Even if this were a sports page, we wouldn't lead with Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James' 25-point, nine-assist, six-rebound NBA debut -- not after this morning's eye-popping economic numbers. Gross Domestic Product (the ole' GDP to you) grew at an annualized rate of 7.2% for the quarter. Last time we saw a number like that, LeBron was... well, not even born.

No doubt both young stars picked up a few converts today. But remember -- whether you're a hoops fan or a macroeconomist -- one game does not a season make. So stay tuned.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

eBay Reiterates Growth

eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) yesterday held its annual analyst conference and reiterated that the growth that's made it the 11th largest U.S. retailer and the largest online commerce site will continue.

The company stood by 2004 projections that call for $2.9 billion in revenue and $0.98 per share in pro forma profits, and reaffirmed its 2005 goal of eBay-only revenue hitting $3 billion. Including PayPal, analysts project $3.8 billion in total 2005 revenue, while eBay models $1 billion in operating cash flow that year.

Management continues to focus on international growth -- now operating in some 20 countries, Germany being the largest -- and on eBay Motors (cars and related sales). eBay also remains intent on rolling out new services to make it easier to buy and sell, introducing new product categories, growing PayPal, and marketing itself online and on TV.

For 2003, the company did not touch recent estimates of $2.1 billion in revenue and as much as $0.72 per share in pro forma earnings ($0.65 on a GAAP basis). It projects $0.21 in pro forma fourth-quarter profits.

Consensus analyst estimates are predicting $0.24 in quarter four, and $0.75 for the year, both higher than eBay's own numbers, giving the company a hurdle to leap. Analysts do the same next year, projecting $1.03 per share to eBay's guidance of $0.98.

In these cases, eBay is a victim of its own success. Exceeding guidance during the past three years has increased the expectation -- and pressure -- to keep doing the same. Perhaps in this game of cat and mouse, management is offering slightly more conservative guidance these days, adjusting for the fact that analysts will ratchet it higher. Silly, but in an odd way this would be a logical safeguard against disappointment.

The stock can't afford to deflate investor enthusiasm. eBay has about $475 million in trailing free cash flow (not excluding tax benefits from stock options). At $57 per share, the company's market value is $36.7 billion. Backing out $1.1 billion in cash and equivalents, eBay's enterprise value is $35.6 billion, or 75 times free cash flow. The stock trades at 58 times next year's pro forma earnings estimate, while earnings should grow about 37%.

The premium price stands because free cash flow keeps expanding and sales growth has been as impressive as this:

  1998         $ 86M 
1999          224 
2000          431 
2001          748 
2002        1,214 
2003E       2,100 
2004E       2,900 
2005E       3,800 

As with its Internet brethren -- Amazon(Nasdaq: AMZN), Yahoo(Nasdaq: YHOO), and newcomer Netflix(Nasdaq: NFLX) -- the doubling stock prices of 2003 demand strong financial results in 2004 -- arguably stronger than estimates.

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Investors Back Martha

Whatever you might think of Martha Stewart the person, investors are clearly behind Martha Stewart the company. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia(NYSE: MSO), the publishing, television, and merchandising company, rose in early trading today on news that it expects to beat previously published estimates for fourth-quarter earnings. Third-quarter results, meanwhile, were better than expected.

A quick scan of the company's earnings release doesn't seem to hold much in the way of good news. Revenue fell sharply year over year, leading to an operating and net loss. All of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's (MSLO) operating segments saw revenue fall from 2002 levels except television, which managed only a slim pop to $6.6 million from $6.4 million.

But the company pointed to positives: an improved cash position, new product and brand launches, cost savings at its online and direct marketing division, and general cost savings companywide that led to lowered overhead in Q3. Also notable was the news earlier this month that retailer Kmart(Nasdaq: KMRT) is standing behind MSLO's brands.

While not discussing reasons in the press release, CFO James Follo raised EPS guidance for Q4 and while we put limited stock in his lightly documented figures it would seem to suggest optimism about the business' prospects. Even so, with the company aggressively cost-cutting it will be continually important to understand the contribution all the components of the income statement -- both revenues and operating costs -- are making to bottom-line performance.

MSLO, recommended by David Gardner in Motley Fool Stock Advisor last year, was further supported by him this summer following first-quarter earnings. The company's shares eventually rocketed in May before falling again, but since August they've risen steadily. That the market responded so well to the earnings news today is a sign that investors believe better days await this company that has, in the past, demonstrated the ability to grow earnings and generate free cash flow.

If this confidence is rewarded with a few more quarters of growth at the company's key segments, MSLO may become a darling again before long.

Quote of Note

"A clever man commits no minor blunders." -- Goethe

Janus on the Hot Seat

We got a look inside embattled Janus Capital Group(NYSE: JNS) today as management discussed a review of its business following accusations of trading practices that hurt fund holders. The company's take on what's happening, however, is unlikely to assuage angry investors.

In a few short lines, CEO Mark Whiston said the company, following an internal investigation sparked by a complaint filed by the New York Attorney General's office, found evidence of "several" frequent-trading events, though they were of "limited size and duration." (For a better understanding of what Whiston's talking about, revisit Bill Mann's coverage of the issue.)

"The bottom line," according to Whiston, "is we're committed to living up to the high ethical standards shareholders expect of us."

Perhaps. But in public statements, arguably including this latest, Whiston and Janus don't seem willing to admit that the actions under investigation have hurt the company's reputation -- and deservedly so. When fund tracker Morningstar stopped rating Janus funds and said investors should "question their confidence" in Janus, for example, the CEO tried to divert attention to the company's "good" history from its troubled present.

That seems insufficient. Janus (and other fund companies, the complaint says) allowed Canary Capital Partners special trading deals that, while not all illegal, used means undisclosed to fund holders to make trades that hurt retail clients while making money for institutions. Yes, allowed, as in business as usual -- approved at the highest levels of the organization. These were not the actions of rogue employees easily made scapegoats. While public flogging seems excessive, some penitence would be nice.

As to business, it rolls on at Janus. The company is busily reorganizing, making several disposals and acquisitions -- and one confusing deal we covered earlier this year. No doubt, Janus would like back the $9 million it set aside from operating income to deal with investigation-related costs, but the company still managed to grow revenue, net income and operating income year over year in Q3. Perhaps customers simply aren't punishing Janus enough to get the treatment they deserve.

Discussion Board of the Day: Crafty Fools

Getting into the holiday spirit? Are you the neighbor with the big ole jack-o'-lantern on your front lawn this weekend or the one that puts out your holiday decorations in November? Have some tips to share? All this and more -- in the Crafty Fools discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

More Fool News

For all today's stories, see Today's Headlines.

And Finally...

Ever wonder who we are, where we are, or where we're going (ever see a question made up so entirely of Ws, Es, and Os?) Jeff Fischer knows a lot about such things, especially the part about where we are. At least some of this will make sense once you've read his One Stock to Grow By. Then, as we hope that the job market catches pace with our breathless economy, ask yourself this: Unions: Good or Bad? For some clues, read Selena Maranjian's column by the same name. One more day till Haloween!

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Paul Elliott, Mathew Emmert, Jeff Fischer, Jeff Hwang, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Alyce Lomax, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Dave Marino-Nachison, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim