Think you overdid it on Thanksgiving? We're guessing 106-pound Sonya Thomas ate more in 12 minutes than you did all week.
Thomas -- a former manager at Burger King -- wolfed down seven and three-quarters pounds of turkey and trimmings to win the Thanksgiving Meal Invitational in New York. In the process, she humiliated contestants nearly four times her size, including two 400-pounders with multiple eating titles between them.
Thomas hails from Alexandria, Va., home of Fool HQ. Sonya, if you feel like dropping by, we'll add to your prizes an official Fool ball cap... and a few light snacks.
In today's Motley Fool Take:
- Boeing's Condit Ejects
- Disney's World Turns
- Shameless Plug: Stocks 2004
- Sony Looks Ahead
- Quote of Note
- Coke Keeps It Real
- Discussion Board of the Day: Coca-Cola
- More Fool News
- And Finally...
Boeing's Condit Ejects
The combination of a weak operating position and repetitive scandals at Boeing
The ethics scandal that broke last week, potentially stalling a multibillion-dollar Pentagon proposal to acquire as many as 100 767 refueling tankers, cost Condit's money man, CFO Michael Sears, his job. If this were the only issue facing the company, it might be enough by itself for the board to show Condit the door. But Boeing has seen multiple embarrassing and costly scandals, painting a picture of a company that has lost control of its internal compass.
Last week Boeing disclosed it has discovered that Sears had negotiated to hire an Air Force acquisitions official while she was still in a position to influence military contracts involving Boeing. That official, Darlene Druyun, came to work at Boeing in January, but her employment with the firm was also terminated last week. The tanker deal has already been signed into law, so its basic terms will be unaffected. But Congress, if it smells a rat, could call for additional hearings and delay actual execution of the deal for an extended period of time.
This disaster follows another substantial ethical misstep, as Boeing lost more than $1 billion in rocket contracts when the Air Force determined that company employees had stolen proprietary documents from contract competitor Lockheed Martin
The thread in these two major lapses at Boeing is that both involve the U.S Air Force. With current commercial aircraft sales soft, Boeing has had to depend on military contracts for a far greater component of its business in recent years. Whether these lapses cast a shadow over Boeing as a business partner to the military remains to be seen, but I'd venture that Boeing's board viewed Condit's ouster as a signal to the military that it will not tolerate wrongdoing. It remains to be seen whether the Air Force finds the sacrifice sufficient.
Disney's World Turns
It has the makings of a soap opera, but it's real life for Walt Disney
Ironically, back in 1984, Mr. Disney headed the battle to land Eisner. Just last year, Mr. Disney's business associate and board member Stanley Gold (who, by the way, also jumped ship today) questioned Eisner's turnaround efforts, but according to Disney, it was way back in 1994, with the death of former president Frank Wells, that the company "lost its focus, its creative energy, and its heritage."
Specifically, Mr. Disney chides Mr. Eisner's inability to rescue ABC "from the ratings abyss it has been in for years." Believe it or not, when Disney purchased Capital Cities in 1996 for $19 billion, ABC was the number one TV network. It's been number four in recent years.
What went wrong? For one, Disney lost talented senior executives in what Mr. Disney terms a "creative brain drain." It doesn't help that a number of these executives -- Michael Ovitz and Jeffrey Katzenberg come to mind -- left the building with exorbitant severance packages.
Adding to the irony (and what's a soap opera without some), Roy Disney's comments come at a time when results appear to be improving. Double-digit jumps in operating income at all business segments except theme parks can't be bad.
Sadly, the same can't be said for $13.9 billion in debt. Nor for the fact that, to increase free cash flow, Disney announced in 2002 that it would "hold down" capital investment for the next five years. Per-share capital spending, which peaked at $1.13 in 1998, came in at $0.53 in 2002.
And capital spending is the life-blood of a business like Disney's. With theme parks representing 41% of Disney's 2002 operating income, shareholders should give a thought to Mr. Disney's claim that management is showing "timidity" in its investment in theme parks and building parks "on the cheap." Failure to invest for the future could turn today's good earnings news into yet another ugly plot twist.
At Friday's $23.09 close, Disney is within a dollar of its 2003 highs. The stock is up 42% for the year and has bounced nicely off its August 2002 low of $13.48. Still, that's little comfort to investors who got hooked on this soap back in May 2000 when the stock hit an all-time high of $43.88.
Shameless Plug: Stocks 2004
You have to admit our latest annual investing guide has done pretty darn well this year. Granted, the S&P 500 is up roughly 15% on the period, but the companies featured in our Stocks 2003 are up, on average, a whopping 39%. What do our analysts like this year? Find out in the just-released Stocks 2004... available online now.
Sony Looks Ahead
Consumer electronics and media giant Sony
One of the announcements coming out of its "Corporate Strategy Meeting" was the company's plan to buy the part of Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) it doesn't already own, making the division a wholly owned subsidiary. (It's a "plan" only technically, since the deal doesn't require stockholder approval.)
The transaction, set to take place April 1, will have minimal financial impact on Sony, which already owns more than 99% of SCE. (You couldn't have invested in it if you'd wanted to.) It's worth pointing out something that's NOT happening: The small bit of SCE not owned by Sony is owned by Ken Kutaragi, the well-respected Sony executive who runs the business -- but he isn't going anywhere. He's simply getting regular Sony shares in exchange for his SCE stock.
The SEC filing reporting this news says the company wants to "promote growth through the convergence of group resources and technology. By making SCE a wholly-owned subsidiary, Sony aims to accelerate this growth strategy by creating new markets through the convergence of electronics and game technology and by strengthening Sony's semiconductor development."
Whatever this may mean, it certainly makes some sense: SCE's game console and software business is one of the company's key drivers of operating profit. Its electronics segment, meanwhile, which includes semiconductors, has seen revenues decrease in recent years -- though it makes up the lion's share of Sony sales -- and has struggled to maintain operating profitability.
It's perhaps telling that Sony's latest annual report indicates that the electronics business is responsible for the upcoming launch of the PSX converged gaming and media system. With indications that sales of the current round of gaming consoles may be slowing, it seems likely we'll be hearing early reports of the "next-generation" hardware soon -- and it will be counted on to advance entertainment at least as much as PlayStation 2 improved upon the original model.
If this latest SCE news is to be interpreted as much more than a shuffling of papers, it might be taken as a sign that Sony believes very firmly in the games business as a long-term growth driver -- and will count on its ability to generate high-performance hardware as much as its brand and marketing acumen to succeed against Microsoft
Quote of Note
"University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." -- Henry Kissinger
Coke Keeps It Real
Beverage king Coca-Cola
Next, according to clinical studies, drinking two eight-fluid-ounce servings a day of Coke's Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise Orange Juice for eight weeks can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Heart Wise, which uses plant sterols to stop cholesterol from being absorbed, is already in stores. More than 100 million Americans have cholesterol at borderline-high levels or worse.
As the saying goes, "When the world gives you lemons, make lemonade." Minute Maid Light Lemonade, a new diet fountain drink targeting restaurants, is non-carbonated and uses real lemon juice. With diet and non-carbonated drinks growing in popularity, this product should juice Coke's sales.
Finally, James Robert Kennedy (a.k.a., Radio) is the subject of a $35 million Sony
Put it all together and Coca-Cola shareholders have reason to smile. Coke has stolen a major account from Pepsi. Minute Maid, which has struggled with lackluster sales, has two new interesting products in the marketplace. And the Coca-Cola name keeps popping up in positive ways.
And while the company carries $5.5 billion in total debt, it also sits on $3.8 billion in cash and generates free cash flow of $4.6 billion. As for the stock, it's up 6% so far this year to $46.50 and has moved nicely from its $37.01 low in March 2003.
Think Coke is the real thing? Or are you more of a Pepsi person? These questions aren't rhetorical. We'd really like to know. Head over to our Coca-Cola discussion board -- make your voice heard and cast your vote for the return of New Coke! Apparently, it's an acquired taste.
Mor e Fool News
- Orbitz and Pieces
- Sony Looks Ahead
- No Break for J&J
- Farmers Await Tobacco Buyout
- Shoppers Deck the Malls
For all today's stories, see Today's Headlines.
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