Before today's little dip, the market had been enjoying a positive run that brought it to a new four-month high yesterday. The Dow is a full 15% higher than it was in mid-March and the Nasdaq is up 20% since then. So, the question to ask yourself, Fool, is do you feel more confident about stocks in the midst of a run-up, or do you prefer to be on the sidelines waiting for equities to fall back?

If you need help searching for that answer, read everything we write here, because we approach that question on an individual basis with stocks. Or, if you want more personalized help, you can speak directly to an unbiased financial advisor via our TMF Money Advisor service. Or, join in our upcoming online seminar, Perfect Your Portfolio: Asset Allocation for Long-Term Wealth -- which carries with it 30 free days to TMF Money Advisor.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Schering-Plough Sheared

Nearly everything is being sheared at Schering-Plough(NYSE: SGP): Sales, earnings, 2003 projections, and even the CEO were recently cut. The only things growing are expenses, research and development costs, and worries.

The drug maker reported a steep plunge in first-quarter revenue and net income as sales of allergy remedy Claritin tanked. A December 2002 conversion from prescription to over-the-counter (OTC) status, generic competition, and customer conversion to Clarinex pushed Claritin to the ground.

First-quarter Claritin sales were $109 million, down 83% from $659 million in the first quarter of 2002. The numbers are based on trade inventory levels at quarter-end, which reflect anticipated customer demand. Allergy medicines have faced vastly increasing competition in the last five years, and that's one of the reasons we expressed caution with Schering-Plough way back in 1997.

Schering-Plough's new CEO, Fred Hassan, was appointed on April 20 for his experience in righting listing pharmaceutical firms. The former CEO of Pharmacia said of his new post, "2003 is clearly a transition year." While he assesses the situation, Hassan withdrew the company's previous 2003 earnings guidance, which was $0.75 to $0.85 per share.

First-quarter diluted earnings and net income fell 71%, to $0.12 per share, or $173 million, while worldwide drug sales dropped 26% (or $600 million) to $1.6 billion. Much of this decline can be attributed to Claritin, but the company also suffered a 7% sales dip in its INTRON franchise due to new competition.

Schering-Plough's drug pipeline is probably best described as "fair." Extremely important drugs are not in the immediate works. The company hopes to be a turnaround story, but it will require plenty of patience -- in other words, investors have plenty of time to see how things start to play out. Meanwhile, the $18 stock yields 3.7%, and the balance sheet is stacked with cash and no debt.

CEO Hassan will have his first chance to outline Schering's strategy for long-term success in the second-quarter conference call scheduled for July 23. In today's conference call, selective head-count reduction was discussed -- often a necessary yet unpromising first move.

Quote of Note

"There is not much sense in suffering, since drugs can be given for pain, itching, and other discomforts. The belief has long died that suffering here on earth will be rewarded in heaven. Suffering has lost its meaning." -- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (b. 1926), Swiss–born U.S. psychiatrist. On Death and Dying, ch. 2 (1969).

Wal-Mart Shows Its Strength

Wal-Mart's (NYSE: WMT) first quarter was a challenge, but the enormous discounter still managed to turn out impressive results. Strength in its international operations and improved margins offset lackluster same-store sales and below-plan total sales.

For the period ended April 30, it earned $1.86 billion, ahead of the prior quarter's income by 14.1%. Earnings per share clocked in at $0.42 compared to $0.37. An accounting change in how it books money it receives from suppliers to promote their products reduced net income by $101 million, or $0.02 a share, after tax.

Total sales improved 9.7% to $56.72 billion. That's not too shabby, of course, but is below the anticipated $60.69 billion. Same-store sales rose 2.2%. These results don't include revenues from subsidiary McLane, the grocery distributor that Wal-Mart is selling to Berkshire Hathaway(NYSE: BRK.A).

Not surprisingly, Wal-Mart's international operations remained the company's fastest-growing division. Revenues grew 14.3% to $10.28 billion, and operating income jumped 13.3% to $384 million. The division's operating earnings would have grown 33% to $451 million had the impact of the accounting rules change been excluded.

Wal-Mart also managed to eke out some margin growth. Gross margins expanded to 23.25% from 23.00%. Net margins inched up to 3.25% from 3.13%.

The balance sheet shows inventory growth of 13.37%, with cash up 2.9%. In the retailer's pre-recorded earnings call, CEO Lee Scott acknowledged that inventory levels were too high. This will be something to keep an eye on in the coming quarters. Inventory levels aren't completely out of whack yet, though, so as of now it's not a huge concern.

Wal-Mart generated $657 million in free cash flow during the quarter. That's more than five times the amount of free cash flow it produced in the same time period last year, underscoring its strength even in a difficult retail environment.

Looking forward, it expects the second quarter to mirror the first, with regards to retailing challenges and same-store sales weakness. It didn't adjust its year-end earnings target of $2.00-$2.05 a share, however, hoping that business picks up in the second half of the year.

Consider this, though: Wal-Mart returned earnings growth of 14.1%, threw off piles of free cash flow, and expanded margins in a quarter that was less than stellar. If any company is equipped to deal with an uncertain outlook and rocky retail landscape, it's this one.

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.

Viacom Loves Raymond

If you're Ray Romano, congratulations! If the Hollywood whispers are true, CBS parent Viacom(NYSE: VIA) is making sure that the love is mutual between the network and its Everybody Loves Raymond star with a new contract that will pay him $1.8 million for each of next season's 22 episodes.

Unfortunately, odds are that you're not Ray Romano. So, you won't be making the record-breaking payday that tops the $1.6 million tab that Frasier's Kelsey Grammer is reportedly fetching per episode. Of course, in sum, this is petty cash compared to the $6 million clan -- the six Friends stars who pocket a million each on General Electric's(NYSE: GE) NBC.

One would think that these wouldn't be the gravy days of sitcom stars. With reality shows like Survivor and Fox's(NYSE: FOX)American Idol proving to be huge ratings hits on modest budgets, there's never a shortage of everyday people who would do just about anything for next to nothing if it means getting on television. But there is another reality when it comes to reality TV: It just doesn't fly in reruns or syndication.

That's why the networks team up with the show production companies to split the tabs of their marketable celebrities when the continuity of a hit sitcom is at stake. NBC announced its new fall schedule yesterday and there's just one reality TV series slated, the gross-out spectacle that is Fear Factor.

However, NBC has stuck to its recipe for scripted programming even as CBS has gone ahead and swiped the ratings crown on the heels of its success with reality shows like Survivor and the revival of Star Search wedged into filmed hits such as CSI and, yes, Everybody Loves Raymond.

So, sorry about you not being Ray Romano. If it's any consolation, you can still be a star on CBS. That's right, the casting call is now open for Survivor 8.

Discussion Board of the Day: Reality Television

Are you a fan of reality television, or do you prefer the structure of the prime-time dramas and sitcoms? Has reality TV gone too far? All this and more -- in the Reality Television discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

The market may think that XM Satellite Radio(Nasdaq: XMSR) will outlast Sirius Satellite Radio(Nasdaq: SIRI), assigning the former a price almost 10 times the latter, but Sirius got a boost today with news that Ford Motor(NYSE: F) will offer the service as a dealer-installed option for 10 2004 models. General Motors(NYSE: GM), Honda(NYSE: HMC), Toyota(NYSE: TM), and Audi already offer or plan to offer XM in various models. Sirius shares gained almost 8% and were the most widely traded on the Nasdaq today.

Optical components maker Avanex(Nasdaq: AVNX) scored a coup today. Competitors Corning(NYSE: GLW) and Alcatel(NYSE: ALA) will sell their optical components operations to Avanex in exchange for $63.5 million in Avanex stock. Alcatel will pay over $110 million in cash for the privilege. This leaves Avanex, Ciena(Nasdaq: CIEN) and JDS Uniphase(Nasdaq: JDSU) to dominate the market, which has yet to show renewed signs of life. Want some fun? Enjoy this 2001 look at how long we projected these companies' cash would last.

Shares of Weight Watchers(NYSE: WTW) shed a few pounds today. The stock dropped 7% despite the company's 9% year-over-year rise in Q1 EPS and 18% jump in revenues. In the strange world of "beat (or missed) by a penny," Weight Watchers' Q1 EPS fell one cent under Street expectations -- $0.37 versus $0.38.

Salton (NYSE: SFP) , vendor of George Foreman grills and Toastmaster and Westinghouse appliances, reported a loss for Q1 against EPS of $0.26 a year ago. Salton blamed -- you guessed it -- the war in Iraq for lower shopping levels.

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