The check is in the mail.

Tomorrow, the first batch of tax credit checks go out to parents across America. The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 increased the federal child-care tax credit to $1,000 from $600 for each kid you're still saddled with. So, each of your little terrors will be worth another $400 to you, to be mailed out July 25, Aug. 1, or Aug. 9, depending on your Social Security number.

Go out and jumpstart the economy. Buy yourself something nice. Or buy yourself something that will make you more money in the long run, like Tom Gardner's Motley Fool Hidden Gems newsletter. Or, the heck with helping the economy. Just put the cash in an index fund and let it grow undisturbed to $8,000 in 30 years.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Lucent's Unlucky 13

Ah, Lucent(NYSE: LU). What a disaster. Yesterday the company announced its 13th quarter with a loss and pushed back its September target for a return to black from red. Revenues declined 18% sequentially and 33% (gulp) year over year, resulting in a loss of $0.07 a share, vs. last quarter's $0.14 and a whopping $2.35 a year ago. Shares barely budged. Is the market expecting a turnaround?

That takes some faith. Management has a tough challenge. It's not just the telecom capital-spending debacle that has devastated this company, but some of the worst financial (and other) management we've seen at a company that didn't go bankrupt.

But it is only natural that where there is disaster, astute investors wonder if there is opportunity. Let's look at some highlights of the five quarters since the Agere(NYSE: AGRA) spinoff:

             Cash    Total    Cash 
          & Equiv.  Debt*   Burn**
Quarter       (all $ bils.)              
June 2003  $4.93   $6.87  $(0.326)
Mar  2003  $3.44   $5.28  $(0.897)
Dec  2002  $3.74   $6.50  $(0.928)
Sept 2002  $4.42   $6.30  $ 0.408
June 2002  $5.42   $6.83  $(0.143)
*Short term + long term + preferred stock

** Net cash from operations - capital expenditures
(No adjustment for depreciation, amortization, or interest earned.)
              Total             SG&A*
          Revenues  Gross   as % of  
Quarter   ($ bil.)  Margins Revenues
June 2003  $1.97     29%     21%
Mar  2003  $2.40     32%     20% 
Dec  2002  $2.08     22%     19%
Sept 2002  $2.28    (15%)    43% 
June 2002  $2.95     22%     30%
*Selling, general and administrative expenses  

Lucent is weighed down by more debt than cash, a trailing-12-month cash burn of $1.7 billion, and flat-to-declining revenues. Cost-cutting measures that initially showed results appear to have run out of benefits. While a positive, the just-announced $1 billion contract from Sprint PCS(NYSE: PCS) will need a lot of company for Lucent to become a Phoenix. For one thing, despite some new wireless contracts, the company really needs speedier adoption of wireless 3G networks requiring its CDMA telecom equipment.

Some corporate governance praise: For five quarters, the releases accompanying Lucent's quarterly earnings have ranked at the top for financial disclosure. While in theory what matters is the actual 10-Q filed with the SEC, the reality is that the financial media report and investors rely on the info in press releases. Lucent provides all three financial statements plus all sorts of extra data. Folks, they even break out the quarterly cash flow. Few companies can be bothered to cough up cash-flow statements in their releases, much less offer each quarter's numbers in addition to the standard cumulative figures that appear in 10-Qs. Very classy, Lucent.

Great as it is that the management team appears committed to transparency, right now the sun shines squarely on continued operational weakness. So if you find yourself tempted to invest, here are two bits of advice: Make sure you're comfortable with speculation and catch Chuck Saletta's must-read analysis on our Lucent discussion board. You'll be glad you did.

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Budweiser's Still the King

Once again, Anheuser-Busch(NYSE: BUD) is demonstrating the power of its brand. After serving up its 19th consecutive quarter of double-digit earnings growth, the world's largest brewer showed up one of its competitors and said it would be instituting another price increase in the coming months.

The company posted second-quarter earnings of $0.75 per share yesterday, up 14% year over year. Top-line revenue grew 4%, while both gross and operating margins also increased.

CEO Patrick Stokes told investors he's confident of achieving consistent double-digit earnings growth over the long term. That's a tough objective, but one of the reasons he must be taken seriously is the power of Anheuser-Busch's brands. Names like Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob, Busch, and Bacardi have extremely loyal customers.

That loyalty will allow management to institute another price increase later this year "tailored to specific markets, brands and packages." Few companies enjoy that kind of pricing power, especially in a down economy.

Fellow brewer Adolph Coors'(NYSE: RKY) earnings from today provide a perfect example. The maker of Coors, Keystone, and Killian's beer saw earnings increase by 14%, but that was largely due to a lower tax rate. Its operating income actually declined 4% because of a "soft U.S. beer industry" and "poor weather." Anheuser-Busch faced those same obstacles, yet saw operating income increase by 7%.

For now, at least, the King of Beers is worthy of its name.

Quote of Note

"Ah, beer, my one weakness. My Achilles' heel, if you will." -- Homer Simpson

Jobless Claims Down, But...

Besides profits and dead Husseins, what does the market really love?


Which is one reason why stocks put on a happy face today. The Labor Department announced that weekly jobless claims plunged by 29,000 to 386,000 in July. That's the lowest in five months and below that magic 400,000 mark economists cite as the sign of a weak labor market.

But don't get too excited. The Labor Department also noted that seasonal hiring and firing by manufacturers make July an especially volatile month for employment figures. Moreover, today's numbers are an indication of how many people filed for unemployment benefits. In other words, fewer people were fired -- but that doesn't mean more people were, or will be, hired.

Finally, there's the question of whether some of the jobs lost over the past few years will ever return. More and more, companies are outsourcing work to foreign countries, and not just manufacturers. Call centers, information technology, and financial analysis are just some of the work moving overseas.

A recent CNN/Money article described how a Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) vice president gave a presentation, "Thinking About India," claiming that Cisco(Nasdaq: CSCO), General Electric(NYSE: GE), and Dell Computer(Nasdaq: DELL) already "have this religion."

What's a Fool to do? Be prepared.

The possibility of losing one's job is the No. 1 reason everyone should establish an emergency fund. The standard recommendation is six months' worth of expenses in a readily accessible, safe place such as a money market account. (You can learn more about where to stash your emergency cash at our Savings Center.) If something should happen to your paycheck, you'll want to be able to cover your bills with something other than a credit card or premature withdrawals from your 401(k).

Meanwhile, if you're curious whether your job is on the bubble, take Fortune's "How Safe Is My Job?" quiz.

Discussion Board of the Day: Video & PC

Electronic Arts' playability should keep gamers and shareholders happy for years to come. How has EA managed to grow while leaving its rivals behind? Are the accounting allegations against some of the company's peers valid? What video kids will kids be craving over the holidays this year? All this and more -- in the Video & PC discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

Drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb(NYSE: BMY) trounced Street estimates today, reporting an 80% increase in Q2 earnings vs. last year. The good news came on a 22% jump in revenues to $5.1 billion, led by sales of Pravachol for cholesterol and Plavix to reduce blood clot risk. The company has been plagued by accounting troubles and its investment in embattled ImClone Systems(Nasdaq: IMCL). Shares rose 3%.

Competing big pharma Eli Lilly(NYSE: LLY) announced Q2 EPS up slightly year over year from $0.61 to $0.64 on an 11% rise in revenue driven by sales of schizophrenia drug Zyprexa. For why some generic drug makers are eating the big pharmas' lunch, read today's American Pharma Rockets Higher.

AT&T (NYSE: T) showed signs of improvement due to management's cutting costs, including plans to guillotine one-third of management jobs (yeah!). Second-quarter EPS came in at $0.68, or $0.63 without one-time gains, beating the Street's consensus estimate of $0.58 but below last year's $0.80. Revenues sank 8.2%, while operating expenses dropped 2.9%. The company also bumped up its quarterly dividend by 5 cents to 23.75 cents a year, or about a 5% yield. Shares gained over 3%. Without its cable or wireless assets, Ma Bell today is back to being a phone company.

Mega-insurer American International Group(NYSE: AIG) trumpeted a 26% gain in Q2 net, with EPS rising to $0.87 vs. last year's $0.68. The company hiked its quarterly dividend 25% to 6.5 cents, but it still yields under half a percent. Shares were up over 3%.

And Finally...

Today on

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