The Martha Stewart trial in Manhattan hit a bump today when the government's star witness was delayed from testifying because of a dispute over a key document that prosecutors withheld from the defense until last night.
Allegedly, Douglas Faneuil, an assistant to Martha's former broker who is testifying against her, has given different variations of his story and the defense did not have adequate chance to evaluate the evidence. So, the judge has postponed Faneuil's testimony by a week, or the equivalent of what it would take to make 240 Pistachio Raisin biscottis and 45 embroidered snowmen.
In today's Motley Fool Take:
- Gillette Spends, Wins
- Quote of Note
- Honor Among Jeeves
- Discussion Board of the Day: Yahoo!
- Sugar High at Hershey
- Shameless Plug: It's Tax Season Again
- More on Fool.com Today
Gillette Spends, Wins
Blade king Gillette
Global blade share grew half a percent to 72.5%, thanks in large part to a huge 28% spike in advertising spending. Management seems most concerned with the battery division, though, as its flagship Duracell brand is now priced about 50% higher than value and private-label competitors -- Rayovac
"Historically that type of gap has resulted in share erosion," said Chris Jakubik, vice president of investor relations, in this morning's conference call (transcript courtesy of CCBN StreetEvents). "We're starting to see it now and, given the large price gap, that trend is likely to continue."
The company saw fourth-quarter operating sales 4% higher than the same period last year, but that figure would be -3% if not for a favorable 7% foreign exchange boost. Earnings from continuing operations were up 9% to $0.35 per share. For the full year, revenue increased 9% and earnings per share jumped 18%. Saving the best number for last, free cash flow in 2003 rose 32% to $2.2 billion.
Shares of Gillette, while up 20% over the past year, have underperformed the S&P 500's 30% return.
Looking ahead to 2004, one question to be answered is how well the company will hold up in the Battle of the Blades. Jakubik said today that the most expensive blades remain the only source of growth in this category, with sales up 105% in 2003.
Quote of Note
"I bet an urgent memo has already gone out in Gillette's marketing department. 'Hold some focus groups immediately!' it says. 'Find out what number comes after four!'" -- Dave Barry, on the never-ending quest for a better, big razor
Honor Among Jeeves
The secret is out: Paid search is in. It popped Infospace
The search portal earned a surprise $0.13 a share on a 58% surge in revenues. This came on a 38% uptick in traffic. By growing its top and bottom lines faster than queries can hit its proprietary sites, Jeeves is milking every juicy eyeball. Investors have to love that.
Readers of Stocks 2004 knew that this would be a hot place to be this year. The paid search upstart we recommended is up 39% since we profiled the sector two months ago. Spitting back sponsored Web results is a win-win-win, as advertisers get to target precise audiences, online surfers get relevant ads, and companies such as Ask Jeeves collect the windfall.
And Ask Jeeves is just getting started. The company is expecting to grow even more this year, guiding Wall Street to $0.56 a share in earnings on $142 million in revenues. Of course, this doesn't mean that the entire niche is foolproof. Lycos.com parent Terra Networks
However, for the standouts, it looks as if 2004 will be a year to remember. Search-hungry folks hitting the Web in record numbers to ferret out tidbits on everything from the election to celebrity trials will keep traffic booming. Eyeballs? My, oh my, they are fashionable again.
Discussion Board of the Day: Yahoo!
Do you think that Web portals and search specialists will continue to move higher in 2004? Can you separate the winners from the losers? All this and more -- in the Yahoo! discussion board. Only on Fool.com.
Sugar High at Hershey
The fourth quarter looked fairly sweet for Hershey
Consumers' new dietary restrictions are partly to blame for Kraft's
Several new products from Hershey's chocolate factories have had success so far. These include Swoops, which are chocolates shaped like potato chips, as well as S'mores bars, with ingredients based on the traditional fireside treat that has gotten much more trendy lately, judging by Cosi's
In case you were wondering, here are a few that may or may not get you salivating. White chocolate Reese's peanut butter cups, which began shipping last month; caramel-filled Kisses, touted as the first variety of the Kiss with a soft and gooey center, which will debut in March; and sugar-free York Peppermint Patties, also due for a March rollout. Hershey's rivals include Wrigley
Hershey's net income for the fourth quarter came in 11% higher, at $144.9 million, or $1.10 per share, as compared to $130.3 million, or $0.96 per share in the year-ago quarter. Sales increased by 2%, to $1.18 billion from $1.16 billion. Judging by its stock's closing price Wednesday, investors didn't get a thrill from the quarter, though one might argue that given the climate, it was a pretty decent showing.
Hershey's enthusiasm over new offerings gives some room for excitement, but the American sweet tooth has changed; whether white chocolate Reeses, mints that look like caviar, or 1 g Sugar Carb will be huge hits remains to be seen. If new products and old standbys don't deliver impressive sales, investors may be willing to kiss Hershey's goodbye.
Shameless Plug: It's Tax Season Again
Are you prepared? Fret not. From recent tax changes to which form you should fill out to how your dividend income will be taxed, we've got all the answers to your most pertinent tax questions. Make sure you stop by our Tax Center before you file that 1040!
More on Fool.com Today
Abercrombie seems worth a look, but does it pass the Tom Gardner test? Find out in Retail Bust or Quick Double?... Rex Moore takes a giant leap in finance by revealing the secrets of Chocolate-Covered Investing... Selena Maranjian finds a way to make money from credit cards. If you're interested, consider First Data for Your Portfolio.
If those don't whet your appetite, these will:
- Reebok Runs Right
- Is JDS Uniphase Back?
- Tax Refund Gooses Boeing
- Sears' Souring Outlook
- Super Activision
- Wrigley Fields Some Pain
For a list of all our stories from today, see our Today's Headlines page.