On a day when stock markets hopped, and we learned that the price of existing homes jumped more than 7% last year, the lead story is still last night's Oscars. Or, more precisely, the not-so-surprising sweep by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Unless you actually live in Middle Earth, you know that Peter Jackson's adaptation walked off with a record 11 awards. Most notably, none of the awards were garnered in the coveted acting categories. Talk about a truly epic team effort.

For those keeping score, Nielsen reports that TV ratings were 17% higher for this year's show than the last, and Time Warner(NYSE: TWX) walked off with 14 of the little gold guys. "We wants our precious." Indeed.

In today's Motley Fool Take:


crosoft, eBay Get Cozy

By Seth Jayson

It must get lonely at the top. Sure, technology behemoths like Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) and eBay(Nasdaq: EBAY) make so much money they don't know what to do with it. But there are the times when it feels like the entire world is watching, wishing you to fail, taking potshots at every turn. (Sniffle. Hand me a tissue, please.)

So maybe it should come as no surprise that today, Microsoft and eBay joined hands to link the world's most popular home-office software with the world's biggest online marketplace. The cooperative effort will allow eBay's most prolific sellers to integrate their auction management and inventory via the Extensible Markup Language (XML) utilized in Microsoft's Office 2003 products, most notably the Excel spreadsheet and Web-authoring tool FrontPage.

The English translation is this: Businesses will be able to initiate or streamline their Web presence by using eBay as the back-end for virtual stores. OK, maybe that's not plain enough English. Here's an example:

Imagine you sell rechargeable batteries at a storefront in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and also through an eBay Web store. (Don't' laugh, I recently made a purchase from just such a place.) With the new tools, eBay still provides the huge and loyal customer base, the security, and the payment mechanism for your Web store. But instead of paying someone to spend hours submitting item listings one at a time and transcribing sales and shipping data back to your local spreadsheets or database, the information can be kept in a single file. It could upload new inventory and download online activity automatically, as well as compile valuable marketing metrics.

Similar functionality has been available for using software-development tools provided by the online auctioneer, but simpler integration with the ubiquitous Excel and FrontPage should encourage greater numbers of small enterprises to let eBay provide their commercial Internet infrastructure. Then the company can just sit back and do what it does best: making billions by collecting nickels and dimes.

Fool contributor Seth Jayson promises to use his new rechargeable batteries for good, not evil. He has no stake in any company mentioned here.

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MedImmune Under the Weather

By Alyce Lomax

It continues to be a tough season for MedImmune(Nasdaq: MEDI), which said today that its earnings will be lower than expected for the first quarter and for the year. Following a less-than-successful launch of the FluMist influenza vaccine, the company reduced expectations, saying it plans to increase research and development expenditures.

First-quarter earnings will come in at $0.40 to $0.43 per share, much lower than the $0.54 per share analysts were expecting. Revenues are anticipated to come in between $485 million and $510 million. For fiscal 2004, MedImmune sees earnings of $0.50 to $0.60 per share, as compared to the expectation of $0.94 per share. Revenues are expected to come in between $1.12 billion and $1.16 billion.

Back in January, things were looking sickly for FluMist. The flu season was such a wash-out for the no-stick vaccine that MedImmune and partner Wyeth(NYSE: WYE) not only cut prices but reportedly gave it away in some cases.

As it stands, FluMist will not contribute "meaningfully" to revenue growth, according to the company's conference call (transcript courtesy of CCBN StreetEvents). MedImmune also said the vaccine is now considered to be a phase 3 project.

Going forward, MedImmune hopes to expand FluMist's label to include children and older folks. The biotech is also banking on approval of its refrigerated version -- an improvement to the current frozen vaccine -- by the 2007 flu season. So it sounds like in a couple years, we'll be hearing about FluMist, part deux.

Revenue growth of the company's flagship Synagis product seems to be slowing, too, with expected growth of 10% this year after 27% growth in 2003. The company said the drug is maturing, after six years on the market and nearly $1 billion in sales.

However, MedImmune boasts an active pipeline, predicting three new drug applications a year for 2004, 2005, and 2006. It anticipates earnings per share to double by 2007 to roughly $1.00 to $1.10 per share. Revenues are expected to generate $2 billion by 2009.

MedImmune shares have taken quite a beating over the high-profile flameout of FluMist. Today, the stock sank by 10.5% at one point, marking a 45% decrease from its yearly high. Long-term prospects may be appealing, if it gains approval for some of the drugs in the pipeline. However, considering past overly zealous expectations, there's good reason for continued caution.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

Qu ote of Note

"The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work." -- Emile Zola

Smith & Wesson's Overqualified Top Gun?

By Selena Maranjian

Amid countless scandals in the last year or two, investors have increasingly focused on companies' boards of directors and executives. We've questioned the forms and amounts of CEO compensation. We've examined how independent board members are and should be. We've wanted qualified people at the helm of firms in which we invest.

A recent news story, though, raises an interesting question: Can an executive be overqualified?

The Smith & Wesson Holding Corp.(AMEX: SWB), with a history that goes back 150 years, specializes in guns, gun safety devices, and police accessories, among other things. With a powerful brand name, it also makes money licensing its name to appear on clothing, sunglasses, and more.

The company's recently appointed chairman of the board, James Joseph Minder, resigned a few days ago, following revelation of his gun-related stints in prison. It seems that while in college at the University of Michigan several decades ago, Minder engaged in armed robberies (at places such as grocery stores and banks) in order to pay for tuition and lavish living expenses. His robberies number at least 20, and he spent more than 10 years behind bars. He even committed additional robberies once released from prison, which resulted in two additional incarcerations.

You might expect that the company would quickly find a new chairman, which it did, naming G. Dennis Bingham to the post. You also might expect that Minder be ejected from the board, but he wasn't. Instead, he will stay, with the company explaining, "The board believes he should and can continue to provide invaluable input to Smith & Wesson within both strategic planning and the ongoing drive toward operational excellence."

The Arizona Republic notes: "The attention to Minder's case comes at a bad time for Smith & Wesson and gun manufacturers in general. The U.S. Senate is debating controversial legislation to exempt gun makers and dealers from lawsuits involving firearms negligence. And the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Smith & Wesson's 2002 financial reports."

Investors interested in investing in Smith & Wesson might want to wait before pulling the trigger until more dust settles.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns a staple gun but no shares of Smith & Wesson.

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