Apparently isn't the only one getting a makeover. The $20 bill has decided it's not easy being green.

To further deter counterfeiters, the federal government will make significant changes to the bill beginning this fall. Its background will feature a second, subtle color, and you'll see a new image of the White House and a new mug on the front. (Relax. Despite his lobbying, it's not of Bill Mann -- just another shot of Andrew Jackson.)

Officials are still mum on the new hue, though the smart money is on either red or blue, to be revealed March 27.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Costco's Costly Claims

Shares of warehouse club retailer Costco(Nasdaq: COST) are on sale today by about 5%, hovering just above their 52-week low.

Behind the bruising is the company's second-quarter earnings report, which didn't live up to expectations because of a charge taken to cover workers' compensation claims.

The purveyor of giant packs of toilet paper and economy-size jars of pickles earned $182.1 million, or $0.39 a share, in the quarter ended Feb. 16. In the prior period, Costco netted $192.6 million, or $0.41 per share. Analysts were anticipating $0.43 a share.

The retailer bulked up its reserves for workers' comp claims, taking a pre-tax charge of $26 million. After tax, it affected earnings by $16 million, or $0.03 a share.

The company pinpointed rising claim costs, primarily in California, as the main reason for the charge. Only a third of Costco's U.S. employees work in the state, and injuries there are proportional to the workforce's size. But claims from California alone account for more than two-thirds of all claims costs. That's a painful trend that isn't likely to reverse anytime soon.

It's not all bad news, though. Costco's sales for the quarter did improve by 8% to $9.92 billion. Including membership fees, it booked revenues of $10.11 billion. Quarterly same-store sales were up 4%.

The company also reported February sales results: Comps increased by 6% during the month, with total sales up 10%. In addition, Costco backed earnings guidance for the remainder of its fiscal year.

Costco was featured by Tom Gardner in the May 2002 and August 2002 issues ofMotley Fool Stock Advisor.

Quote of Note

"The beauty of auto travel is that it gives your family a chance to spend 'quality time' together in a confined space, hour after quality hour, until you want to yank out all your DNA strands individually by the roots and hurl them out the window." -- Dave Barry, columnist

Spring Breaking the Bank?

Planning a Spring Break trip with a looming war and terrorist alerts is hard enough. But you can be certain of some things, like the actual cost of your vacation.

Travel is a budget-buster for many. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but the key is to plan ahead. Given that Spring Break is just around the corner, we'll assume you haven't put as much thought into your vacation budget as you would've liked.

As with any big purchase, it helps to set up spending guidelines. Transportation, food, and lodging will be your biggest expenses. So take a few minutes to jot down general ideas of your costs. If you're traveling with another adult or little adultlettes with math skills, enlist their help in comparison-shopping on the major line items.

Once the sticker shock wears off, consider a few of these money-conscious, family-friendly travel ideas from the folks at Money Management International.

  • Road trip! No need to go on a cross-country, gas-guzzling excursion. Find out more about attractions in your home state from your local Chamber of Commerce. Visit battlefields, zoos, monuments, factories, and unique unnatural wonders like the world's largest ball of twine. Fools from 50 states are willing to share what makes their hometowns special.
  • Turn your kids into documentarians, and give 'em a Polaroid camera and a blank journal to record the high points of the excursion. (Hint: Lock the bathroom door to put the kibosh on incriminating photos.) Keep the critters busy on the road by having them take turns being the navigator or DJ. As the parent, however, you get to control the volume.
  • Recreate the scary forest scenes from the Lord of the Rings and take the kids camping! (However, make them wear shoes. Hobbits have had centuries to build up calluses.) Many state parks offer rental cabins and low- or no-cost amenities such as canoeing, horseback riding, and hiking tours.
  • Pack up the kids on the fly. Last-minute travel deals can be found for a song if you're willing to be flexible with travel times and locations. Check in with the folks on our Cheap Air Fares discussion board. And remember to bring a stash of granola bars to keep kvetching kids sated at the airport.
  • Lodging can cost an arm and a leg. Look for hotels where kids stay free and rooms that include a kitchenette. And don't forget to ask for any special rates if you are a member of AAA or carry a particular brand of credit card. Need a little guidance on negotiating a better deal? Get input on your predicament on the How to Negotiate Anything discussion board.

Shameless Plug: Save for the Unexpected

Here at, we spend a lot of time talking about investing in the stock market. But that's for your long-term savings -- money you won't need for at least five years, right? Right! What about those unpredictable zingers life throws at you at the worst times? Why, that's why you need a stash of short-term savings. Let us tell you how to start saving today.

Nestle's Frozen Merger

Apparently, the U.S. premium ice cream market is under attack. Or, at least, the "pro-business" administration in the White House forgot to inform the folks who approve mergers and acquisitions.

That was the message yesterday when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) voted unanimously to block a transaction that would have allowed Nestle, which owns Haagen-Dazs, to take over Dreyer's(Nasdaq: DRYR), makers of Edy's, Godiva, Dreamery, and the Starbucks(Nasdaq: SBUX) premium ice creams. A statement from the Bureau of Competition yesterday stated, "This merger, as structured, would likely raise prices and reduce choice for consumers..."

What?! The cost to Dreyer's shareholders has been fast and furious, with the company losing $600 million of its market cap within minutes of the news.

One might ask why the FTC felt the need to block a merger in such a narrow market as super-premium ice creams. They aren't essential goods (although, they're reeaally good), and there are plenty of substitutes. If Nestle and Unilever(NYSE: UN), owner of Breyer's and Ben & Jerry's, were to try to limit choice and raise prices, there are plenty of other ice cream brands. Yes, yes -- perish the thought of giving up your Chubby Hubby. But if Ben & Jerry's decided to charge $8 per pint, you might shop for alternatives.

Cheaper ice cream brands? Check. Italian ices? Check. Jell-O? Oh, yeah. The result of "raised prices and reduced choice?" A collapsing market. This is not a market without alternatives; its demand is elastic. That keeps the suppliers honest, because it's in their best interest to generate the optimal total profit, not profit per unit.

Ah, but no. The FTC decided instead that the market forces in premium ice cream are insufficient to keep the market honest. Apparently, we're all too cowed by our jones for top-shelf ice cream to resist or choose, should companies jack prices to the sky.

Nestle and Dreyer's have committed to making the merger go through. The FTC should send shareholders coupons for free ice cream to make up for their investment losses.

Quick Takes

Provident Financial Group (Nasdaq: PFGI) shares took an 18% hit today after it announced a restatement of earnings from 1997 to 2002. The Cincinnati-based bank said off-balance-sheet accounting errors were to blame.

Defense giant Northrop Grumman(NYSE: NOC) said 2003 earnings per share would come in some 8% to 9% lower than previous guidance. The shortfall is due to higher-than-expected interest payments related to its sale of TRW Automotive.

Toys "R" Us (NYSE: TOY) blamed weak holiday sales for subpar fourth-quarter results. What's more, the retailer said it might have trouble hitting analyst estimates of $1.20 per share for 2003, saying that was at the high end of its forecast range.

In local news, shares of Clem's Moonshine and Counterfeit Shop (Ticker: FREE$) fell 8% on fears Clem will have to purchase new red or blue ink.

And Finally...

Today on

  • For updated stories throughout the day, bookmark our ever-changing News section.
  • Is retirement on shaky ground? Robert Brokamp has the facts and the solution.
  • This Bird's Dirt Cheap: Bill Mann says one Mexican chicken company isn't fried.
  • In Fool's School, why does a company's stock price fall after the announcement of a merger?

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