It's been a tough week for those of us who like to see the macroeconomic glass as half full. Today, the U.S. Department of Labor released a jobs report that showed only 144,000 jobs were added to the economy last month. That's fewer than economists had predicted and a long way short of the 200,000-per-month pace many say is necessary to make up for the net 900,000-job loss over the past few years.

It's hardly the ray of sunshine needed after a week that saw disappointing sales numbers from Ford (NYSE: F), General Motors (NYSE: GM), and DaimlerChrysler (NYSE: DCX) as well as lackluster predictions from bellwether retailers such as Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT).

It sounds grim, but what does it all really mean to stock investors? Probably nothing. Keep in mind that last month's original report of 32,000 jobs was revised upward to 73,000. And the unemployment rate dropped 0.1%. This is hardly an exact science. And more importantly, your portfolio need not ape economic sentiment. There are always strong companies to invest in. Finding them sometimes takes a bit more Foolish effort and fiscal fortitude.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Intel Swings and Misses Again

By

Tim Beyers



I've been fairly critical of Intel(Nasdaq: INTC) in these digital pages in recent times. But it's not like the chip maker hasn't given me ammunition. There have been delays, manufacturing flaws, unmet earnings expectations, reduced sales guidance, and stinging jabs from rival Advanced Micro Devices(NYSE: AMD), whose Opteron combination chip turned the longtime market leader into a follower.

Late yesterday, Intel reported more bad news. The chip maker now says that it expects to book between $8.3 and $8.6 billion in sales for the quarter, down from earlier guidance of $8.6 to $9.2 billion. That's a Jose Canseco-sized swing and miss. Heck, I can feel the breeze from here.

Intel blamed the third-quarter shortfall on weak consumer demand for computer processors and flash memory chips. Talk about timing. Only yesterday Fool colleague Bill Mann reported that the upcoming quarter is likely to be weak because consumers are running low on moolah. Intel and others such as Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Dell(Nasdaq: DELL), Apple(Nasdaq: AAPL), and Hewlett-Packard(NYSE: HPQ) have to hope this is an anomaly and not a trend.

Oh yeah, and then there's stock options. The Financial Standards Accounting Board (FASB) has finally decided in favor of expensing stock options. That, too, will hurt Intel. Fool Seth Jayson reported last month that nearly 20% of the chip maker's second-quarter net income would have evaporated had options been expensed.

To be fair, Intel isn't the only chip maker hurting. The Semiconductor Industry Association reported yesterday that global chip sales for July were up slightly less than expected.

But all investors see is red, and they've punished Intel's shares by more than 7% as of this writing. Though I have chided investors before for overreacting to short-term shortcomings, I sympathize with this morning's sellers. For a company that's so used to routinely hitting the ball out of the park, Intel has swung through way too many pitches.

This time, it could be strike three.

For more Foolish coverage of Intel:

All this talk of chips has Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers hungry for Mexican food. Can you please pass the salsa? Tim has no ownership interest in any of the companies mentioned, and you can view his Fool profile here.

Discussion Board of the Day: Disney

Will Disney blame the weather if this quarter falls short? Have you been to any of the Disney parks lately? What did you think? All this and more -- in the Disney discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

Mining a Big Winner

By

W.D. Crotty



Since Motley Fool co-founder Tom Gardner recommended Mine Safety(NYSE: MSA) in Hidden Gems a year ago, the stock has soared almost 150%. Don't let the name fool you. From its mining industry roots has emerged a very strong safety-products company.

For example, management just announced its consumer safety products will go on sale at 6,200 True Value hardware stores starting in the fourth quarter. For the do-it-yourselfer looking for higher quality eye, ear, head, and/or respiratory protection -- or just an excellent first aid kit -- Mine Safety will be there to serve.

Look at last quarter's earnings. The 21% increase in net sales and 49% increase in net income was driven by strong military, homeland security, and fire services sales. No mining industry there, right? Well, not exactly.

Mine Safety has made industrial (and mining) gas masks and helmets for years. Now it makes gas masks and Advanced Combat Helmets for the military, too.

When the National Fire Protection Association and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health issued new breathing-apparatus performance standards for protection against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents (all industrial needs), Mine Safety was first to market with a product that met both standards -- and had strong homeland security sales as well.

When Tom Gardner recommended this company to his subscribers, there were no analysts following it, and institutional ownership was less than 15%. In a phrase, the company was undiscovered on Wall Street. Now there is 43.4% institutional ownership and four analysts watching -- after the stock has soared.

The heart of any good investment is rising sales, a promising outlook, and most importantly rising free cash flow. Couple that with little Wall Street interest, and you have a Hidden Gem. Let the company continue that success, and continue to be "discovered," and there may be more gains on the horizon.

Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own stock in Mine Safety.

Quote of Note

"Measure not the work until the day's out and the labor done." -- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Does J.Lo Have Lousy Credit?

By

Dayana Yochim (TMF School)

She may have a perfect complexion, her pick of Hollywood hunks and homes in chic neighborhoods on each coast. But odds are, J.Lo's credit stinks.

Credit scoring is one of the few areas where Madonna, Mel, Snoop, and Demi can't hold a candle to my childhood baby sitter, Mrs. Hayes, in Lawrence, Kan.

Consumer credit scoring models -- developed by the likes of Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Fair Isaac & Co. (FICO) -- are simply not equipped to adequately judge the super-rich. These fiscally blessed souls have complicated financial lives that include multiple mortgages, even more cars, million-dollar paychecks and lines of credit that make Midas look like a cheapskate. Even if they balance their checkbooks to the penny and pay every bill the moment the butler delivers it to their bedside on a silver tray, their out-of-the-ordinary finances tend to make the credit scoring system scream tilt.

If there is a clearer sign of the existence of a higher being, I don't know what it is.

American idle
In the eyes of the lending industry's most famous grader (Fair Isaac & Co.), a perfect credit score (that three-digit credit GPA based on your borrowing and bill-paying history) is 850 (on a scale of 300-850). That score is based on one's aptitude in five key areas: past payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, amount of new credit, and types of credit.

At myFico.com, you can peer into the average American's private financial affairs, where you'll learn that the typical consumer has 11 credit obligations on record; that fewer than four out of 10 have ever paid a bill 30 days or more late; that almost half carry credit card debts less than $1,000, but that 10% have $10,000 or more on plastic; and that the majority of us have had just one inquiry into our credit record in the past year. (Do you even know how you rate?)

With a credit history like that, it's no wonder that the average American's credit score is 678 according to a March poll by Experian. Eh.

How to be a "10"
Who's perfect? According to Fair, Isaac, not too many people. Approximately 11% of the population has a FICO score of 800 or higher, with just 1% or so achieving enlightened 850.

So how do you beat the pants off the curve (and Kevin Costner)? Industry insiders offer the following profile of the perfect credit pinup. Star borrowers have:

  • Between four and six revolving accounts (meaning credit cards).
  • At least one "installment" tradeline (e.g. a mortgage or auto loan) in good standing.
  • A few accounts around 20 years old and a long history of positive use. (To get into the 800 FICO range, 10 years of positive account history.)
  • Been using credit for at least 30 years.
  • No late payments (or other account blunders) for at least the past seven years.
  • Very few credit inquiries (e.g. no more than one to three in a six-month period).
  • No derogatory notations -- collections, bankruptcies, jaywalking tickets (kidding on that last one).
  • Debt levels on credit accounts of less than 35% of their overall credit limit.

A few final tips for those with good credit who want to see a spike in their score. If you happen to misplace the mortgage, utility, or Visa bill or it arrives after you've left for vacation, call your lender and talk your way out of a late-payment notation. Any blemishes in the past two years can put a damper on your credit GPA.

If you put the bulk of your purchases on a credit card (or charge card, such as American Express) and are entering into a loan situation in the next six months, give your cards a rest. Although credit scoring agencies cannot verify this tactic, keeping a zero-dollar balance on your cards for several months reportedly raises your credit score, even if you typically pay off your balances in full. (All charging activity appears on your credit report.)

It might be worth it to forgo the airline miles or cash back you get from charging and instead use your debit card, especially if it means lopping a percentage point or two from a loan or home refinance.

But if you're out to dinner with Jennifer Lopez and feeling generous, go ahead and put the dinner tab on your credit card. J.Lo's credit score probably could use the boost.

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