A big part of outperforming the market is looking where the crowd isn't. How about a simple analogy: According to The New York Times, a Newfoundland named Josh trotted off with the Westminster Kennel Club's best in show at Madison Square Garden last night -- a surprise because the underdog was not ranked among the top 10 canines in the country.

Apparently, our infatuation with terriers named Coco blinded us to the charms of Josh, "a serene, lumbering black working dog," whose "spontaneous bark charmed a crowd that rallied behind him." reported the Times. Here's to Josh, a true Hidden Gem!

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Is Coke Capped?

By Alyce Lomax

Are consumers losing a little of their taste for Coca-Cola(NYSE: KO)? There's no reason to push the panic button because the beverage giant's fourth-quarter profits came in flat, due to a restructuring charge. However, unit case volume only gained 1% in North America -- a major market -- making one wonder if Coke's losing momentum in our soda-guzzling society.

Coke reported fourth-quarter earnings of $0.38 per share, or $927 million, as compared to $0.38 per share, or $930 million, on a quarter-over-quarter basis. That number includes an $0.08 a share charge for Coke's streamlining efforts. The company's fourth-quarter revenues increased to $5.18 billion from $4.8 billion.

When it comes to North American case volume, the percentage growth has been decreasing; last year this time, the company booked a 5% increase on this continent.

The company said it is experiencing growth in its non-carbonated drink line, hardly surprising when you consider today's healthy trends. It reported growth for both its Dasani water product, as well as Powerade sports drink. The trend was also noted by competitor PepsiCo(NYSE: PEP) in its fourth-quarter results, which showed success for Aquafina and, in particular, Gatorade.

However, Coke said that juice demand continues to be low, a factor that's likely impacted by low-carbohydrate diets that are changing consumers' shopping habits. In its conference call (transcript courtesy of CCBN StreetEvents), the company said that one of last year's big launches, Vanilla Coke, is still viewed as a key contributor in 2004.

The question that remains is how the remaining seemingly endless Coke variations are faring -- Diet Coke with Lemon springs to mind, which was quickly followed by Diet Coke with Lime (which struck me, personally, as some serious citrus overkill).

Right now, Coke's archrival seems a little newer, hipper, and fresher, if you consider the Pepsi logo's prominent placement on the popular and chic Apple(Nasdaq: AAPL) iTunes site. (Along those same lines, several Foolish community members noted Coke's marked lack of advertising during the Super Bowl on the Coca-Cola discussion board.)

Although Coke had a recent victory swiping Subway's fountain business from its rival Pepsi, the battle for ground isn't over yet. Soft drink watchers on both sides of the Coke/Pepsi fence are keen to changes in soft drink vending in schools. While it may seem a peripheral issue, the truth is, marketers know the importance of the schoolyard hook.

Coca-Cola shares drooped as investors ingested the earnings news. The stock's been flirting with its 52-week high of late, and the earnings just didn't seem to provide the promise of an exciting year to come. A warning that a higher tax rates could stunt 2004 earnings didn't help. While Coke may not have lost its flavor, it may need to work on its freshness.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned, though her consumption of Diet Coke is renowned.

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Unwrapping Office Depot

By Dave Marino-Nachison

Investors in Office Depot(NYSE: ODP) have long noted its transition from a pure warehouse retailer to more of a "solutions provider" that works closely with customers using a consultative, direct-sales model. But that is easily obscured by the company's large store base, which still provides the bulk of its revenues.

A look at fourth-quarter and full-year 2003 financial results released today shows just how important the transition -- as well as the move into international markets -- is to Office Depot's future. The North American retail business still led the way, revenue-wise, by turning in more than $5.65 billion of the $12.36 billion in 2003 sales. But revenues, as well as same-store sales, fell year over year. At the same time, costs rose, so segment profit fell more than 25% to $314 million.

The North American "business services" operation, however, managed to boost sales slightly. With non-operating costs falling, segment profit rose about 9.4% to $388 million for the year. The international business, meanwhile -- which includes store-based retail, catalog sales, and contract selling -- also performed. Fueled largely by acquisition, sales rose nearly 70% in U.S. dollars, pushing segment profit up 75% to $371 million.

Put simply, it's the company's "non-traditional" operations that carried the weight in 2003. That's no doubt a large part of what helped push shares up more than 5% in early trading. More important, however, was the company's assertion that investors should expect the North American retail division to provide sales growth, positive "comps" (same-store sales), and improved gross margins in 2004.

Domestic stores still mean an awful lot to Office Depot -- and that segment will need to turn around if the company is to perform as management intends. This is especially important with Staples(Nasdaq: SPLS)performing well for much of 2003 and Boise Cascade(NYSE: BCC) potentially energized by its December acquisition of OfficeMax.

Dave Marino-Nachison is a Motley Fool contributor. He doesn't own any of the companies in this story.

Dis cussion Board of the Day: Ask the Headhunter

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Monster Rising

By Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)

Baby steps are fine if you're a Monster(Nasdaq: MNST). After all, it's been a scary trip. Having thrived in the early stages of the dot-com meltdown only to succumb along with the job market, the favorite online destination for job-hoppers is starting to grow again. (Did you know that the Fool is looking for writers and editors? Check out the opportunities.)

Last night, Monster posted a 10% uptick in fourth-quarter revenues as earnings rose to $0.11 a share. While the company didn't spell out specific benchmarks for 2004, it expects growth in both revenues and net profits for the year. Looking to capitalize on a healthier job market, Monster will also ramp its marketing budget -- which has always been pretty ambitious, anyway. The company logged more than 40 million visits for the month of December alone.

Monster's Super Bowl ads may have been costly, but they worked out nicely, as more than 62,000 new resumes were submitted the following day. No word if Janet Jackson was one of those looking for a new line of work (but we doubt it).

Monster's come a long way. As TMP Worldwide, it was an early beneficiary when the dot-com bubble burst. Between the laid off netizens looking for work and companies looking to hire the Web smart and hungry, Monster was busy on both ends. Yahoo!(Nasdaq: YHOO) wanted in so badly that it acquired rival HotJobs.com.

But as the economic lull widened, it was no longer a job hunter's market, and Monster suffered through a dry spell. Today, the company is more focused, having spun off its executive search and eResourcing business last year as Hudson Highland Group(Nasdaq: HHGP). It's also doing its best to guard against a repeat slide by ramping its offerings in recession-resistant fields like healthcare.

Until we see evidence of more significant bottom-line octane, it may be hard to brand Monster cheap. However, the shares are trading for less than a third of what they fetched four years ago, and the company's prospects continue to improve. Patient investors may be tempted to nibble here and tuck the stock under the mattress as the jobs recovery unfolds. After all, who doesn't believe in the Monster under the bed.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz don't wanna work. He just wanna bang on his drum all day. He does not own shares in any companies mentioned in this story.

Quo te of Note

"The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it." -- Oscar Wilde

Mor e on Fool.com Today

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In other news:

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