As some of you may have noticed by now, we're getting old. The Motley Fool embarks on a new decade this month, and today our co-founders David and Tom Gardner offer up a hearty thanks to Fools the world over who have been with us through our first 10 years.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Mortgage Rates Rising

Mortgage rates have risen to their highest point in a year. Should home buyers start to panic? We have some helpful advice today, and you can still get help 24-7 at our Home Center.

Retailers Fight Back

June was dismally slow for retailers, but today's same-store sales results indicate that shoppers returned during the month of July. On the whole, comps came in stronger than had been anticipated, leading some retailers to raise their quarterly earnings guidance.

July is traditionally a discounting month, with retailers clearing out summer merchandise to make way for fall goods. As such, it's not usually an important month for gauging retailers' health. Today's results are encouraging, though, in that they turned around June's poor showing and created hope that consumers' demand will carry over into the crucial August and September back-to-school months.

Discount powerhouse Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT) posted a 4.6% comps gain, and raised second-quarter guidance from $0.50 to $0.52 a share. Kohl's(NYSE: KSS) and Target(NYSE: TGT) also reported better-than-expected comps, coming in at 6.7% and 3.1% respectively.

Even among the beleaguered department store group, same-store sales came in ahead of expectations. Sears'(NYSE: S) July comps fell 0.8%, a smaller decline than was anticipated. J.C. Penney(NYSE: JCP) and May(NYSE: MAY) announced comps gains of 3.7% and 1.8%, respectively, both substantially ahead of expectations. Federated(NYSE: FD) posted a 0.4% comps decline, which was not as severe as had been predicted. Because of the improved results, Federated raised earnings guidance for its second quarter to $0.60-$0.63 from its prior guidance of $0.50-$0.55.

Specialty retailers joined the July party, too. Teen surf shop Pacific Sunwear(Nasdaq: PSUN) reported its usual bright comps, with a 15.1% gain. It also raised Q2 guidance again, this time to $0.25-$0.26 from last month's $0.23 (which was itself raised from $0.20). Hot Topic(Nasdaq: HOTT) followed the same path, with a comps increase of 8.7% and new earnings guidance of $0.17 versus prior guidance of $0.16.

Gap (NYSE: GPS) posted a 9% comps gain, better than the expected 8.1%, and increased Q2 earnings guidance to $0.20-$0.22. Analysts had been looking for $0.18. Women's retailer Ann Taylor(NYSE: ANN) also beat same-store expectations and raised guidance. July comps grew by 7.6%, and Ann Taylor now anticipates Q2 earnings between $0.44-$0.45, versus analysts' projections of $0.41.

Abercrombie & Fitch (Nasdaq: ANF) was one standout that missed same-store sales predictions by a wide margin yet still said it would beat quarterly estimates. The collegiate retailer's July comps declined by 11%. Analysts expected only a 4.4% drop. Thanks to its tight inventory and cost controls, however, Abercrombie expects to beat the $0.32 per share consensus estimate for its Q2.

All eyes will now be on the upcoming back-to-school season to see if retailers can sustain July's momentum.

Quote of Note

"An investor only has to do a small number of things right and avoid making major mistakes to be outstandingly successful." -- Warren Buffett

College Savings Smackdown

If college savings accounts were the The Brady Bunch girls, the Coverdell Education Savings Account would be Jan, and she'd be whining, "529, 529, 529!" instead of "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"

She'd have a point. State-sponsored 529 savings plans get all the attention. While much of it's warranted, the Coverdell ESA doesn't look too shabby either. It allows for the same tax-free growth on investments earmarked for higher-education expenses, and then some. So let's square the two off (the 529 and Coverdell, not Marcia and Jan) for a College Savings Smackdown.

In this corner, the 529 savings plan

  • Contribution limits are huge -- well over $100,000 per beneficiary in most cases. This dwarfs the $2,000 annual contribution limit for Coverdell beneficiaries.
  • Many states offer perks to residents who participate in the local plan. The most common benefit is the deductibility of contributions on state income tax returns.
  • The assets in a 529 plan are considered the property of the donor, usually a parent or other relative. This has two benefits: 1) The student won't gain control of the money and spend it on a new car, and 2) the money will have a gentler effect on financial aid eligibility since colleges expect students to contribute a larger portion of their assets to the tuition bill than is expected of parents.

The challenger: Coverdell

  • The Coverdell is a tax-free account until the government changes its mind. However, the tax-free status of 529 plans will automatically revert to tax-deferred (i.e., no taxes will be paid until money is withdrawn) in 2011 unless Congress acts.
  • The money in a Coverdell can also be used for qualified elementary and secondary education expenses, including computers and uniforms.
  • The Coverdell offers much more investment flexibility. Just open an account with a discount broker and choose just about any stock, bond, or mutual fund you want. Participants in a 529 savings plan are limited to the mutual fund-type investments offered by the sponsor. Since the latter are so new, many don't have long-term performance histories.
  • Along with flexibility comes the ability to hold down costs. Generally, you'll pay more in fees and expenses to participate in a 529 plan than you would to invest in low-cost index funds through a discount broker.

So which is better? You guessed it: It depends on your circumstances. But here's the good news: You can have both (again, not Marcia and Jan). You can split your contributions between a 529 and a Coverdell, and enjoy the benefits of both. Also, you can transfer assets from a Coverdell to a 529 plan, but not the other way around.

These are just the highlights. For more on your options, visit our College Savings Center or check out our latest book, The Motley Fool's Guide to Paying for School: How to Cover Education Costs From K to Ph.D.

Homestore Remodels

If you haven't checked out Homestore(Nasdaq: HOMS) lately, you might think you've walked into an episode of "While You Were Out." Just one year ago, shares of the outfit behind the popular real estate site traded for pennies. Now it's trading for dollars -- OK, about $2.50.

Last year, pennies sounded about right. Homestore was haunted -- from allegations of round-tripping with partner AOL Time Warner(NYSE: AOL) to suspicions surrounding its acquisition of from Cendant(NYSE: CD). Homestore was a real fixer-upper.

As a result, while the market was starting to cuddle up again to dot-coms -- those making a dent in the real world -- Expedia(Nasdaq: EXPE), eBay(Nasdaq: EBAY) and Lending Tree(Nasdaq: TREE), poor Homestore, to quote punksmiths Sum-41, "trashed" its "own house party because nobody came."

Last night, Homestore took the final step in exorcising its demons when it settled with Cendant over the flap. We say final step, because the executive ranks had already been replenished.

With a market cap closing in on $400 million and rising (well, maybe not today), is Homestore finally ready to enjoy the fruits of its real-estate labors? If so, it's about time: Low interest rates have the housing market booming.

But, what's this? The refinancing market has cooled? Home sales are expected to feel the pinch? Hidden Gems have investors moving out of real estate and back into equities? Pity that Homestore. Before long, it may be down to trashing its own house party because everybody left.

Discussion Board of the Day

Have you put off your moving plans with the recent spike in mortgage rates? Are you rushing over to our Home Center to see if there's hope for a new abode? Have you turned your attention toward improving where you live now instead? All this and more -- in the Building/Maintaining a Home discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) jumped as much as 10% today after the retailer said its EPS for the quarter ending Aug. 30 will be in the range of $0.37 to $0.42, versus last year's $0.24 and Street estimates of $0.30. The company also said its full-year EPS will be $2.27 to $2.32, up about 20% from last year.

Shares of XM Satellite Radio(Nasdaq: XMSR) dropped over 16% today. The company grew subscribers in Q2 by 43% sequentially and 407% year over year to almost 700,000, or just under seven times that of rival Sirius Satellite Radio(Nasdaq: SIRI). But investors may have reacted negatively to announcements on its conference call that launching its spare satellite at the end of 2004 will cost $190 million. XM and others are in talks with insurers over their current Boeing 702 satellites that have been degrading faster than expected. XM shares have galloped from a 52-week low of $1.66 to a recent high of $14.86. Tom Jacobs will look at satellite radio in next week's commentary.

Investors lost interest in lender AmeriCredit(NYSE: ACF), driving its stock down as much as 20%. The company said it would delay issuing quarterly and annual earnings through June 30 until on or before Aug. 29, and withdrew prior guidance. The reason? It's reviewing accounting treatment for derivatives. Some folks at another derivative-challenged outfit may be singing, "Take a load off Fannie." Fannie Mae(NYSE: FNM), that is.

The Labor Department said that worker productivity zoomed 5.7% in the second quarter. (All right, Labor wouldn't say "zoomed." But they should.) Initial weekly unemployment claims fell by 3,000, to 390,000, the lowest since February. If this isn't enough data for you, consider the Commerce Department's news that wholesale prices rose 1.5% in June, perhaps countering fears of deflation. For now.

And Finally

For updated stories throughout the day, bookmark our ever-changing News section... Jeff Fischer takes a look at a new bank IPO that might offer investors some good old-fashioned value.... In part two of a Fool interview, Jeremy Siegel assesses stocks' near-term potential.

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