While preparing for his upcoming role as Achilles in the Warner Bros. film Troy, Brad Pitt gained the killer instinct of a warrior -- mostly because his training regimen was so difficult that he had to quit smoking. "The withdrawal was so hard that I was ready to kill," he said, "which was actually helpful for the role I was playing."

Hey, whatever it takes. If you're looking to kick the habit, join the legions of Fools on our Quitting Smoking discussion board for a supportive community and tips on how to beat the addiction.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Coke Pours a Strong One

By Steven Mallas

Coca-Cola's (NYSE: KO) results for the first quarter turned out to be as refreshing as a cold bottle of Dasani (confession: I don't drink the stuff, but we need a relevant metaphor, right?).

Profits for the beverage company went up by 35%, good for a net take of $1.13 billion, which comes out to $0.46 per share. Other highlights for the latest quarter include an increase in free cash flow to $990 million from $404 million in the prior year's quarter, and a stock repurchase valued at $486 million.

The beverage business seems to be booming, as PepsiCo(NYSE: PEP) observed recently (although snacks helped in that case). Coca-Cola's revenues improved by 13% to slightly over $5 billion from the year-ago period based on good growth in the company's international sectors -- including double-digit volume expansion in the all-important China market. On an overall basis, unit case volume improved 9%, but calculating it on an average-daily-sales basis shows a 2% increase (it should be noted that more shipping days were available this quarter).

This has been an interesting week for Coca-Cola. On Monday, the stock reached a 52-week high of $53.50 during intraday trading on speculation that Gillette(NYSE: G) CEO James Kilts might fill Coca-Cola's leadership opening left by the upcoming retirement of Doug Daft.

The company also announced an important new product -- a version of its soda with fewer carbohydrates. It's hoped this will capture the dollars available in the diet-conscious market. New products are key to long-term growth, as performance of the core Coca-Cola brand has been muted in the last few years. In fact, North American results seemed to be primarily driven by growth in the non-cola section of the portfolio, by products such as Powerade and Dasani.

For patient Coke shareholders, this latest report is welcome news. The company's fortunes are improving, and while it may be quite a long time before we see a share price almost equal to $90 -- as was observed in the late '90s -- at least Coke seems to be performing well.

However, the executives in Atlanta need to pump up the North American markets, and we need to see better marketing initiatives for the core brands (as discussed previously). Coke isn't out of the woods yet, but still, it's one heck of a blue chip with a powerful ability to generate cash for dividends.

Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Coca-Cola.

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Eastman Kodak Snaps to It

By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

Smiles, everyone, smiles! Eastman Kodak(NYSE: EK) gave investors an excuse to say "cheese" today when it reported earnings that implied its shift into digital photography just might be working like a charm.

Kodak's first-quarter earnings came in at $28 million, or $0.10 per share, compared to $12 million, or $0.04 per share last year. If you remove the effects of onetime charges for cost-cutting and other items, the earnings were $74 million, or $0.26 per share. Get ready though, because operational earnings, which don't include a tax benefit among other items, were $0.18 per share. In a vote of confidence for the year to come, Kodak raised its 2004 estimates to the $2.15-to-$2.45 range from $2.05 to $2.35.

It's a nice change after some tough times. After all, Kodak is so well-known for those golden boxes, containing those once-ubiquitous film canisters that littered your vacation luggage. Digital photography is the new revolution, where you have the ability to ditch dog shots (not to be confused with shots of cute dogs) and store, even email, the good memories (with any luck, chosen carefully so nobody looks fat) to friends and family.

And that's where today's earnings shine. Sales increased 11% to $2.92 billion. Traditional sales sank a mere 2% -- not so precipitous, considering the sea of change to digital -- while digital revenues jumped 44%. One might wonder how Kodak might fare in the short term, now that the graduation, prom, and wedding seasons are upon us, and more and more people are going digital. In the long term, though, the challenge will be to monetize the digital age (check out Foolish colleague Rick Munarriz's recent theory here). After all, Kodak's traditional business, heavy on film, fits the adage that the real sweet spot is in selling the blades, not the razors.

Though the numbers gave reason for some optimism, Kodak still faces its share of difficulties. It's still cutting costs and hacking at areas with slow growth. It's embroiled in patent litigation with No. 1 rival Sony(NYSE: SNE), and faces a variety of rivals in the digital camera space, including Canon(NYSE: CAJ).

Trading at about 11 times forward earnings, it may be worth taking a closer look at Kodak, given hints that it's not going to hang on the wrong side of the digital divide after all. But there are still obvious risks built in to its transition to the future.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. She thinks digital cameras are super-cool, but had a bad run-in with one last summer ("I don't really look like that, do I???").

Di scussion Board of the Day: Photography

Are you a photography buff? Have you made the switch to digital or are you still relying on film and development? Talk to other Fools on the Photography discussion board.

Is Sears Underdressed?

By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

Sears (NYSE: S) isn't out of the woods yet. In the first quarter since it sold its credit card operations, it has reported a hefty quarterly loss. Apparel continues to be its albatross, and an albatross isn't exactly what you'd call an accessory.

Sears shed its credit card operation by selling it to Citigroup(NYSE: C) recently, a move that gave quite a boost to last quarter's results. However, at that time Sears did pare its forward guidance, bringing us to today. Sears reported a loss of $859 million, or $3.90 per share, compared to net income of $192 million, or $0.60 per share, in the same quarter last year. If you take out the effects of an accounting charge, Sears lost $20 million, or $0.09 per share.

Although the sale of the credit card operation has allowed Sears to continue to hack its debt to $3.5 billion (down from $5.3 billion in January), there are still signs that the core business isn't yet up to speed. Today's results included a 14% drop in sales, to $7.8 million. While many of its home lines are doing well, there's still trouble with apparel.

Sears' valiant efforts in that department have been noted. The company has tried to revamp shoppers' perceptions through acquisitions of brands like Lands' End and Structure. However, despite the obvious pent-up demand for clothes so far this year -- bringing good times to many retailers -- it's a boat Sears appears to have missed.

The retailer admitted it failed to get winter merchandise off the floor, and ordered smaller amounts of spring apparel than met demand. So, it appears demand -- a question of late, at Sears -- might have been there, had the company ordered the appropriate amount of merchandise.

Meanwhile, past observations on Sears have garnered a lot of reader feedback about customer-service disappointments in its stores. You can upscale your brands, but if service stinks, watch once-loyal customers turn disloyal. There are lots of other options, including Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT), Target(NYSE: TGT), and J.C. Penney(NYSE: JCP).

Despite the shaky start, Sears sees a better 2004 ahead. But lackluster sales don't bode well for Sears. It seems there's still work to be done in mastering the art of selling apparel.

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

Qu ote of Note

"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." -- Mark Twain

Mo re on Fool.com Today

Robert Brokamp's got a quick, fun way of finding out how much you and your better half agree about money. Check out The Fooly-Wed Game.... Ever heard of structural free cash flow? It's one of Tom Gardner's main tools for digging up Hidden Gems. Rex Moore explains all in Measuring True Profitability.... Don't know much about the ins and outs of shareholder lawsuits? Bill Mann's got the skinny in Attack of the Killer Attorneys.... Want to know what's worth buying in downbeat big pharma? Ben McClure breaks it down in Discount Pharmacy.

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