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In today's Motley Fool Take:

Google Goes Local

By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

Has anybody seen Google today? It may have its holiday green on for St. Paddy's Day, but it has also rolled out something else new: its local search function, simply named "Google Local." It's integrated into the regular Google search interface already, with little fuss or fanfare.

I checked it out. Because the new service is integrated, it's hardly overt. Just like a regular Web search, enter in what it is you're looking for (say, compact discs), with a city and state, and the local results will appear as a link at the top. Click on that link, and there you have it: a listing of hits, with addresses, map options, and related websites. Nifty.

This product extension is, of course, not in the least bit unexpected. There have been rumblings that Google was working on local search, especially after rival Yahoo!(Nasdaq: YHOO) announced its SmartView product on March 9. (Yahoo! has long enjoyed some degree of advantage with its Get Local products, which have been around for quite some time. Using a similar search on Yahoo!, I gathered what looked like more complete search results, though, the Google Local function is, admittedly, still in beta.)

Other important Internet properties also include local views of events and commerce. For example, Time Warner's(NYSE: TWX) America Online unit also offers Digital City local guides. Remember when the way to search for local commerce was to let your fingers do the walking through the mammoth telephone book? Verizon(NYSE: VZ) recently lived up to the telephone book's tradition by launching

There's no arguing that "local" is an important aspect of Internet search. According to the Kelsey Group, local search makes up 25% of Internet commercial activity (more than double the previous prognostication of 10%). Meanwhile, the research firm believes the market for local paid-search advertising will reach $2.5 billion by 2008.

Google's currently used for about 70% of all searches, and that could give Yahoo! and the rest grief on the local front, if users have one more reason to just Google it. Regardless, with IPO plans a popular topic of discussion, it would have been remiss for Google not to address a space that is touted as an essential element of search, not to mention a key revenue driver.

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

Di scussion Board of the Day: Yahoo!

Is Yahoo! in hot water now that Google's gone local? Is the space big enough for all the local search players? Spark a conversation on the Yahoo! discussion board.

FedEx's Phenomenal Fix-Up

By Seth Jayson

As Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation FedEx(NYSE: FDX) goes, so goes the economy. At least, that's what the prognosticators are putting into the headlines today. Fools tend to focus their view a little more narrowly than that, and a keen look at FedEx reveals a shipping company that's firing on all cylinders, whether or not the economy is providing a top-line boost.

The shipper's fiscal third-quarter results feature a whopping 39% jump in diluted earnings, to $0.68 per stub. Were it not for charges owing to the company's ongoing realignment, that number would have reached $0.71. The increases were generated on a solid $6.06 billion in revenues, which represents a 9% rise over the same period last year. The figures include only a modest bump -- about a penny per share -- from last month's acquisition of Kinko's.

The real reason for the increasing profit isn't so much the improving national economy as FedEx's improving efficiency. A quick glance at operating margins for the Express segment, the biggest moneymaker, tells the tale. During the same period last year, the margin stood at 3.2%. This year, it improved to 5%, even including the restructuring charges. An advance of that nature is amazing in a giant company like FedEx, and when yearly revenues are measured in the tens of billions, a couple of percentage points means a lot to the bottom line.

Trading around $72, FedEx goes for about 21 times management's forward guidance of $3.40 per share. That makes it look like a bargain compared to competitor UPS(NYSE: UPS), which sells for nearly the same price, but is projected to earn half a buck less. With further margin improvements and Kinko's contributing to the bottom line, FedEx looks like a good bet no matter what you think of the economy.

Fool contributor Seth Jayson owns no stake in any companies mentioned above. View his Fool profile here.

Qu ote of Note

"A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship." -- John D. Rockefeller

General Dynamics invades Britain

By Rich Smith

U.S. defense contracting powerhouse General Dynamics(NYSE: GD) looks set to corner the world market on armored vehicles. Last week, it announced plans to acquire Britain's Alvis (ALV on the London Stock Exchange) -- best known as the maker of the Challenger 2 main battle tank and Warrior armored personnel carrier -- for a little over half a billion dollars in cash.

This being an article about a British acquisition, I can only describe General Dynamics' choice as "brilliant!"

Alvis and General Dynamics already work closely together. Alvis manufactures Piranha II wheeled armored vehicles, under license from General Dynamics' MOWAG subsidiary, and is participating in the development of the next-generation Piranha IV.

For its part, General Dynamics manufactures the U.S. military's main battle tank, the Abrams, as well as its new wheeled armored vehicle, the Stryker (purchased recently from General Motors(NYSE: GM)).

Moreover, despite their collaboration on the Piranha, General Dynamics and Alvis are currently competitors. They sell to different customers in different countries -- customers who presumably force the two companies to compete for sales on price. Take away the competition -- and General Dynamics gets all the sales, with none of the price concessions. (Really, who else are customers going to buy their tanks from?)

Still, nation states, their citizens, and their companies all often disapprove of foreign companies buying up their means of self defense. Britain's BAE Systems(AMEX: BAE), which already owns a 29% stake in Alvis, may make a counter-offer for Alvis' shares in an effort to derail the deal with General Dynamics. Or BAE may simply refuse to sell out to General Dynamics and thus limit the American firm to the role of majority Alvis shareholder.

Moreover, there is no guarantee that the deal will go through even if BAE sells out. Britain's regulators will certainly scrutinize the deal carefully, and when they are done, the European Union's regulators will get a crack at it. (And, as Seth Jayson noted, EU regulators seem to take perverse pleasure in torturing American companies -- like Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) -- brazen enough to compete successfully within their bailiwick.)

One wonders if either the Abrams or the Challenger have armor thick enough to withstand a full frontal attack by the Eurocrats.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no ownership interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article (but he thinks their products are way cool).

Mo re on Today

Today marks the debut of our new newsletter, Motley Fool Champion Funds. Co-founder David Gardner takes us on a quick walk-through of how to find the best mutual funds.... Tom Gardner refines his search for the market's true hidden gems in Home Run Stock Redux.... Bill Mann tackles the issue of stock options and accounting standards in The Best Stock Options Model.... And Robert Brokamp shows you how to use your Roth IRA as Emergency Fund.

In other news:

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