Bob Hope turned 100 today -- a testament that lifespan is perhaps tied directly to a sense of humor. What a century to live through. We're in awe. Happy birthday, Mr. Hope. Here's to the next 100!

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Dollar General Blasts Off

Discount retailer Dollar General(NYSE: DG) rang up some strong first-quarter results this morning. The Goodlettsville, Tennessee-based company saw jumps in sales and earnings, as well as a big boost in gross margin. Investors responded to the good news by driving shares up 7%.

Total sales rose 12.9% to $1.57 billion for the period ended May 2. Same-store sales also were better, improving by 4.2%. Consumables and seasonal products were Dollar General's best-selling product categories, with sales gains of 16.3% and 15.8%, respectively.

The company's net earnings grew 31.4% to $60.3 million, or $0.18 a share. Excluding restatement expenses in both periods, it earned $60.5 million, 22.8% ahead of the prior quarter's $49.2 million.

Gross margins expanded to 28.8% from 27.4%. Higher margin goods, better mark-ups, and fewer damaged products helped Dollar General's gross margin grow.

Inventory management, which has been a focal point for the retailer's leadership, was solid during the first quarter. Its inventory levels rose only 5.8% compared to last year's first quarter. The average customer transaction also improved, to $8.42 from $8.31.

Dollar General is still operating under an SEC investigation that caused it to restate 1998, 1999, and 2000 results. It had no new information about the investigation, but most of the members of top management from that sketchy time frame have been replaced, and it doesn't seem to be an ongoing concern.

Dollar General is executing well in a difficult environment. Trading at a P/E of around 20 and a P/FCF of 18, then, may mark this discounter as an opportunity.

Quote of Note

"Age is only a number. However, in my case, it is a rather large number." -- Bob Hope

Revised GDP Higher

The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) revised upward its estimate of U.S. first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) from 1.6% to 1.9%. Fourth-quarter 2002 GDP rose 1.4%.

Well, the quarter's over, and now it's just a month more over. Why the change?

According to the BEA, GDP is a measure of "the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States." But the information about the components from housing purchases to meals at McDonald's(NYSE: MCD) are incomplete and trickle in over many months. The first number released is the advance estimate while today's number is a preliminary estimate. The Q1 GDP figure may vary for a year, when the estimate becomes final. And it can change not only from decent to better, as it did this morning, but also from not-so-good to worse, as we reported in Q3 2001.

The BEA says its revisions are due to higher numbers for "personal consumption expenditures for nondurable goods and exports." So we ate more food, saw more movies, and sent more domestically produced stuff abroad. The BEA found lower spending on equipment and software and higher imports. Businesses bought fewer widget-making machines and database software, and we all bought more stuff imported from other countries.

The GDP figures are for "real" GDP -- expressed in 1996 dollars. The BEA also computes current-dollar GDP, which is the current market value of GDP, and gross domestic purchases, measuring U.S. purchases of goods and services regardless of source. Current-dollar GDP increased 4.4% in Q1 over Q4 2002, when it climbed 3.2%. Gross domestic purchases inched up 0.9% in Q1 vs. Q4, when they rose 2.9%.

Finally, mirroring our own emphasis on cash flow, defined as internal profits available for investment, vs. accounting profits, the BEA reported that corporate profits rose $7.9 billion in Q1, but that current-production cash flow fell $11.4 billion. Both had risen in Q4.

Armchair economists -- you can join them on our Economy and Markets discussion board -- pay some attention to the individual numbers but focus on the broad trends over time. Given that the numbers continue to change, the long view and patience make sense.

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Harry Potter's Lament

As bookstores, aspiring young wizards and curfew watchers ready themselves for next month's release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the mounting anticipation is warranted. The brisk pre-orders of the mammoth 896-page epic that will serve as the fifth installment in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series should have Scholastic(Nasdaq: SCHL) sitting pretty as the stateside publisher of all things Harry.

But in a cruel plot twist, it turns out that Scholastic isn't doing so hot. Back in February, the company warned that it would miss its fiscal forecasts as the book's release slipped into June. You can write that off to the pitfalls of ending a fiscal year in May, but things are apparently only getting worse for the struggling publisher. Last night, it announced the layoff of 400 employees worldwide.

While the staggering 8.5 million copies of the book being printed prompted Saturday Night Live to joke that Rowling's next book will be titled Harry Potter and the End of Trees, it won't be the end of Scholastic's troubles.

Sure, the book has been glued to the top seller slot on AMZN) for months, but there's more to Scholastic than the ongoing feud between Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. It may seem like a cast spell's apparition, but it looks as if it will be book retailers like Barnes and Noble(NYSE: BKS) and Borders(NYSE: BGP), and series filmmaker AOL Time Warner(NYSE: AOL) that have the best shot at cashing in on Potter's success.

Why? Well, Scholastic isn't a pure play on the power of Rowling's pen. True to its corporate moniker, Scholastic is big in the classroom. From its 35 different school-based magazines to its various teaching resources, the company knows better than to try to be a one-trick pony. It learned that the hard way when it rode the rise and fall of Goosebumps.

But with state educational budgets in tightfisted disarray and the soft economy leaving a mark on the restraint of new book purchases Scholastic is the one being schooled. Sorry, Harry. This is one class of hard knocks that even you won't be able to dismiss so easily.

Discussion Board of the Day: British Invasion

Our fellow Fools across the pond have given us many great things. The Beatles. Monty Python. Coupling. Harry Potter? Are you an Anglophile at heart? Do you sometimes see yourself driving on the left side of the road? All this and more -- in the British Invasion discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

Privately held retailer J. Crew just took a huge first-quarter loss, as the company continues to wiggle its way out of a disappointing couple of years. J. Crew lost $19.6 million in the quarter ended May 3, wider than the $12.1 million loss in last year's Q1. Sales fell 3% to $161.5 million. Same-store sales tanked 11%. J. Crew brought in Gap(NYSE: GPS) alum Mickey Drexler back in January to hopefully (and eventually) fix the preppy retailer's problems.

Will you pay for food on flights to avoid the dreaded tiny bags of peanuts or pretzels? US Airways hopes so. The airline will soon begin selling meals created with bagel and sandwich chain Einstein Bros. It's been testing the concept for two months now. Flyers will be able to munch on breakfast for $7 and lunch and dinner for $10. The service will take flight July 1 for most coach trips over 700 miles.

Video game software company Take Two Interactive(Nasdaq: TTWO) reported blockbuster second-quarter results today. Its sales jumped 14% to $194.2 million. Earnings launched ahead by 58% to $15.2 million, or $0.36 a share. That compares to $9.6 million, or $0.25 a share, in last year's second quarter. The earnings exceeded its own February expectation of $0.34 per share, and also beat analysts' estimates of $0.35.

Drug maker Abbott Labs(NYSE: ABT) raised forecasts for its rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira today. The company now expects sales of more than $250 million this year from the drug, compared to its previous estimate for sales of $200 million. Humira will likely generate sales of $500 million in 2004, and could eventually become a multibillion drug for Abbott.

And Finally...

Today on

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