When folks line up at midnight, you might think it's for NCAA tournament tickets or a Grateful Dead reunion with Jerry Garcia reincarnated (or, for the terminally insane, a spring training game between the Red Sox and Yankees). But this past Saturday night, folks lined up online for the release of Berkshire Hathaway's(NYSE: BRK.A) 2003 annual letter to shareholders, as penned by superinvestor and rock n' roll star Warren Buffett.

What did the Oracle of Omaha have to say? Well, you'll just have to read the letter -- or Bill Mann's crib notes. Either way, you're ensured of an education.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Sm ucker Grabs Hungry Jack

By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

J.M. Smucker (NYSE: SJM) said today that it's slicing itself a bigger niche in grocers' baking aisles by acquiring International Multifoods(NYSE: IMC). The deal will add brands like Pillsbury, Hungry Jack, and evaporated milk manufacturer Pet to Smucker's sugary lineup.

The roughly $840 million deal includes the assumption of $340 million in International Multifoods debt. Smucker will provide payment in 80% stock and 20% cash, at $25 per share. That's a little more than a 25% premium from International Multifoods' closing price on Friday.

If approved, the deal is expected to close by the end of June; Smucker expects the acquisition to add to earnings by 2005. The company plans to fund the acquisition using existing cash and outside financing.

Smucker is best known for its jams and jellies, as well as the Jif peanut butter brand it recently acquired from Procter & Gamble(NYSE: PG). Another recent brand addition, also from P&G, was Crisco shortening. If Crisco seemed a little jarring as a Smucker's brand before, considering the company's PB&J focus, maybe it makes a little more sense now. Pillsbury, of course, provides an array of cake mixes, frostings, and other items for people who like the instant approach to baking.

Last time Smucker discussed its numbers, of course, it pointed to a strong year-end based on what it calls its "Fall Bake" season -- which includes holiday baking, when even the non-culinary among us are often inspired to grab cookie sheets and bundt pans and preheat ovens. That Fall Bake season should get shakin' with the addition of a strong brand in baking.

On the other hand, International Multifoods has shown signs of strife for a while, with some alarming notes in its third quarter, as net sales dropped 12% for its array of products. Competition's tough for Pillsbury and its Doughboy, considering other well-known rivals such as General Mills'(NYSE: GIS) Betty Crocker and Aurora Foods' Duncan Hines. In the pancake category, Hungry Jack has to face off with PepsiCo's(NYSE: PEP) Aunt Jemima.

While International Multifoods' shares zoomed 25% higher today, just shy of the $25-per-share purchase price, Smucker shares drifted about 5% lower at one point, indicating some dubious feeling about the deal. It's not too hard to see Smucker's point of view. Though the jams and jelly maker sees the pricey deal as adding "icon" brands, there's tough competition in the baking category. Further, recent dietary trends that frown on sugar and carbohydrates don't help.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any companies mentioned.

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Ma rtha Looks Around the Corner

By Dave Marino-Nachison

By now, the latest news about Martha Stewart is well known. The founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia(NYSE: MSO) must go the appeal route after being found guilty of obstructing justice in the ImClone Systems(Nasdaq: IMCL) affair. The attention now, it seems, has turned back to the company as market watchers consider whether it can survive the blow to the domestic diva's reputation.

We discussed the resilience of the stock, which actually rose in recent months, in an article published just before last week's big news broke. Shares continued to rise Friday until the verdict was released, at which point they unsurprisingly changed direction. They've continued to fall in trading today.

I'm reminded of the story of Steve Madden, whose namesake footwear company Steven Madden(Nasdaq: SHOO) moved him to the newly created post of "chief creative officer" after he was charged with securities fraud -- while also signing a long-term contract to keep him and his name associated with the company even as he stepped out of strategic operations. Stewart, meanwhile, stepped down as chairman and CEO in June, but also stayed on as chief creative officer.

Madden pleaded guilty and is now serving a sentence in a minimum-security prison in Florida. Interesting thing, though: His company's shares are pretty much right where they were -- up a bit, actually -- before the other shoe fell, as most of the damage was done (and undone) before the sentencing. The company's business, meanwhile, has hit some rough patches but seems wholly unaffected by Madden's legal problems.

But there are certainly key differences here. As a brand and media company built around Stewart's smiling face and mellow voice, it is perhaps more difficult to extricate her from the business. The fact that Viacom(NYSE: VIA) has already pulled her syndicated television show only reinforces this. The New York Post reports that Stewart will inform directors today that she knows she must step down from the board. All this is not to mention that the legal side of her story is hardly over.

The company's financial strength, however, gives it options. One I've seen discussed is going private, but that may be a last resort. Such a move wouldn't alleviate much of the pressure Stewart's bad publicity has created, though it would at least give it more freedom to operate outside investor scrutiny should the business continue to deteriorate.

Fool contributor Dave Marino-Nachison doesn't own any companies in this story. He can be reached via email.


ote of Note

"Tis better to be brief than tedious." Richard III, William Shakespeare

Ge t Your McMillions?

By Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)

We all know what McDonald's(NYSE: MCD) can do to our waistlines, but did you know that it could fatten your bank account? Over the weekend, McDonald's set out to do just that, giving 15 random patrons a cool million-dollar prize.

Yes, there was gold in those golden arches, though the chances of winning were slim. With more than 15,000 locations participating in the giveaway, you had a respectable 0.1% chance of nailing one of the 15 randomly selected restaurants, but the odds of timing your entrance were practically infinitesimal.

It probably didn't help that this may go down as one of the quietest promotions in history. Ads touting the contest were few in number and surprisingly subdued among the smiling faces of the new "I'm Lovin' It" campaign. Why? Well, there was little honor in this prize fest.

The giveaways were actually part of a settlement stemming from the company's notorious Monopoly promotion three years ago. You'll recall, an unscrupulous employee of the marketing company hired by Mickey D's to carry out the contest snagged many of the winning pieces, beefing up the odds against the chain's burger-chomping patrons.

That's why McDonald's is better off just quietly sweeping this weekend's game under the rug and getting back to the business of getting folks to pay to eat there -- rather than the other way around. After all, it's doing just fine on that front. On Friday, the company posted a huge 13.9% gain in February comps.

Sure, that included an extra day for leap year, but it's an amazing showing for the company as it continues to reinvent itself. Under CEO Jim Cantalupo, the chain has thrived, posting same-store sales gains 10 straight months now. Taking a cue from Wendy's(NYSE: WEN), McDonald's has scored with its premium salads, while even those nasty McNuggets got a welcome makeover with healthier all-white chicken.

The stock, by the way, has nearly tripled over the past year. So, forget the 15 big winners over the weekend. More than a few shareholders have been "lovin' it" lately -- and with better odds to boot.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz didn't make it out to Mickey D's over the weekend. He also didn't buy any lottery tickets. He does not own shares in any companies mentioned in this story.

Di scussion Board of the Day: McDonald's

Did you try your luck by making an extra trip to your local McDonald's over the weekend? Do you think these contests and promotions are necessary, or do you think a chain's food should stand for itself? All this and more -- in the McDonald's discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

Mo re on Fool.com Today

Social Security is practically an urban legend. Well, not quite yet. Robert Brokamp clears up Six Social Security Myths.... Speaking of myths and myth-making, never believe charlatans who tell you to rely on ointments and beta values when investing. Take a lesson from Ben McClure in Rumblings on Risk.... Last but not least, Berkshire's performance in 2003 was magnificent. Bill Mann reviews the letter from the chairman in Warren Buffett: World's Greatest Sandbagger.

In other news:

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