It was ready, set, stand still at the Federal Open Market Committee's (FOMC) meeting this afternoon. The Fed held its target for the federal funds rate at 1%, still a 46-year low.
"The Committee perceives the upside and downside risks to the attainment of sustainable growth for the next few quarters are roughly equal. Similarly, the risks to the goal of price stability have moved into balance," the FOMC said. You can read the entire statement here.
In today's Motley Fool Take:
- The Priceline Is Right
- Discussion Board of the Day: Cheap Air Fares
- Qwest Off Course
- Shameless Plug: Motley Fool Champion Funds
- Clear Channel's Clearer Skies
- Quote of Note
- More on Fool.com Today
The Priceline Is Right
By Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)
If William Shatner were to start crooning again for Priceline.com
Earning $0.13 a share during the March quarter on a 46% spike in gross bookings, the company continues to expand its offerings. As just one example, Priceline's rental car reservations jumped 83% over last year's showing.
Yes, we've seen this before. Priceline once figured it could slap its "Name Your Own Price" model on everything from groceries to gasoline. It failed that time out, but now the company is taking a more logical approach to diversification.
Priceline has grown, in part, by acquiring proven upstarts, most recently scooping up a majority stake in Travelweb.com. That gives the company a more traditional hotel-booking portal to go along with its deeply discounted namesake service. While TravelWeb will post a loss for the current quarter, Priceline expects the purchase to be accretive to earnings next year.
That's why buying a stake in Travelweb from the hotel companies that founded it makes sense. In the early days, Priceline was sending rejection notices on five of every six bids it received. Now it will have an established Web portal to serve as a more photogenic "Dear John" postcard.
Along with Hotwire and Cendant's
Given management's projections for the next few quarters, Priceline should earn between $0.76 and $0.90 a share this year. The stock has shed nearly 40% from its last year's highs, and the earnings horizon looks bright.
There comes a time when one can make a decent valuation argument in favor of Priceline. That time -- for those looking to "Name Your Own Price" -- is now.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been booking his travel online since the 1990s. He has a favorable outlook on the industry, but he does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story.
Have you made the trip to our new Travel Center yet? Which sites do you use when you need to book a flight fast and at the best fare possible? Have rising fuel costs jacked up discount prices? All this and more -- in the Cheap Air Fares discussion board. Only on Fool.com.
Qw est Off Course
By Phil Wohl
What could have been major water displacement from a powerhouse cannonball has turned into a little wave from a kid with floaties jumping in at the steps of the pool. Qwest's acquisition of floundering Baby Bell US West in the late 1990s signaled an about-face for a company on the rise.
One look at Qwest's first-quarter results reveal how far the company has slid into the local market abyss. The company reported a loss of $0.17 per share, versus earnings per share of $0.09 a year ago, with the loss being about $0.04 below analysts' expectations. Somehow the company still believes it will see revenue growth in 2004, despite a 3.9% revenue drop in the first quarter.
Qwest has spun a messy story about a promising company that flushed just about every ounce of potential down the facility. Current management has spent most of its time trying to clean up the previous team's mess. In fact, the company is still under investigation by the SEC on a few outstanding accounting issues and former executives are on trial for the indiscretions.
Sure, Qwest has seen some growth in long-distance and Internet operations, but so have its main competitors SBC Communications
The best that Qwest can hope in the future is to become an acquisition target for a larger, better-positioned telecom company. Potential suitors might include AT&T
Fool contributor Phil Wohl spent more than 12 years on Wall Street and now concentrates his writing on more fictional characters. He has no stake in any firm mentioned above.
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Clear Channel's Clearer Skies
By Seth Jayson
It's been a long first quarter for radio and advertising giant Clear Channel Communications
Since then, the airwaves seem to be clearing, and the numbers are looking healthy. The corporation's first-quarter numbers trumpet a 58% increase in earnings per share, but stick your fingers in your ears for a minute and read below the headlines.
When we last checked in with the firm, it took a fair bit of squintin' and cipherin' to figure out that 2003's full-year results were salvaged, mostly, by gains from sales of the firm's stake in Univision
There's more of the same for first-quarter 2004. Dropping its stake and shedding radio stations juiced the numbers, yielding $0.19 per stub. Without these onetime credits, the earnings improvement was a mere 33%, meaning $0.16 per share -- impressive by any measure.
Revenues grew across the board, though, outdoor advertising and live entertainment notched markups in the high teens, much better than radio's 5% uptick. But any sales gain looks good when viewed to other media peers. As we've seen in recent results for other media conglomerates, advertising dollars aren't rising everywhere.
Clear Channel has produced healthy free cash flow over the past few years, and it looks like the extra green is being put to good use. Debt was reduced by $780 million last quarter, and there's an ongoing share repurchase plan. With ad sales increasing, the slimmer, trimmer Clear Channel looks well positioned to profit should the economy really kick into high gear.
Qu ote of Note
"Martyrdom... is the only way in which a man can become famous without ability." -- George Bernard Shaw
Mo re on Fool.com Today
To be a true champ, a fund needs a proven approach to stock picking. Find out more in Big Discipline, Big Gains.... Zeke Ashton has the 10 commandments of value investing. Check out the last installment of a three-part series in All You Need to Know for Value Investing.... NovaStar's been hammered by the media, but has it gotten a bum rap? There's more to the story in NovaStar's Wild Ride.
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- Bankrate Takes a Beating
- Wal-Mart Plays (Smart) Tag
- Is Water Worth Its Salt?
- Mutual Funds: Big Can Be Bad
For a list of all our stories from today, see our Today's Headlines page.