Say what you will about Mark Cuban. The entrepreneur was smart enough to cash in his chips at the height of the Internet bubble when he sold to Yahoo! and became a billionaire. From there, he bought the Dallas Mavericks and began torturing us as the NBA's wackiest and most outspoken owner.

Always in love with the camera, tonight Cuban begins coming into our homes on a weekly basis as he debuts as the host of ABC's The Benefactor, yet another inane reality show that promises to get a bunch of egomaniacs together to play silly games and lie and cheat their way to a $1 million prize. Whatever happened to building wealth the old-fashioned way -- like taking a flyer on a hot Internet stock?

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Would You Buy Any Airline?


Tim Beyers

Will it be Bama Air after all?

For weeks, US Airways(Nasdaq: UAIR) has warned of the possibility of a second bankruptcy. Chairman David Bronner even raised the specter of liquidation, jokingly telling TheNew York Times last month that investors might be better off if the airline disbanded and started over as a low-cost carrier named after his home state of Alabama. At least one of those outcomes is now certain. Sunday, the carrier announced it would re-enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy and attempt to reorganize.

The announcement comes on the heels of the third anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a day notable not just for the human cost but too for the havoc it wreaked throughout the American economy. Major airlines, already showing signs of weakness, suffered a mighty blow that day and have yet to see a full recovery. US Airways was a major beneficiary of the federal group formed to aid ailing airlines, securing more than $1 billion in loan guarantees and major employee concessions that cut costs by $1.2 billion annually before exiting bankruptcy in March of last year.

But in the end none of it was enough, and now the carrier is in hock again.

The question now isn't really whether additional relief will help the airline succeed, but who's next? Delta(NYSE: DAL) is already on the brink of its own Chapter 11 filing; UAL Corp's United (OTC BB: UALAQ) is trying anything to save itself, including potentially canceling pensions; and even Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick JetBlue Airways(Nasdaq: JBLU) has run into trouble, saying the procession of storms through the Southwest and the Caribbean combined with higher fuel prices could hurt its earnings.

History suggests Chapter 7 liquidation is the likely next step for US Airways. Indeed, in the '90s there were several airline bankruptcies, with only Continental(NYSE: CAL) emerging successfully after a second filing. So, should US Airways even try to rescue itself this time?

Think about it: Would shutting down the nation's seventh-largest carrier really be such a tragedy? On a human level, yes, undoubtedly. The sting of more displaced workers wouldn't be easily sedated. And yet, on paper, US Airways has been a net destroyer of shareholder value for years. The owners -- that is, the shareholders -- have every right to say enough is enough.

Bronner, an investor himself who earned control of US Airways after buying a 37% stake through $240 million from the Alabama state pension fund he runs, might have said it best for investors during the Times interview: "It's a whole lot cheaper for me to have the assets and start over than to have the liabilities."

Painful? Yes. Callous? You bet. True? Yeah, probably.

What do you think? Should US Airways continue to fight or shut off its engines for good? Can anyone make money in the airline business? Will the so-called low-cost carriers be next? Debate all this and more at the Airlines discussion board. Only at

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owns no shares in any of the companies mentioned, but he has family who are retired from United Airlines. You can view Tim's Fool profile here.

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All Eyes on Eisner


Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)

For better or worse, the Michael Eisner era at Disney(NYSE: DIS) will be gradually coming to an end after the CEO flipped over a sandglass with two years' worth of granular dirt eager to trickle down.

By announcing that he will step down in September 2006 in a letter to fellow board members that was made public on Friday, Eisner should be able to pacify the growing group of critics that almost succeeded in voting him out of the company's board earlier this year.

How history reflects back on Eisner's 22 years of Mickey Mouse servitude remains to be seen. The first half of his tenure would have to be classified as one of the better turnaround jobs in corporate history. Along with Frank Wells, who joined him as president, and Jeffrey Katzenberg heading up the feature animation studio, Disney experienced a renaissance through the late 1980s and most of the 1990s as the company's full-length animated flicks flourished and its theme parks recovered by introducing breakthrough attractions to win over the jaded tourist. No matter what harsh words one may have for Eisner -- and I'm sure that many of you do -- he was an invaluable piece of a team that helped save a company on the brink of being acquired by raiders and broken up piecemeal.

Yet after the death of Wells and Katzenberg's departure, the company too proved its mortality. The last few years have seen Disney's ABC network fall from first to fourth in key target audiences, and attendance at Disney's theme parks -- particularly its two newest stateside gated attractions -- has struggled. Its in-house animated features have suffered at the box office, and its once-thriving Disney Store chain is in the process of being gobbled up by rival rug-rat mallrat Children's Place(Nasdaq: PLCE).

So what kind of legacy will Eisner ultimately leave? These next two years will be telling. In Eisner's letter last week he alluded to great strides that the company has made in growing. Disney is indeed much larger today than it was when Eisner took over, though large chunks of that growth must be discounted as hefty acquisitions and stock option grants have diluted the 1984 shareholders. At least they are still comfortably ahead. Folks who bought into the company five years ago are sporting a loss on paper.

Eisner justifies the acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC, pegging its analyst value as high as $53.5 billion, though that's a bit delusional. At best, it is not much of a compliment when all of Disney is being valued at only $48 billion by the more efficient stock market (or $57 billion in enterprise value, once you account for the company's leveraged ways). The fact that Comcast(Nasdaq: CMCSA) wanted to buy the company at a discount to where the shares were trading just four years ago is also insulting to the current regime's ability to maximize shareholder value.

But 2005 will be interesting as the domestic theme parks are prettying themselves up for a celebratory year that should come with a spike in attendance. ABC really has nowhere else to go but up from here in the new fall season. Yes, the company's lucrative pairing with Stock Advisor recommendation Pixar(Nasdaq: PIXR) will be history come 2006, but at least Disney gets to keep the kids, and it's already hooked up with smaller computer-rendering specialists to attempt to fill the void. So it's been two decades of feast and famine. Now it's time to see what the last two years bring for dessert.

Who will take his place? Come back on Friday. I will handicap the race for Disney's next CEO by taking a look at the pros and cons of the more likely -- and some unlikely -- suitors.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been to all six of Disney's domestic parks this year. He hasn't always left impressed. He owns shares in Disney and Pixar.

Discussion Board of the Day: Disney

Were you happy to see Michael Eisner announce that he would be stepping down in 2006? How would you value his performance over the past 20 years? Who do you think should lead the company after he leaves? All this and more -- in the Disney discussion board. Only on

Home Depot Does Urban


Selena Maranjian (TMF Selena)

September 13, 2004

One of the skills exhibited by strong, successful companies is the ability to reinvent themselves and to adapt to different situations. Call it flexibility. One could argue that PepsiCo(NYSE: PEP) thought outside the box and dared to focus on more than beverages when it bought the Frito-Lay snack business. Long ago, Henry Ford loosened up and agreed to sell Ford(NYSE: F) cars in colors other than his preferred black. Change can be good. (Although some change is more questionable -- for example, check out the auto parts store that began selling online pie toppings.)

Home Depot (NYSE: HD) is changing the way it does business a bit as it opens a new landmark store… in Manhattan. Here are some ways that the 105,000-square-foot depot will differ from traditional big orange boxes:

  • Since the store is located in an old, historic building -- the former Hasbro(NYSE: HAS) building on 23rd Street, near Fifth Avenue -- it won't be slathered in bright orange. Instead, it will have more tasteful orange banners announcing its identity. Inside you'll find elevators, escalators, and an atrium.

  • There will be doormen assisting customers in getting purchases into cars and taxis. Shopping carts won't be littered around any large parking lot. Instead, they won't stray far from the building itself and will be managed in-house by a cart escalator.

  • Since many New Yorkers own or rent apartments, you won't see aisles full of lumber, weed whackers, hoses, and gutter downspouts. Instead, there will be beefed-up offerings of paint, closet organizing systems, cabinet hardware, stackable washer/dryer combos, and carpets. (Items such as drywall and lumber can be ordered for delivery.)

How is New York reacting to this new arrival? Many would-be shoppers are, of course, thrilled. But many local small businesses, such as hardware stores, locksmiths, and paint purveyors, are justifiably freaking out at the possibility that they'll be put out of business. It's hard to compete with such a big superstore, after all -- one with strong pricing power.

A New York Times article noted that some competitors are keeping their cool: "Dave Glassman, director of marketing for the Restoration Hardware(Nasdaq: RSTO) chain, which has a 14,000-square-foot store a block from the Home Depot, said the new Home Depot 'will give us more foot traffic, and increase the reputation of the entire neighborhood as a retail district featuring things for the home.'"

Look for Home Depot and even main rival Lowe's(NYSE: LOW) to continue expanding into urban areas as they seek additional profit dollars.

Discuss these developments on our Home Depot and Lowe's discussion boards -- or just pop in to see what others are saying.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Home Depot.

Quote of Note

"If I have lost confidence in myself, I have the universe against me." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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