It was another red day on Wall Street today, with the major indexes dipping more than 1%. On Friday, 90% of all shares on the New York Stock Exchange finished down. Apparently, investors fear the prospect of rising interest rates.

While rising rates may have their effect on the economy -- and the rate of return you might expect from stocks -- remember, throughout a lifetime of investing, rates are going to float up and down. Worrying about them too much is like worrying about the tide coming in. Unless a tsunami's coming, just keep your feet in the sand.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

McDonald's on the Menu

By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

In many ways, April was a tough month for McDonald's(NYSE: MCD), given the sudden death of CEO Jim Cantalupo. However, Jim lives on through his initiatives, which provided another healthy boost to the Golden Arches' same-store sales in April.

Overall, McDonald's same-store sales increased 10.5%, with a 13.5% hike here in the U.S. European sales in stores open for more than a year increased 5%. (In related news, cost cuts have helped McDonald's Japan segment rev up its profits, giving even more reason to be cheerful about earnings prospects.) Also, happy anniversary to the turnaround -- April marks the 12th consecutive month of positive same-store sales.

In addition to the healthy menu initiatives, which are on the brink of being rolled out in Europe, extended hours that attract people with the late-night munchies are cited as another reason for robust sales. (Some of us may have noticed that the late-night drive-through window concept has worked well for Wendy's(NYSE: WEN).)

Is May going to be a more difficult month for the company? After all, Super Size Me, a film we've probably all heard about by now (unless, some of us have been hiding under a super-sized rock), opened in theaters last week. Here at the Fool, we debunked the notion that the public will react negatively to this film -- yep, it's pretty common knowledge that a Big Mac and fries day in and day out aren't a healthy diet plan.

So far, McDonald's, Wendy's, and Yum! Brands(NYSE: YUM) have all had a strong year based on the continued emphasis on inexpensive, fast food, and, in many cases, menu changes, though, the latter company has its work cut out for it in terms of revitalizing its rather confused KFC brand.

It's been a good year for McDonald's, but even beyond May's prospects, things will get more and more interesting as 2004 progresses. Soon, last year's stunning successes will add up to a tough act to follow. However, McDonald's has been delivering more surprises than the old-fashioned kids' Happy Meals of yesterday, so it's not hard to imagine it has more surprises up its sleeve.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Though she's never been a McDonald's junkie, come to think of it, she's been in McDonald's more often in the last year than she has been in the last 10.

Di scussion Board of the Day: McDonald's

Can McDonald's keep on putting the gold into the Golden Arches? Talk to other Fools about the issues facing the fast-food giant on the McDonald's discussion board.

U.S. Airways' Tailspin

By Brian Gorman

Scarcely more than one year after emerging from bankruptcy, U.S. Airways(Nasdaq: UAIR) looks to be flying on a wing and a prayer.

Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) is challenging the company in Philadelphia, a main hub. On Wednesday, Standard & Poor's downgraded U.S. Airways' credit rating, putting a financing agreement with General Electric(NYSE: GE) to buy 170 regional jets from Bombardier and Embraer(NYSE: ERJ) in jeopardy. Finally, in its most recent quarterly report, the company warned that it is again considering "judicial restructuring," or bankruptcy. The company's good news? It lost $177 million in the first quarter, less than analysts expected.

To stop its tailspin, U.S. Airways is rushing to put its strategic plan in place. It recently introduced a simplified fare structure in Philadelphia, called GoFares. The new scheme eliminates the need for weekend stays and round-trip purchases. In addition, the firm's intention to build out its regional jet service into lower density markets makes a lot of sense.

Still, it seems doubtful that U.S. Airways can avoid Chapter 11. In addition to changes in marketing and distribution, a key element in its cost-cutting agenda is to negotiate more compensation reductions with union employees. During bankruptcy, the firm managed to wrangle huge concessions out of workers. As a result, it's unlikely that its employees are in the mood to suffer another wave of pay decreases.

With the high price of fuel dogging the industry, only the strongest will survive. For U.S. Airways, that will probably mean a white surrender flag will soon replace its American flag logo.

Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer living in Chicago, Ill. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned here.

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SunTrust's Southern Focus

By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

Today was a down day for many stocks, and SunTrust(NYSE: STI) was no different, having shed about 7% from its stock price in recent trading. Although the banking company announced its acquisition of National Commerce Financial(NYSE: NCF) -- having beat out fellow bidder Fifth Third Bancorp(Nasdaq: FITB) over the weekend -- investors just weren't jazzed about SunTrust's move.

The deal is worth just shy of $7 billion, payable in a combination of cash and stock. National Commerce will increase SunTrust's presence in the Southeastern market, where it will be No. 3 behind Bank of America(NYSE: BAC) and Wachovia(NYSE: WB). Among the states where it will have an expanded presence are Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Overall, SunTrust is the seventh-largest bank in the U.S.

It's no secret that banks often take an acquisitive stance on expansion. Though acquisition madness might have abated recently, it wasn't that long ago that Bank of America returned to its acquiring ways and snapped up FleetBoston for a whopping $47 billion. SunTrust, on the other hand, hasn't made a bid for another bank since it lost its bid for Wachovia to First Union in 2001.

Investors are leery over the thought that SunTrust's purchase of National Commerce is too expensive with too little chance for return; the price represents a 5% premium to National Commerce's stock Friday. However, SunTrust said that the acquisition of National Commerce will be cash accretive to earnings immediately. Furthermore, the merger will facilitate cost reductions, with 60% of savings recognized in 2005, and the entirety beginning in 2006.

However, in its conference call (transcript courtesy of CCBN StreetEvents), SunTrust said that the acquisition is "not about size," and that while it generally likes "mergers that either let us expand geographically into markets with strong demographics and high growth characteristics or that enhance our business capabilities. This merger is the best of both."

Among the initiatives in which National Commerce offers expertise include in-store banking and de novo branching. National Commerce has agreements that put its branches in a variety of retail stores; you may have seen such branches in your local grocer or Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT). Meanwhile, its de novo branching technique is being revamped through its initiative, started in October, to link its store branches more closely to the stores -- for example, "Wal-Mart Money Center by the National Bank of Commerce." (It's a rather fascinating thought given the popularity of Wal-Mart itself.)

For today, investors cast a dour eye on the deal; even National Commerce slid in recent trading. Despite the geography and interesting business capabilities National Commerce brings to SunTrust, investors remained wary that the merger was, in fact, the best of both worlds.

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

Qu ote of Note

"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare." -- Mark Twain

Mo re on Today

Mathew Emmert explores the value in overlooked rules of finance. Want to know what they are? Read on in Two Forgotten Rules of Investing.... And don't miss the first part of a David and Tom Gardner interview with Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz.

In other news:

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