Although second-quarter earnings warnings might start to appear in earnest next week, usually by now we've heard more rumblings about possible "misses." That we haven't is a positive thing.

General Electric (NYSE: GE) today added to the upbeat atmosphere -- and defied skeptics -- when it said second-quarter earnings would meet expectations of around $0.37 to $0.39 per share.

Some GE watchers were expecting lower results given the company's weak plastics division, where demand is down (volume dropped 15%) and raw material prices are up. But its other divisions have compensated for the shortfall one way or another. Its television network, NBC, has experienced surprisingly strong ad sales for the 2003-2004 season -- to the tune of $4.8 billion in up-front contracts -- while television ad pricing is at its third-highest level in history.

GE's small gain helped push the Dow into positive territory today, and over the 9,200 mark. The Nasdaq lost ground, however.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

The Hulk's Green

If you're seeing a whole lot of green today, odds are that you've already squared away your Hulk movie tickets.

The latest Marvel(NYSE: MVL) creation to hit the big screen has got a heavy load to carry with today's celluloid debut. The fact that the last six Marvel-licensed flicks have all opened as the top draw at the box office is heavy. Marvel's shares having grown nearly sixfold over the past year is heavier.

Thankfully, that Hulk dude looks like he's got the specs -- and the pecs -- to pull off any kind of heavy lifting.

As one of David Gardner's excellent equity picks for Motley Fool Stock Advisor, Marvel hasn't been an overnight sensation. As a matter of fact, even while Spider-Man was rocking the multiplex last summer, investors were still able to pick up shares of the company in the single digits.

For Marvel, it's been a welcome awakening in Tinseltown. For years, its vast library of comic-book characters sat dormant while Hollywood gobbled up its DC Comics rivals like Superman and Batman.

Times, like a superhero's alter ego, change.

Marvel doesn't make the movies. However, it's in the enviable position to collect passive royalties and strike the lucrative licensing deals. For Hulk, the merchandising hype and the company's stellar track record (Spider-Man, Daredevil, and a pair of Blade and X-Men were the previous cinema chart-toppers) landed it more than 300 licensing deals.

Where does Marvel go from here? While it has given birth to more than 4,700 comic-book characters, it's clear that only a handful are ready for prime time. While many of the marquee franchises have already been given the cinematic treatment, that doesn't mean Hulk or Spider-Man sequels can't continue to pile it on in coming years. And while Vivendi Universal(NYSE: V) is the studio behind Hulk,Fox(NYSE: FOX) has secured the rights to other notable Marvel properties such as The Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer.

In other words, the revenue stream is only starting to flow. Like those Hulk tickets in your hands, the future is looking very green right now.

Discussion Board of the Day: Marvel

Is Ang Lee's The Hulk destined to be the biggest movie of the summer? Where will Marvel go from here? All this and more -- in the Marvel discussion board. Only on

Protecting the Analysts

The Securities and Exchange Commission is expanding its efforts to remove bias from analyst research reports. But this time, it's going after the companies.

The agency has asked the three major stock exchanges to come up with rules that would prevent firms from restricting information and access to analysts who issue negative opinions about them, according to The Wall Street Journal. The teeth to any enforcement here would probably come in the form of listing requirements.

The SEC and other regulators worry that when analysts feel pressure and hostility from management, they're more likely to overstate the company's potential. This is much the same problem we had when analysts were hyping companies they thought were "pieces of junk" because of pressure to keep lucrative investment-banking fees.

The problem is considered rather widespread. Qwest Communications(NYSE: Q), for instance, has been accused of restricting Morgan Stanley(NYSE: MWD) analysts and withholding investment-banking business after some negative research was published.

In another example cited by the Journal, BB&T Capital Markets analyst Heather Jones was slammed by Fresh Del Monte Produce(NYSE: FDP) after a downgrade. When she asked a question during a February conference call, CEO Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh said, "Let me tell you, Heather, one thing please. You are covering us without our will and we would not like you to ask questions on this conference call, if you may." Later, Jones was among those named in a lawsuit brought by the company for taking part "in a calculated effort to reduce the market value" of Fresh Del Monte's stock.

There's probably not a huge groundswell of sympathy for analysts who must face hostile managements. Yet this is another issue that helps shield the truth from individual investors. While conflicts of interest fueled by analysts' ties to investment-banking fees have been the main source of concern to this point, at least regulators have hit that issue hard. This is the logical next step.

Gardners on TV

Catch a cameo appearance by our favorite founding Fools on NETworth, a high-energy special one-hour PBS television program that shows how easy it is to manage your personal finances with a little help from the Web. Find a station and broadcast time near you.

PeopleSoft Rebuffs Oracle Again

PeopleSoft (Nasdaq: PSFT) still isn't ready to succumb to Oracle's(Nasdaq: ORCL) overtures, despite the database giant's sweetened bid. PeopleSoft's board today again rejected a takeover attempt and urged shareholders to resist Oracle's premium-priced lure.

On Wednesday, Oracle raised its bid for PeopleSoft to $6.3 billion from $5.1 billion. Per share, the bid jumped from $16 to $19.50. PeopleSoft's shares are trading today at around $17.50.

However, PeopleSoft's board said that Oracle's offer still undervalues the business and its future potential, particularly given the (hopefully) soon-to-close J.D. Edwards(Nasdaq: JDEC) acquisition. PeopleSoft improved upon its own offer for J.D. Edwards on Thursday, in the hopes of sealing that deal faster. That could help it thwart Oracle's advances.

PeopleSoft also pointed again to antitrust issues as one of its reasons for refusing Oracle. Connecticut's attorney general filed suit this week to block Oracle's takeover of PeopleSoft, citing increased costs to the state and anticompetitive concerns with the acquisition. Whether or not federal regulators would indeed throw up roadblocks isn't a sure thing since the biggest player in the field is the German company SAP(NYSE: SAP).

Meanwhile, as this little melodrama continues to play out, SAP is sitting on the sidelines, smacking its chops and smiling. It will likely gain new customers as the uncertainty of PeopleSoft's future makes business software buyers nervous. Faced with the thought of being forced to eventually move to Oracle's products, many may choose to shift their systems over to SAP now. The company has already launched an ad campaign to woo those very customers.

Quote of Note

"In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra." -- Fran Lebowitz, U.S. writer and humorist

Quick Takes

General Motors (NYSE: GM) is going to address its pension woes by selling about $10 billion in bonds. The company's U.S. pension plan was underfunded last year by $19.3 billion. It will raise $10 billion through issuing bonds and convertible securities. Separately, its financing arm, GMAC, will garner an additional $3 billion in bonds to help fund ongoing operations.

Oil services company Halliburton(NYSE: HAL) warned on Friday that its second-quarter earnings will be far below expectations. The firm's Brazilian operations continue to be troublesome, and additional exposure to asbestos damage claims are weighing on results. Losses of around $104 million from the Barracuda-Caratinga project will reduce earnings by $0.24 a share, possibly leaving as little as $0.02 a share. Analysts had been looking for $0.25 a share. Halliburton also said that the costs of settling the class action asbestos lawsuits will "modestly" exceed its previous estimate of $2.78 billion.

According to the Video Software Dealers Association, rentals of DVDs exceeded rentals of videotapes last week for the first time ever. For the week ending Sunday, June 15, 28.2 million DVDs were rented compared to 27.3 million VHS tapes. This is good news for companies like David Gardner's Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Netflix(Nasdaq: NFLX), whose business depends on the ever-growing popularity of DVD rentals.

Auto retailer CarMax(NYSE: KMX) sped out of the gate today with strong first-quarter results. Sales shot up 17% to $1.17 billion from $1.01 billion. Used-vehicle sales improved 21% to $890.1 million from $737.8 million. Total comparable store unit sales increased 9%. CarMax earned $35.3 million, or $0.34 a share, for the quarter. That's 21% better than the $29.2 million, or $0.28 per share, that the retailer earned in 2002's Q1.

And Finally...

Today on

  • For updated stories throughout the day, bookmark our ever-changing News section.
  • eBay's Options Heartburn: Big opposition to a couple of proposals will make for a spicy shareholders' meeting.
  • The Amazing JetBlue: Whitney Tilson is gaga over the no-frills airline.
  • In Fool's School, hundreds of money-saving tips can net you thousands of dollars.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Mathew Emmert, Jeff Fischer, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Reggie Santiago, Kate Southerland, Dayana Yochim