 5.1% of total balances are past due. Cash flow from operations is down dramatically year over year because of those expanding receivables.

Wal-Mart doesn't have this problem. With quarterly sales of $71 billion and annual sales of $244.5 billion, its receivables are a mere $2.1 billion, 5% higher than last year.

Hopefully, Target will get its credit problems in order quickly. For it to compete with Wal-Mart, it's going to have to.

Discussion Board of the Day: Video & PC

Are the problems with THQ company-specific, or is the sector in a rut? Do you really think the Nintendo GameCube's days are numbered? What games are you playing right now? All this and more -- in the Video & PC discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

JP Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) will pay $6 million to settle charges by the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) that the bank offered shares of IPOs in exchange for banking business. The alleged acts occurred at Hambrecht & Quist, which Morgan acquired in 1999.

Biotech drug maker Biogen(Nasdaq: BGEN) said it must provide more data to European drug regulators for its proposed psoriasis treatment Amevive. In the U.S., the FDA approved the drug on Jan 31, and it went on sale Feb. 3. It's estimated that European Union sales would add another 30% to revenues that may hit $500 million a year.

Biotch drug makers NPS Pharmaceuticals(Nasdaq: NPSP) and Enzon Pharmaceuticals(Nasdaq: EZNZ) said they would merge in a $760 million deal. NPS stock plummeted as much as 25%. Biotech consolidation has accelerated dramatically this year. Zeke Ashton covered the biggest deal so far.

Producer prices rose 1.6% last month, the largest rise since January 1990 and over three times forecasts. The number is a federal government measure of wholesale, not retail, prices, and would have been up 0.9% even without food and energy, which was boosted by rising oil prices. Economists watch producer price trends over many months for indications of inflation or deflation.

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to give states the authority to decide which network elements local service telecom providers must lease to competitors. FCC Chairman Michael Powell dissented. He believes that one federal decision promotes competition and benefits consumers far better than 50 different state decisions. The decision is a blow to the Baby Bells, which had sided with Powell.

And Finally...

Today on

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  • Readers answer the question, "Why do we make bad money decisions?"
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  • In Hot Topics, it's even more difficult to get your financial affairs in order when you're six feet under (free Community trial required).
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  • In Fool's School, employee stock options: If you have them, understand them.

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