The oldest player in the Major Leagues, Julio Franco of the Atlanta Braves, turned 46 on Monday and promptly had three hits last night as the Braves squeaked by the Colorado Rockies 6-5. Franco is batting .298 in 94 games this season. His lifetime batting average is .300 as he completes his 22nd season in the big leagues. Only two players over the age of 43 have hit above .290. One of them was Sam Rice in 1934. The other is Julio Franco, who has already done it twice.

Clearly, some folks really do get better with age. Our only question is, Mr. Franco, will you ever retire?

In today's Motley Fool Take:

How to Make Millions, Slowly

By

Seth Jayson (TMFBent)



In the best combination of tobacco 'n' food news since Homer Simpson's tomacco, today AltriaGroup(NYSE: MO) and its cheesy stepchild Kraft(NYSE: KFT) both upped their dividends. No, this isn't earth-shattering news. The August uptick has become a bit of an annual affair for Altria, and it's expected. This year's 7.4% increase turns out to be better than last year's. The $0.73 per share per quarter comes to $2.92 each year. At today's prices, that's a very nice 6% yield.

Food manufacturer Kraft increased its dividend by 14% to nearly $0.20 per share. The yield now comes to 2.6%; not nearly as tasty, but better than bupkis.

Although dividend stocks have enjoyed a bit of retro chic over the past few years, you suspect that many investors still look on any stock that pays out as a stodgy issue, fit only for dodgy old aunts who keep too many cats and smell like a hallway in a hospital.

Remember what happened at ARM Holdings(Nasdaq: ARMHY) when it announced a dividend? The talking heads screamed about the dividend as evidence that the former tech darling was now over the hill, like Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT). When the financial media jump to the conclusion that shareholder payouts are bad, we must be living in bizarre world.

Just a guess, but leaders such as those two have plenty of profitable times ahead of them. And when companies produce copious free cash flow -- such as Altria's $8 billion last year or Kraft's $2.9 billion -- there's nothing wrong with getting paid to invest while waiting for growth and capital appreciation. In fact, you should expect it. Keep in mind, upwards of 40% of the S&P 500's historical return is owed to dividends.

Our own dividend diva Mathew Emmert, whose Income Investor celebrates its one-year anniversary today, has pegged several market beaters such as Annaly Mortgage(NYSE: NLY), with its 11.6% yield, and AmSouth Bancorp(NYSE: ASO), up 23%, on his way to outperforming the S&P by more than 6%.

All this verbiage comes to this: Sometimes the best investing ideas are exactly the kinds of boring, everyday companies that no longer take part in the Street's weekly popularity contests. When they'll pay you well to hold them, your portfolio will probably thank you. It's one way to try to make millions slowly.

For more Foolishness on dividends:

Seth Jayson could use more dividend payers in his portfolios, but he has no position in any company mentioned... yet. View his Fool profile here.

Discussion Board of the Day: Fools Fighting Fat

Is summer over and you're still afraid to get into the swimsuit you bought back in the spring? What's the best real diet out there these days? All this and more in the Fools Fighting Fat discussion board.

Trying to Topple eBay

By

Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)

How do you crush eBay(Nasdaq: EBAY)? The question has become mostly rhetorical at this point. You just can't topple the world's leading online auctioneer. If the dot-com magnets such as Yahoo!(Nasdaq: YHOO) and Amazon(Nasdaq: AMZN) tried with their own clones and failed to draw much of an audience despite offering significantly lower fees, then are you really going to give anyone else much of a fighting chance?

As tantalizing as it may seem to have a heavy such as Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) or Google(Nasdaq: GOOG) hypothetically force its way in for a slice, it's probably not going to work. eBay's rivals couldn't catch up when eBay was much smaller, and the tall order to challenge eBay grows stilts with every passing quarter.

Indeed. Last month, the prolific Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter recommendation saw its second-quarter profits double while revenues shot up by 52%. So if you want to kick eBay when it's down, my best advice would be to buy a ladder.

But that doesn't mean that companies aren't carving a niche around the eBay premise of exchanging goods and services online. These players can survive -- and even thrive -- if they specialize. One of our sponsors, ex24.com, bases its trading platform on users buying and selling available stock from one another -- without the market makers in the middle. While eBay has domain names and websites for sale, it's not likely to match the popularity of the dot-com monikers being peddled on Afternic. You can argue that when it comes to secondhand books, eBay just doesn't stand a chance against Amazon's massive collection of used editions.

However, some companies have taken the eBay model one step further. Instead of exchanging money for merchandise, they have reintroduced the long-lost art of bartering. That's what BarterBee.com is doing with its service where users get to swap old CDs, DVDs, and video games for someone else's old CDs, DVDs, and video games. What are you willing to offer for one of Google's beefy Gmail accounts? The unaffiliated Gmailswap site is all ears. While many sites that promote bartering such as TradeAway seem to be populated with members that will ultimately go for a cash transaction, wouldn't it be great if eBay found a way to cash in on currency beyond legal tender?

Sure, it would make for an awkward bidding process. Granted, trust and fraud fears will escalate when two items are being crisscrossed around the country. But eBay has the garage sale market right there in its grubby little hands. It has stocked shelves worldwide collecting dust in many of its members' eBay Stores. While one can argue that eBay is better off cashing in on two separate monetary transactions -- especially since its acquisition of PayPal -- there seems to be a fragmented market out there ripe for eBay's picking.

I told you I'd marry you, eBay. I meant it. But, I'm just curious now. Exactly what is in that dowry I keep hearing so much about?

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been an eBay member since the 1990s. However, he does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story.

Quote of Note

"There are two kinds of people: Those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group -- there's less competition." -- Indira Gandhi, former prime minister of India

H&R BlockFiles One Away

By

Nathan Slaughter

One quarterly earnings report cannot make or break a company. Sure, it can provide a fair depiction of a company's current state of affairs, but by definition it is a backward-looking tool. Ultimately, future results are more important than those from the prior three months. With that in mind, shareholders of tax-preparation specialist H&R Block(NYSE: HRB) may want to pretend that the firm's first quarter never even happened.

After finally finding a way to post profits in all four quarters last year, rather than just the seasonally strong fourth (which ends in April), the company took a big step backward yesterday, announcing a stunning $44.1 million loss on a 2.6% drop in revenues to $482.7 million. The $0.26 retreat in earnings reversed last year's $0.03 gain and was far wider than the $0.05 loss forecast by analysts.

The results may have caught Wall Street somewhat off guard, but they were in line with internal projections and not surprising to management, which warned of the core problem -- margin compression in the mortgage business due to rising rates -- months ago. CEO Mark Ernst summed up the outlook fairly well in last quarter's earnings release: "A changing interest rate environment will likely result in a flattening or slight decline in mortgage earnings, which will partially offset solid earnings growth in our other businesses."

There was no problem with loan production, which grew 28.4% to $6.8 billion, but revenues from mortgage services fell 8.4%, and pre-tax income plummeted 42.9% to $93.5 million. The disappointing mortgage results played the largest role in H&R Block's first-quarter woes, but each of the other three business segments also moved in the wrong direction.

Business services revenues rose 10.8%, but pre-tax losses widened from $6.7 million to $10.1 million. Investment services revenues from the firm's H&R Block Financial Advisors subsidiary dropped 6%, again with losses widening from $13.8 million to $18.3 million. Revenues in the firm's bread-and-butter tax-services segment rose 9.7%, but last year's $99.6 million loss fell to $113 million.

While first-quarter results were weak across the board, especially compared with rival Jackson Hewitt's(NYSE: JTX)respectable performance, H&R Block doesn't typically look good early in the year. The company looks more presentable in time for the fourth quarter.

This year should be no exception, as the firm has made investments that will pay off when tax season arrives. More than 400 additional Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT) stores will have H&R Block tax-preparation assistance available, and the company is on track for expansion of 500 to 600 new offices in "underpenetrated" markets.

Assuming that H&R Block can mute the impact of rising rates on mortgage margins, turn around the struggling investment business (which has lost $248 million over the last three years), and hold its ground with Intuit(Nasdaq: INTU) in the tax-preparation software battle, this past quarter can be easily forgotten. File it away like an old tax return -- to be used only for future reference.

Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns none of the companies mentioned.

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