As the stock market closes at 4:00 p.m. ET today, so does the trading market for Major League Baseball. It's the last day for your favorite playoff contenders to get the pitcher or position player they need to put them over the top without having to clear waivers.

With some 17 teams still in contention for a playoff spot and about 60 games left to play, GMs and fans alike were worked up into a frenzy this afternoon, hoping for the right deal.

In an effort to bolster its starting rotation, The Motley Fool offered Rex Moore, Matt Richey, Tom Jacobs, and Lou Lofton to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, but was promptly rebuffed. Now we're forced to simply wait and see if the Yankees buy the pennant one more time.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

AOL Optimized

If AOL Time Warner(NYSE: AOL) ever needed a wildly successful launch of the latest version of its online service, it's now. Once a standalone company -- and a soaring one at that -- AOL has been flagging during the last few years as subscribers flee by the thousands and advertising revenue plummets.

Last quarter, AOL lost 804,000 subscribers, bringing its total narrowband subs to a number not seen since late 2001 -- about 25 million. In the same quarter, advertising revenue nosedived 48%. Management is hoping that Friday's launch of AOL version 9.0, along with a recent $35 million marketing spree, will stem the bleeding and increase broadband subscriber interest.

The problem is, versions 7.0 and 8.0 -- both of which touted enhanced broadband capabilities -- didn't reverse losses in AOL's member base, and mere content enhancements in version 9.0 aren't likely to do the trick, either. More and more people are subscribing to Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) services marketed by the likes of SBC Communications(NYSE: SBC) and Verizon(NYSE: VZ), or they're joining a less expensive Internet service offered by Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) or Earthlink(Nasdaq: ELNK).

Cable Internet providers such as Comcast(Nasdaq: CMCSA) are also stealing away narrowband AOL subscribers through packaged cable TV and Internet deals, even though AOL has the largest cable network in the country and is also growing cable subs.

So, the question is: Launching tomorrow for broadband users and later this summer for all AOL users, how will version 9.0 Optimized (as it's called) steal back market share?

The strategy includes offering AOL-exclusive content from Time Warner's enormous war chest, including Time, People, and Entertainment Weekly articles; enhanced Instant Messenger, including an ability to send photos and audio through IM; better spam filters and new e-mail features; and enhanced broadband content with a more dynamic welcome page. Additionally, Apple's(Nasdaq: AAPL) QuickTime media player will be offered for the first time, alongside the usual media players and AOL's new proprietary player.

All these features and exclusive content, marketed well, should be enough to gain new interest from those relatively few Americans who have yet to sign online, but may not be enough to keep AOL subscribers who are ready for something different from moving on. For many, marketing deals from the Baby Bells and competing cable companies keep beckoning. Plus, when you're the largest ISP with perhaps 20% of American households already subscribing, it seems easier to lose market share than gain it.

Quote of Note

"The less people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they'll sleep at night." -- Otto von Bismarck, German statesman, known as the Iron Chancellor, 1815-1898

United Shines Online

By Rex Moore (TMF Orangeblood)

The last time I checked into United Online(Nasdaq: UNTD) was early February, after it reported strong second-quarter earnings. Since then, the dialup Internet Service Provider has nearly doubled in value, far outpacing the stock performance of rivals AOL(NYSE: AOL), MSN(Nasdaq: MSFT), and EarthLink(Nasdaq: ELNK).

As I mentioned then, United's big advantage over competitors is price. It charges about $10 per month for dialup access for its NetZero, Juno, and BlueLight Internet services. By comparison, AOL's charge is pushing $24 per month. At a time when AOL is losing subscribers (if it's even possible to tell how many it really has), United said today that its paying users increased 49% over the past year.

The company also reported earnings of $0.32 per share during its fiscal fourth quarter compared to a $0.07 loss a year ago. Free cash flow continues to improve dramatically, jumping 53% to $18.3 million. For the entire year, it generated $59.1 million in FCF.

That means the stock is trading at 23 times trailing free cash flow, and my back-of-the-envelope calculation/guesstimate tags it at about 18 times fiscal 2004 FCF. Not bad when you consider the 49% subscriber and 66% revenue growth.

The challenge for this company is maintaining strong subscriber growth at a time when the lure of cheaper broadband is siphoning away dialup users. But again, we turn back to its competitive advantage of lower price. There will be a market for dialup access for years to come, and with United's ISPs priced at less than half the others, its competitors have a lot more to worry about than it does.

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P&G's Pearly White Q4

Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) closed out its fiscal year today with higher sales and earnings as new products helped the consumer products giant grow.

Total revenues increased 7% to $10.92 billion, with more than half of that jump stemming from currency effects. P&G's unit volume rose 5%, boosted by double-digit gains from its health-care products division.

For the quarter, P&G earned $955 million, or $0.68 a share, including restructuring costs. That's 5% ahead of the prior quarter's $910 million, or $0.64 a share. Not counting restructuring expenses, P&G's earnings increased 12% to $1.22 billion.

P&G continues to benefit from our obsession with white teeth. The company's Crest Whitestrips and new Crest Night Effect whitener drove the health care products' 18% unit volume growth. Sales improved 12% to $1.39 billion. P&G has been tinkering with pricing to counter Colgate-Palmolive's(NYSE: CL) Simply White brush-on gel product. Discounting impacted sales by 3%, but that was offset by currency gains.

P&G also goes head-to-head with Kimberly-Clark(NYSE: KMB) in the diapers market. Last week, Kimberly-Clark reported lower quarterly income and diaper sales volumes. Procter & Gamble's baby and family care division, on the other hand, returned 6% gains in unit sales, with Western Europe and Asia experiencing double-digit growth.

Bottom line: Procter & Gamble continues to execute and is proving itself an adept competitor. For this fiscal year, excluding restructuring items, earnings grew 14% and management looks for more double-digit earnings growth next year.

Quick Takes

Bloomberg reports that fifth-largest U.S. oil and natural gas producer Anadarko Petroleum(NYSE: APC) is shopping itself quietly to other big energy companies for $10 billion. Presumably, that includes assumption of the company's debt, which gives Anadarko an enterprise value of $16.7 billion. A company spokesperson denied the report.

Computer networking equipment maker Netgear(Nasdaq: NTGR) traded up over 25% today after its initial public offering of 7 million shares at $14 netted $98 million. Nortel Networks(NYSE: NT) spun off the company, a familiar consumer brand, in 2000.

Shares of Kos Pharmaceuticals(Nasdaq: KOSP) rocketed 25% today on news that its Q2 revenues jumped 70% over last year on strong sales of cholesterol drug Advicor. The company upped its 2003 EPS forecast to a range of $1.20-$1.30 from $0.65-$0.70.

The Commerce Department said that GDP climbed 2.4% in the second quarter, vs. 1.4% in each of the prior two quarters. The increase was well above economists' estimates of 1.5%. Stocks rose (higher earnings expectations) and bonds fell (higher inflationary expectations).

And Finally...

Today on

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