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In today's Motley Fool Take:

Wal-Mart Retreats, Then Charges

By Seth Jayson

Is it a slow news day, or are the financial headlines this meaningless all the time? (Answer: Yes and yes.) Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT) is, as usual, getting its share of ink, but titles like "Retailer Falls on Weaker Sales Outlook" strain the limits of newsworthiness, if not credibility, especially considering that they're released when the trading day is an hour old and the stock is down a half a percent.

Need I urge you to look a bit deeper than the headlines? Or dare I make the heretical suggestion that you ignore them altogether? (Feel free to ignore me, even. I swear I won't pout.)

Still here? On with the show.

What the world's biggest retailer said was that so far, total comparable sales for June were "around" the low end of their forecasted 4% to 6% increase. There are some date shifts from the prior-year reporting period that move some July 4 revenues out of this year's period. The rest is unexplained, but in the end, company prognostications and a five-week snapshot like these often turn out to be pretty meaningless.

After all, two weeks ago, things looked just fine, and last month's numbers flouted management's earlier, dire predictions of consumer gas shocks. Furthermore, the way the firm has been knocking the cover off the ball lately -- to use the most summery metaphor I can find -- shareholders have little to fear. Sure, it would be nice to see sales predictions keep zooming upward, but even if they falter, the Bentonville bruisers have found ways to juice earnings anyway, such as bettering the firm's margins.

And with inflation remaining the media's economic fear o' the month, Wal-Mart, Target(NYSE: TGT), Costco(Nasdaq: COST), and other discounters should remain prime destinations for nervous shoppers, if they actually exist.

In other news, after a protracted battle over fees, Wal-Mart announced that it would now resume the acceptance of customers' MasterCard debit cards. This is another move that will draw plenty of headlines, but probably means very little in terms of dollar signs. With the average American already packing a handful of credit cards, prospective Wal-Mart customers whose bank cards were shut out by the long-running flap will have long since found alternative ways to pay.

For more Fool retail coverage and investing tips:

Fool contributor Seth Jayson has no position in any company mentioned. View his Fool profile here.

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Nortel-Cisco Merger Unlikely

By Ben McClure

Nothing stokes the fire of buyout speculation more than partnership talks. Sure, networking giant Cisco Systems(Nasdaq: CSCO) publicly says that it's open to building a strategic partnership with struggling Nortel Networks(NYSE: NT), but that's a far cry from seeking a takeover. Investors shouldn't confuse the two.

Bill Owens, the new Nortel CEO, says his company is gearing up for consolidation in the industry. John Chambers, Cisco's CEO, says he'd love to have Nortel as a partner. In terms of closer ties, that's where things will end.

Cisco is no stranger to inking commercial alliances with other big equipment vendors, including Ericsson(Nasdaq: ERICY), Nokia(NYSE: NOK), Motorola(NYSE: MOT), and Lucent(NYSE: LU). None of these have gone further than the partnership stage. It's hard to imagine why a deal with Nortel would be any different.

A commercial partnership that brings to the table Nortel's optical and wireless technology, plus its big telecom carrier customer base, might work for Cisco. But a full-blown merger doesn't fit with Cisco's proven strategy of acquiring small, privately held companies with complementary technology. Nortel is not only big and public, but also competes directly with Cisco in the voice-over Internet protocol, or VoIP, market.

The fact remains that Chambers, even if he saw potential synergies emerging from a merger, knows full well that he would struggle to convince shareholders to do a deal. A corporate mess, Nortel has been floundering of late thanks to sagging growth, mounting litigation, and disturbing accounting issues. Until these problems get cleared up, Nortel will likely remain on the corporate world's "don't touch with a 10-foot pole" list.

Cisco knows better than to permanently tie its future fortunes to Nortel. This week's mergers-and-acquisitions chatter is just that -- chatter that investors can afford to overlook.

Fool contributor Ben McClure hails from the Great White North. He doesn't own shares of any companies mentioned here.

Discussion Board of the Day: Kodak's Shrinking Market

George Eastman put the first simple camera into the hands of consumers in 1888. Now his company, Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK), is having trouble adjusting to the new world of digital cameras. Will there be a place for non-digital photography in the future? Discuss F-stops and megapixels with other Fools on our Photography discussion board.

Batter Up, Taco Bell

By Nathan Slaughter

Major League Baseball has announced a new addition to its marketing lineup, handing a batting helmet to Yum! Brands'(NYSE: YUM) Taco Bell with instructions to swing for the fences. The agreement makes Taco Bell the "Official Quick-Service Restaurant" of Major League Baseball, an affiliation that will run through the end of the 2006 season.

The deal, which is reportedly worth an estimated $25 million, will grant Taco Bell exclusive category rights, signage, and plenty of airtime during baseball's two marquee events: the All-Star Game and the World Series. Some had predicted McDonald's(NYSE: MCD) would earn the title, but the scales were tipped in Taco Bell's favor by their choice of beverage vendors. Over 35 million weekly patrons wash down their tacos and burritos with Pepsico(NYSE: PEP) -- a longtime MLB sponsor -- where McDonald's serves Coca-Cola(NYSE: KO).

With All-Star festivities less than a month away, Taco Bell won't be sitting on the bench for long. The diamond anniversary of the Midsummer Classic, the highest-rated sporting event of the summer, will take place July 13 in Houston's Minute Maid Park. The contest's participants are largely determined by fan selection, and in-stadium balloting sponsored by Ameriquest Mortgage has drawn record response. When combined with online voting and balloting through Pepsi displays at Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT) stores nationwide, a record 65 million votes have already been cast.

The Taco Bell name should be quite visible during other events surrounding the hoopla of the big game, including the Cendant(NYSE: CD) Century 21 Home Run Derby and the Manulife Financial(NYSE: MFC) John Hancock All-Star Fanfest, an interactive baseball-themed collection of exhibits and attractions expected to draw over 100,000 fans.

Though sports-related sponsorships can be risky propositions, this one appears to be a winner for Taco Bell. It has bought into the timeless popularity of baseball, as close to a sure thing as can be found in the business world. The franchise name will be a prominent fixture in the sport's highest-profile events, as well as other national broadcasts on Fox and ESPN.

Fan-oriented promotions are much more engaging than stadium naming rights, which don't seem to resonate very well. Sometimes the corporate logo is an unwelcome intrusion on hallowed ground and, let's be honest, XYZ Telecommunications Field doesn't exactly have the same ring as Fenway Park. Taco Bell has a unique opportunity to generate enthusiasm for its products, as well as the game. If it can think of a creative way to get fans more involved, both the cash registers and the turnstiles should be busy.

Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter is an unabashed fan of the National League, and is hoping the senior circuit will pull off its first All-Star victory since a 6-0 shutout in 1996.

Quote of Note

"If you live long enough, the venerability factor creeps in. First, you get accused of things you never did, and later, credited for virtues you never had." -- I.F. Stone

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