They said the euro would help unify Europe, but we don't think they had this in mind.

About 90% of all euro notes in Germany contain measurable traces of cocaine, according to a study conducted by a research institute in Nuremberg. People roll up the bills to snort the drug, and the substance can spread even further through counting machines.

The problem is even more prevalent in Spain.

"We were almost knocked flat by what we discovered there," lead research Fritz Soergel told Reuters. "The concentrations of cocaine on Spanish euro notes were almost a hundred times that of what we recorded in Germany."

Though the amounts on the bills are considered too small to pose a hazard, Bloomberg reported that one bank cashier who had been asked not to wash his hands as part of the study had "cocaine all over his hands" by the end of the day.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Freddie Mac Speaks Up

In an attempt to stop the market's guessing, Freddie Mac(NYSE: FRE) gave an update today on its internal accounting investigation's findings. A Wall Street Journal article last week speculated that the congressionally chartered entity could restate between $1 billion and $3 billion in earnings for its last three years. Turns out that an even greater amount than that may be involved.

Freddie Mac will restate somewhere between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion, which will boost its earnings in 2000, 2001, and 2002. The firm hopes to have its investigation and restatement completed by the third quarter. It noted that, since the restatement process isn't finished yet, the actual results could differ from these estimates.

The restatement will make the reported earnings from the involved fiscal periods more volatile. In addition, it necessarily means that Freddie Mac's earnings in the future also will be much more volatile and difficult to predict. A market accustomed to a steady earnings stream from the quasi-governmental agency will have to adjust its expectations from now on.

One curious thing from Freddie Mac's press release today is the following statement: "The principal factors thus far identified by Board Counsel are lack of sufficient accounting expertise and internal control and management weaknesses as a consequence of which Freddie Mac personnel made numerous errors in applying Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)."

Now, it's no surprise that internal control and management weaknesses were a problem for Freddie Mac. The company made headlines when it cleaned out three members of its top management a few weeks ago.

However, if Freddie Mac, which has routinely been using derivatives to reduce interest rate risk for years now, didn't have the necessary accounting staff to deal with the complex transactions, what other companies might also be lacking here? Of course, Freddie Mac may just be trying to sway the argument more towards "We honestly messed up the accounting" and away from the more onerous "We messed it up on purpose to paint a pretty picture" view.

Meanwhile, Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.) charged ahead with his political assault on Freddie Mac. At a hearing today, he asked the General Accounting Office to review the company's accounting scandal. The move comes a day after he introduced a bill to strengthen governmental oversight of both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae(NYSE: FNM).

For shareholders, despite Freddie's announcement today, the matter is still clouded in uncertainty.

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Keep Your Cell Phone Number

Is keeping the same cell phone number important to you if you switch carriers? If so, you won't have long to wait until the concept becomes reality.

With no chance of beating 'em, Verizon Wireless(NYSE: VZ) has decided to join 'em and drop its opposition to the idea. In a successful publicity play, CEO Denny Strigl is calling for all carriers to join forces and implement Verizon's own "number portability" plan in order to make the process easier for all customers.

"There must be no barriers to easily switching service providers," he said yesterday, emphasizing that his company will not charge extra for the number portability, at least initially.

But Strigl's remarks drew criticism from competitors. "It's not the place of any one carrier to dictate the industry ground rules for the process; that's for the FCC to decide," said Sprint(NYSE: PCS) President Len Lauer. If Verizon were truly interested in making the process easy for its customers, he added, it should take leadership in allowing customers to port numbers between their home phones and wireless phones.

The Federal Communications Commission has ordered number portability to be available by Nov. 24. The commission and consumer groups believe that many private and business customers are hesitant to switch carriers for better service or price because they don't want to lose their phone number. They are looking for number portability to increase competition as switching barriers are lowered.

Wireless carriers have opposed the ruling in court, and but lost an appeal earlier this month.

Quote of Note

"There are things you just can't do in life. You can't beat the phone company, you can't make a waiter see you until he's ready to see you, and you can't go home again." -- Bill Bryson (b. 1951), U.S. author, journalist. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, ch. 2 (1989).

5 Steps to Financial Help

Whether you're searching for professional financial input right now (New baby? Rising college costs? Retirement jitters?), or just think that you might need an expert's opinion in the future, it's easy to get prepared.

According to a study by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, the majority of us seek professional financial advice when one of three money issues arise -- a sudden windfall, picking a complex financial product, or seeking to allocate our retirement funds.

If any of these issues are looming in your future -- or if others might pop up at any time -- here's a checklist to make you a prepared consumer when seeking financial advice:

Get an overview of your finances
Be prepared is a good motto for scouts and income-earning adults alike. At the very least, you want a snapshot of your overall financial landscape -- how much you own, what you owe, a sense of your general financial priorities. The more soul-searching you do now, the better you'll be able to articulate to a pro your life/money priorities.

Earmark financial issues
Think about your immediate money questions (Is it worth it to refinance? Should I sell this stock?) and your future ones (What if Biff doesn't get a football scholarship? What if Fluffy needs long-term pet care?). Which ones might you need the expertise of a specialist? Having trouble identifying issues? Let us play Fool Shrink for a moment to help you get to your inner financial child.

Decide what input you want
What kind of professional opinion do you need? You might need a lawyer to help you write a will, but perhaps you can find the right insurance on your own. Based on your money life, figure out how much hand-holding you want before you seek paid professional advice.

Consider costs
Financial advice can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. (Use this handy comparison table for a side-by-side lineup of the most popular kind of financial advice, including our own TMF Money Advisor service.) Knowing the ins and outs of how professional advisors get paid is key. The one thing you don't want to be forced to do is shell out a lot of money at the last minute because you need professional help toute de suite. Consider how much money you have to be managed and what percentage of your assets you would be sacrificing, say, for a $2,000 overview of your money life.

Line someone up ASAP
When life hands you a complicated money decision, the last thing you want to be dealing with is a lengthy research project. There are all kinds of advice for sale. Our new Advisor Center will help you wend your way through the issues and help you line up a team that's right for you.

Discussion Board of the Day: Paychex

Paychex closed out its fiscal 2003 in healthy fashion last night. What did you think of the news? Exactly what goes on in the payroll services industry and are the providers really making money off idle funds? All this and more -- in the Paychex discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

The Federal Open Market Committee trimmed back key interest rates by a quarter point today. The federal funds rate now sits at 1% -- its lowest level since 1958.

Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) saw its second-quarter net income jump 28% from the same period last year, and announced that it was doubling its dividend to $0.25 per share. All of the investment bank's profit increase came from trading gains.

General Mills (NYSE: GIS) turned in a strong fiscal fourth quarter, growing earnings by nearly 300% to $0.59 per share. The maker of Cheerios has seen "significant cost synergies" from its acquisition of Pillsbury, according to CEO Steve Sanger.

The world's largest cruise-ship operator says the war in Iraq caused its second-quarter profit to drop off 42% to $0.19 per share. Carnival's(NYSE: CCL) net revenue yield -- which the company calls "the most relevant measure of revenue performance" -- was down 8.6%. Because of the "extremely difficult environment for leisure travel," CEO Micky Arison says he's satisfied with the results.

In local news, the County Nine baseball team lost 4-3 to arch-rival Mt. Pilot. The game was called in the bottom of the 8th inning when the batteries died on the three Chevy trucks lighting the field with their headlights.

And Finally...

Today on

  • For updated stories throughout the day, bookmark our ever-changing News section.
  • Robert Brokamp offers some compelling reasons why you should hire a pro to manage your money.
  • GM's Pension Peril: How many more companies have to rob tomorrow to pay for today?
  • In Fool's School, what's window dressing? It's for mannequins... and mutual funds.

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