There's no such thing as Santa Claus -- at least, not in South Africa this year.

According to Reuters, the Advertising Standards Authority this week banned an advertisement for South Africa's post office that gave kids an address to write jolly Saint Nick with their Christmas wishes.

Apparently, the practice "creates the impression, in the mind of the credulous child, that by writing to the given address she/he will be writing to Santa Claus, who, according to the Santa Claus myth, will then bring him/her the requested presents."

It's hard not to see their point, but come on. Where's the harm in just chucking the letters discreetly as we've always done? (Sorry, tots.)

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Home Depot Goes Shopping

Home Depot (NYSE: HD) has a holiday surprise for shareholders: more share buybacks. Just days after rival home-improvement retailer Lowe's(NYSE: LOW)announced that it would repurchase up to $1 billion of its own stock, Home Depot said today that it has completed its current $1 billion buyback, and that the board authorized another $1 billion in share repurchases.

The company has bought back $3 billion worth of stock since July 2002, so this new authorization will mark $4 billion in total repurchases. Home Depot's certainly got the money, with $4.9 billion in cash sitting on its balance sheet as of Nov. 2. It's also solidly free cash flow positive, generating $3.6 billion in excess green through the first nine months of the year. Returning value to shareholders through share buybacks seems like a good use for the company's war chest.

The only question is whether Home Depot's stock is undervalued. Warren Buffett, who has generally praised share repurchases as a means to enhance shareholder value, has warned against companies buying back their stock when it's too richly priced. This was the same concern raised by Jeff Hwang Monday regarding Lowe's buyback news.

Home Depot's going for around 19 times earnings, with expectations of 15%-17% earnings growth for the current fiscal year (ending Jan. 2004). That's before considering the effects of the new share buybacks, should they commence during the fourth quarter.

Given the strength of the business and the balance sheet, and the fact that the stock isn't ridiculously overvalued, this is another positive development for shareholders. It's really just icing on an already great year, during which Home Depot shares have climbed from $20.20 in February to around $34 today.

Discussion Board of the Day: Living Below Your Means

Have any penny-pinching plans to make this holiday season lighter on your wallet? What are the pitfalls of clearance sales, beyond the "No Returns" policy? Are handcrafted gifts cheap or charming? All this and more -- in the Living Below Your Means discussion board. Only on

ESPN, Cox Throw Down

An acrimonious brouhaha is afoot between the cable giants at Cox(NYSE: COX) and sports powerhouse ESPN, a subsidiary of Disney(NYSE: DIS). At issue are the rates that Cox pays ESPN for the right to broadcast its various channels on Cox networks.

Cox, whose contract with ESPN runs out in March, claims that ESPN requested a carrying cost increase of 20%. ESPN denies this, insisting that its hike was well below what Cox has publicly stated. Charles Bodenheimer, ESPN president, calls the ongoing negotiations "standard operating procedure," but allowed that it is odd that Cox opted to go public with its complaints.

Here's what you're seeing: Two more-or-less monopolists beating each other up over pricing. There are other sports networks, including Fox's(NYSE: FOX), but ESPN dominates the genre. A cable system without ESPN has a much harder time attracting the extremely valuable young male segment and might lose subscribers to alternatives like Hughes'(NYSE: GMH) DirecTV, or Dish Network, from Echostar(Nasdaq: DISH).

For its part, ESPN can't attract viewers on platforms it isn't on. Loss of Cox, one of the nation's largest cable companies, would be painful.

Still, ESPN looks to have the upper hand. Other sports networks have certain broadcast rights, but ESPN's rights to the National Football League, National Basketball Association, College Basketball, National Hockey League, and Major League Baseball is unrivaled. ESPN is as near a default as exists in programming, and losing it even for a time could be devastating for Cox.

Quote of Note

"Life is short. The sooner that a man begins to enjoy his wealth, the better." -- Samuel Johnson

What It Takes to Retire

When figuring out how much to save and invest for your retirement, know that there's no hard-and-fast guideline that suits everybody. We're each different, in different situations. Here are some questions to consider as you prepare to plan:

1) How many years are left until you retire?

2) How old do you plan to be when you retire? (This influences how long your retirement is likely to last.)

3) How much do you have saved up for retirement now and how much more will you be able to sock away each year until retirement?

4) How well do you want to live during retirement -- or, more to the point, how much money will you want to live on during retirement? (Any plans for extravagant travel adventures? Do you plan to move to a region with a lower cost of living?)

5) How are you investing your nest egg money? What kinds of returns do you expect to earn? (If your money is all in Treasury bonds and you're expecting it to grow 20% per year, you'll probably end up with an unpleasant surprise.)

6) What's your risk tolerance? Are you comfortable investing your long-term money in stocks? Stocks are riskier than bonds, but offer the chance of higher returns.

These are just some of the considerations you'll need to ponder. Once you've thought about them for a bit, spend some time reading up on retirement issues and perhaps plugging some numbers into our online retirement calculators. And keep this guideline in mind: If you want to be sure your money will last 20 to 30 years of retirement, plan to spend just 4% to 6% of your savings annually.

Shameless Plug: Home Center

Housing talk at The Motley Fool has centered on rumors of the refi boom's death and their effect on the recently red-hot housing stocks. Most people have a less -- how do we say -- esoteric relationship with mortgage rates and builders. You may not want to make a major life decision based on interest rates, but if you're in the market for a new home -- or thinking of refinancing your current one -- you'll want to keep up. Don't call an agent; find all you need at our friendly neighborhood Home Center.

More Fool News

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

And Finally...

Diversification is a mantra that only gets louder when markets turn shaky. But when it comes to diversification, not all agree on what is proper. Jeff Fischer warns against too much of a good thing in Are You Overdiversified? What's that, buster, you think this is some kind of game? Actually, a little play might help, or so says Selena Maranjian in The Game of Rags to Riches.

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