Don't look now, but what's that speeding toward outer space? It's a bird... it's a plane... no, it's Jeff Bezos! This week Newsweek reported that Amazon.com's
Turns out he and a number of other dot-com and tech billionaires -- such as Elon Musk, founder of online payment firm Paypal, and John Carmack, coder of games like "Doom and Quake" -- are engaged in a new space race. They each believe they can develop reusable space ships that can carry satellites and tourists into space more cost effectively than the government. A difficult yet noble and exciting proposition -- and we hope philanthropic. Are they employing out-of-work techies? Say it with us now, "Dot-comers in space..."
Good luck, Jeff, but don't take your eyes off the core business.
In today's Motley Fool Take:
- Buffett's Still Buying
- Polling All Fools: Do You Trust Analysts?
- Priceline to Up Its Price
- Discussion Board of the Day: eBay
- Home, Fuzzy Home
- Quote of Note
- Quick Takes: Morgan Stanley, ExxonMobil, unemployment, more
- And Finally...
Buffett's Still Buying
As shareholders of Warren Buffett's conglomerate Berkshire Hathway
Berkshire will pay slightly less than $1.5 billion for McLane, which distributes food not only to Wal-Mart but to restaurants, drugstores, and convenience stores. Buffett undoubtedly sees value in the company and the chance to wring even more profits from its $14.9 billion in revenues last year.
During the most recent raging bull market, Buffett and the equally skilled but less-profiled Charlie Munger said they couldn't find enough deals they liked. After three years of a bear market, it's no surprise that the guys are finding productive places to park some of Berkshire's billions in plata. We're talking $10 billion in cash and $38 billion in securities with fixed maturities at the end of 2002.
Consumer products businesses are Berkshire favorites. It said in April it would buy manufactured-home builder Clayton Homes
The company has also moved into energy big time, starting with the 1999 purchase of MidAmerican Energy Holdings and following with Kern River pipeline last year and bonds issued by several other energy producers. In April, Berkshire upped its stake in Chinese oil producer PetroChina
Berkshire shareholders are a tremendously devoted lot, as you would expect from anyone who today would pony up $69,800 for an "A" share and $2,332 for a "B." They head to Omaha delighted with the toys their company owns today and confident in those that Buffett and Munger may buy tomorrow.
Polling All Fools: Do You Trust Analysts?
Priceline to Up Its Price
Shares of Priceline.com
The name-your-own-price service for airline tickets, car rentals, cruises, vacations, and hotel rooms posted a first-quarter GAAP loss of $8 million, or $0.04 per share, on $200 million in revenue, down from $261 million last year. Excluding non-cash charges, it lost $1.1 million, or $0.0 per share.
Airline ticket sales remained lackluster due to the economy and war, and will likely be tame again in the current quarter, due to the war -- which spilled into the second quarter -- and SARS.
So, Priceline focused on the highlights: Hotel revenue rose 30% sequentially and 37% year over year, and its recent acquisition, Lowestfare.com, saw revenue rise $17 million to $21 million year over year, and 103% sequentially. Very nice. Also, the company added nearly 750,000 new users in the quarter. Repeat business accounted for 65% of sales, and gross margins rose half a point from last year to 16.5%.
The company expects a GAAP profit of $0.02 to $0.03 per share in the second quarter, driven by strong hotel revenues, up 35% in April. The $2.30 stock leapt all the way to $3 on the news, but that's still a far cry from the share price that management wants, so they're targeting a reverse stock split.
By mid-June, Priceline expects approval for reducing the number of outstanding shares on a six-to-one to nine-to-one basis, which would jump the stock price to at least the teens. It wants to do this to attract institutional investors and (though management didn't say this) maintain a secure listing on Nasdaq.
Tom Jacobs recently analyzed reverse stock splits in his column, A Reverse Split -- Ouch! Most stocks underperformed after a reverse split, although a handful, as Tom shows, performed strongly and attracted new investors (the goal). Given Priceline's expected return to profitability, strong brand, cost-light business model, $140 million cash, and zero debt, it just might fall into the second camp and return to life.
Discussion Board of the Day: eBay
Are you familiar with Authorize.net or did you just assume that PayPal owns the online payment market? eBay has a way of appearing to be everywhere, doesn't it? What about the world's leading online trading site? Is it overvalued at these levels or is there still more room to run? All this and more -- in the eBay discussion board. Only on Fool.com.
Home, Fuzzy Home
The seven-month-old gruyere in the fridge isn't the only thing in the house turning green. According to the Insurance Information Institute, mold claims are coming out of the woodwork -- literally. It's one of the major factors behind the rising costs of home insurance, which rose 8% in 2002 and is expected to increase another 9% this year.
Fuzzy, flaky, smelly, icky mold -- virtually a non-issue a few years ago -- cost insurers more than $1 billion in 2001. That's more than five times the payouts made in 2000. In Texas, for example, mold claims increased 1,300% between the first quarter of 2000 and the fourth quarter of 2001, costing insurers in that state more than $850 million. The frequency of claims also increased, with the number of mold claims in that same period rising to 23.6 per 1,000 policyholders from just 1.7 per 1,000 policyholders. Ick.
Rising home repair costs and Armageddon-like catastrophes have also played a part in rising insurance costs. According to the Insurance Information Institute, home insurers over the past decade paid out $1.18 in losses and expenses for every $1 they earned in premiums. In 2001 alone, they paid out $8.9 billion more in losses and expenses than they received in premiums, the second worst year on record (1992, the year of Hurricane Andrew, produced losses of $11.5 billion).
Though the rising costs of insuring your home translates to just $40 a year for the average policyholder, it pays to keep a lid on such fixed costs. Here are a few money-saving tips:
Don't build an expensive home in disaster-prone areas like coastal Florida and earthquake-prone California.
Ask about discounts for installing disaster-proof features for your roofing, plumbing, and electrical systems.
Take advantage of discounts. If you're a good driver, good student, loyal customer, a member of a certain trade group, and generally have good karma, you may be eligible for significant discounts.
Compare the cost of insuring your car and home with the same company.
Install smoke detectors and a security device in your home.
Raise your deductible. It could save you from 15% to 30% on your premium.
Keep your credit record clean.
- Consider living in a yurt.
For tips on everything from installing ceiling fans to scraping mold from your baseboards, head to the Building/Maintaining a Home discussion board, where helpful homeowners share tips over the virtual fence.
Quote of Note
"A comfortable house is a great source of happiness. It ranks immediately after health and a good conscience." -- Sydney Smith (1771–1845), British writer, clergyman. Letter, September 29, 1843.
Want a spanking from new SEC Commissioner William Donaldson? Then do as Morgan Stanley
Higher oil prices not only tripled ExxonMobil's
Treasury Secretary John Snow signaled new Bush administration flexibility when he spoke approvingly of Congress' new plan to tax at 15% both dividends and capital gains on assets held for more than one year.
Unemployment hit an eight-year high of 6%, but factory orders climbed to levels not seen since last July. We're not predicting the economy -- no way -- but some economists note that unemployment typically rises for a while after a recession ends.
Today on Fool.com:
- For updated stories throughout the day, bookmark our ever-changing News section.
- Burton Malkiel, author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street, looks at the decade ahead, and sees 8% returns.
- Stock Speak: Is the language of the financial markets all talk?
- Since Wade Cook's investment advice didn't work, the sham artist is turning to health juices.
- Is Infospace more than just a penny stock survivor?
- In Fool's School, the ABCs of REIT FFOs.
Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Mathew Emmert, Jeff Fischer, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim