You don't have to tell us how hard it is to get back in the saddle after a long holiday weekend (at least we hope it was a good one!). Somebody should have told the markets. The major stock indexes barreled into the close comfortably ahead and quite near their highs for the day. Even gold hit a multiyear high.

So, what's the buzz? We don't like to speculate, but industry insiders tell us it was "buying pressure" (go figure). Tricky as it is to explain it -- and there are as many explanations as there are reindeer -- it's flat-out hard not to buy into the Santa Claus rally. Tomorrow: the January effect.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

An XM Xmas?

Though many people said there wasn't a must-have item this holiday season, satellite radio caught some shoppers' attention. The Washington Post reported Saturday that satellite radio was a hot item on people's holiday gift lists this year. Though the companies didn't state exact numbers, XM Satellite Radio(Nasdaq: XMSR) and Sirius Satellite Radio(Nasdaq: SIRI) both claimed that their products were a quite a draw for shoppers.

So much for mundane gifts like socks, sweaters, or even TVs. It appears some people may have chosen a gift that keeps on giving, all year round. Portable receivers that can float between car, home, and office gave consumers more reason to sign on, and some discounts were in place for subscribers who signed on for more than a year.

For all those who speculated on these stocks despite their lack of profitability, it seems that this holiday season has brought them one step closer to realizing the dream. XM said it is on track to have 1.2 million subscribers by year end, as opposed to 347,000 this time last year.

Despite the good news, profitability remains a long way away, and in XM's case, the stock's been trading near its 52-week high. A November article by Jeff Fischer put things in perspective, pointing out the high value placed on XM subscribers, as compared to other subscriber-based services like TiVo(Nasdaq: TIVO) and Netflix(Nasdaq: NFLX).

Still, this is good news for investors who are watching for signs that consumers will pay up for satellite radio. Increasing adoption rates will boost the service's word of mouth, and the buzz is already out there (plus, Jeff made XM a stock to watch in 2004). It's no longer just investors who talk about the cool factor of satellite radio, and with more subscribers, that effect should intensify. It could be time for takeoff.

Quote of Note

"The only way around is through." -- Robert Frost

5 Better Food Bets

The stock symbol for the largest U.S. egg producer may be CALM, but shares of Cal-Maine Foods(Nasdaq: CALM) have been anything but. From $3.17 last December, the stock has raced to an all-time high of $43.52. Eggs are in short supply and prices are at 20-year highs.

Last quarter, the company earned $1.49 per share -- up over 800%. Annualized, the stock trades at just 7 times earnings. But, don't annualize! Egg prices are cyclical. The low-profit business has been consolidating for years, but there were still 64 producers with 1 million or more layers in 2001. Expect capacity to expand quickly and, by 2005, for egg producers to be cackling about overcapacity again -- and low margins.

And with $106 million in total debt and $10 million in cash, Cal-Maine will not be cash-rich overnight -- even with $17.6 million flowing in last quarter. Meanwhile, the price of grain -- the food of the hens -- is rising. Instead of joining the flock, investors might find a safer roost elsewhere.

As evidence, consider the famous Atkins Diet and its author's favorite nut -- the macadamia. Hawaii's largest grower, ML Macadamia OrchardsLP(NYSE: NUT), is far from its all-time high in 2000 of $5.25 and trades at the late 1980's level of $3.50 a share. Even with nut prices up 30%, the company recently reported a loss.

The point is its food we are talking about! Its history is boom and bust. With that history, why not squirrel-away your assets in better, broader-based, long-term food-related opportunities? Investors looking to do so might start with these:

Beer giant Anheuser-Busch(NYSE: BUD) has rising income from strong low-carbohydrate beer sales. Established food giants Kraft Foods(NYSE: KFT) and General Mills(NYSE: GIS) are emphasizing low-carbohydrate and "healthy" foods. Even sugar-laden beverage vendors Coca-Cola(NYSE: KO) and Pepsi(NYSE: PEP), in addition to selling water, are focusing on new, healthier beverages.

Why are these better bets? For one thing, these guys are not in the commodity business. For another, if trends change, they're better diversified and will not likely suffer surprise operating losses. More likely, they can tailor their well-known brands to the latest craze.

Finally, they're not up more than 1,000% on the year. Talk all you want about mad cows, but if you ask me, Cal-Maine has really flown the coup.

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Gift Cards to the Rescue

The holiday shopping season may be technically over, but that doesn't mean that the flurry of activity at the leading retailers has ended. Between the returns, exchanges, and post-holiday sales, it's not as if your nearest strip mall has been able to catch much of a breather. However, more important for the financial state of this timely sector is the proliferation of gift cards.

As the gifts that keep on giving (until they are bled dry to a balance of nil, of course), they are extending the fiscal punch of the retailing seasonality. Consider the world's largest retailer, for instance. Although Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT) announced that it is looking at relatively bland same-store sales growth on the low of end of its initial 3%-5% range, this month it saw gift card sales surge by 20%.

Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) , after another record season, sold 70,000 gift cards on Christmas Eve alone. In sum, gift cards have come to consume 10% of the holiday spending dollar as procrastinators and reformed fruitcake re-gifters have settled on the medium as the gifting currency of choice.

If you find yourself holding on to a piece of plastic from Borders(NYSE: BGP), Best Buy(NYSE: BBY), or even Cheesecake Factory(Nasdaq: CAKE), welcome to the trend of milking the 2003 season into 2004.

Retailers do not account for gift card sales as they are bought, only consumed. That may help explain part of Wal-Mart's healthy 8.6% rise in comps in Jan. 2003. More importantly, it makes one hopeful for another strong showing next month. While the start of the calendar year has been traditionally a time to keep discretionary spending low as holiday debts are tackled, gift cards are helping smooth out that seasonality.

So go ahead and take your holiday decorations down and pour the last of that eggnog down the drain, if you must -- just don't write off the season until the seasonal spending is done.

Discussion Board of the Day: Wal-Mart

How did your holiday shopping go? Will gift card sales really lift Wal-Mart's sales in the coming weeks? What else lies in store in 2004 for the world's leading retailer? All this and more -- in the Wal-Mart discussion board. Only on

More Fool News

For a list of all our stories from today, see Today's Headlines.

And Finally...

Today on, Rex Moore is Valuing a Stock's Sex Appeal. Ooh-la-la.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, W.D. Crotty, Sam Edwards, 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