The major indexes pushed into positive territory today, trying to make us forget the malaise the overall market's been in. No matter. Whether the market's up or down, today we're setting out to find those top performers that will make us forget our mishaps and misfires. Are you tired of lackluster returns? Do you have room reserved in your portfolio for a 10-bagger? Then join us in the search for the ultimate growth stock.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Time to Buy Tech?


Seth Jayson (TMF Bent)

Don't buy tech stocks! They're overpriced. Buy tech! But be choosy. You hear it both ways these days, even from us.

We've been battered for the past few weeks with revenue and earnings warnings from many tech firms. The bad news came from firms like Intel(Nasdaq: INTC), Cisco Systems(Nasdaq: CSCO), and Hewlett-Packard(NYSE: HPQ). The common theme, translated from press release-ease, could have read: "Umm. Remember that huge demand we predicted? Yeah, funny thing. It didn't materialize, so now we're sitting on too much inventory. Oh, and those competitors we told you not to worry about? Yeah, they're eating a chunk of our lunch."

But just when you think you have this whole tech thing figured out, along comes an industry-wide prediction that muddles things further. Industry watcher IDC predicts increased demand for PCs, at least from businesses. Hey, more PCs means more need for stuff like network hubs, servers, software, mouse pads, backache pills, and everything else, right? Cool. Everyone, back into tech!

Didn't fall for that? I hoped not.

Does that mean I think you should avoid tech? Also a big "no." Instead, think like that spoon-bending kid in the Matrix and repeat to yourself, "There is no tech industry... there is no tech industry."

What am I talking about? Consider Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT), Google(Nasdaq: GOOG), Stock Advisor pick Dell(Nasdaq: DELL), and Hidden Gems standout Transact Technologies(Nasdaq: TACT). What the heck do they have in common? Answer: All depend on electricity. Seriously, the real answer is: Not a ton. They succeed based on performance in their specialized business spaces.

That's why concentrating on artificial constructs like industry sectors is a bad move when you invest in individual stocks. You know that old saw about missing the forest for the trees? Too often we investors make the opposite mistake: We miss the trees for the forest. Look carefully at tech or any other so-called sector. Sure, there may be plenty of rotten wood ready to fall with the next storm, but there are also strong trees that will not only survive but thrive.

Buffett didn't sweat the economy. Lynch bet against predicted trends all the time. They made bundles by finding the good wood. You can do it, too.

Seth Jayson spends a lot of time combing the forest for investing metaphors. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here.

Discussion Board of the Day: Fools Fighting Fat

Will salads at Domino's help you stick to your diet? Why do so many chains offer fatty salad dressings with what they profess to be healthy salads? Are any of the latest fad diets working for you? All this and more in the Fools Fighting Fat discussion board. Only on

Starbucks Goes to 11


Seth Jayson (TMF Bent)

Will this be the drop heard 'round the world? Today, caffeine kiddies learned that Starbucks(Nasdaq: SBUX) will be raising its prices in the U.S. by $0.11 per cup early next month. (That's the reported average, anyway.) Will consumers resist? Or are they ready to pony up an extra dime and penny for their morning favorites?

To judge only by the response of my Foolish neighbor, Alyce Lomax -- who reported on the rumor earlier this month -- the answer is a curt "yes," delivered in a millisecond. In fact, she's now scampered off to the nearest Starbucks for the first of her daily venties. And I suspect most other coffee drinkers will have a similar response.

Say what you will about supporting "local" coffee places -- I lived in plenty of places where there was no such beast before Starbucks. This company brought drinkable coffee to the masses, and it continues to expand its customer base profitably. I strolled through an airport this weekend that will soon feature two outlets in a single branch of the terminal. That could mean six locations in one airport, each with a semi-captive audience.

The public appetite for Starbucks seems to be insatiable, and growth is not just coming via expansion. The end of last quarter (June) marked the 150th consecutive month of positive comps for the chain, and the eighth month of double-digit gains. Smaller competitor Diedrich Coffee(Nasdaq: DDRX) actually saw sales decline, and negative comps at its flagship Gloria Jean's.

From an investor's point of view, the only fly in the cup is the price. Starbucks never looks exactly cheap. But, of course, fire sales are often rare for long-term outperformers: Think of Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT), eBay(Nasdaq: EBAY), and Coca-Cola(NYSE: KO).

Seth Jayson doesn't drink much Starbucks coffee because he's saving his pennies for the stock. At the time of publication, he had positions in no company mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. The Fool is investors writing for investors.

Quote of Note

"We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world." -- Helen Keller

Lowe's Boosts Expectations


Nathan Slaughter

Either there is a reliable crystal ball somewhere in Lowe's(NYSE: LOW) corporate boardroom, or management of the home-improvement retailer feels quite confident about its prognostication skills. Either way, there are some bullish signals coming from the company this morning.

While some firms will issue a profit forecast for only the next quarter and others such as Dillard's(NYSE: DDS) refuse to release any guidance period, Lowe's has provided earnings estimates for the next two and a half years. The Mooresville, N.C.-based company is anticipating earnings to rise 15% to 16% this year, 21% to 24% next year, and 18% to 20% in fiscal 2006.

Lowe's sanguine outlook comes one day after the U.S. Commerce Department reported that sales of new homes jumped 9.4% in August, helped by mortgage rates that have dipped to a four-month low. The growth rate was the fastest in four years, music to the ears of Lowe's and rival Home Depot(NYSE: HD). Sales were particularly strong in the South (up 13%) and West (up 20%). According to the National Association of Realtors, about 1.16 million homes will be sold this year, surpassing last year's record 1.08 million.

Lowe's is still seeing a spike in business around the Gulf Coast, where the 1-2-3 punch of Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Ivan wreaked havoc, spurring demand for everything from lumber to sheetrock to generators. The company has 60 stores in Florida, and rebuilding efforts are expected to yield an overall 3% to 4% improvement in same-store sales this quarter (after a 12.4% rise last year), lifting earnings 16% to $0.65. Previous guidance calling for a 6% rise in full-year comps was also reaffirmed, along with earnings of $2.69 to $2.71.

As a responsible corporate citizen, Lowe's is donating up to $1 million to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief fund. Home Depot also has pledged millions of dollars in tools and supplies, as well as the community service repair efforts of its workers.

Lowe's will also be busy building its own store base. One hundred and fifty new units are projected to open in each of the next two years, increasing overall square footage by 14% next year and another 12% in 2006. The ambitious expansion plans are projected to grow revenues by 16% per year.

This morning's forecasts are encouraging, but earnings guidance is only as accurate as the assumptions that are factored in. With an expanding economy, falling unemployment, and increasing home remodeling and construction activity underpinning Lowe's projections, though, the company has reason to be optimistic.

Check these stories out for more on Lowe's and rival Home Depot:

Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter has little talent for home-improvement projects, though he did install a shelf last night. He owns none of the companies mentioned.

Cisco's a VoIP Star?


Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

Today, there was another good omen that Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is fast gaining traction among large companies. Bank of America(NYSE: BAC) said it will switch to Internet telephones, using Cisco's(Nasdaq: CSCO) equipment. Cisco's been the star of several such deals lately.

Through the deal, Cisco's Internet phones will appear on 180,000 corporate desks at 5,800 Bank of America locations throughout the U.S. The deployment will take place in phases over the next three years. EDS will assist in the design and deployment of the system, while Bank of America will tap several different phone companies for the service.

Last week, we learned that Fordwas installing VoIP, using SBC Communications(NYSE: SBC) as a provider. Cisco also provided Internet telephone equipment to Boeing recently. On the consumer side of things, Best Buyentered into a pact with AT&T(NYSE: T) to offer the CallVantage VoIP product to regular Joes.

Speaking of AT&T, last week Foolish contributor Tim Beyers commented on the giant's bid to pump up through VoIP, as big business and consumers are ready to embrace the technology (and its perceived cost-efficient side effects). Several market researchers expect about 40% of companies to switch to VoIP in the next two to four years. Of course, this means the telecom companies will be duking it out to provide the service, competing not only among themselves but also with cable giants.

Cisco may have been the winner of several big deals recently, but it by no means stands alone in the IP telephony equipment arena. It faces formidable rivals such as Avaya(NYSE: AV) and Nortel(NYSE: NT). (Back in January, Nortel and Verizon(NYSE: VZ)teamed up on VoIP.)

Although the telecom companies may very well have the highest hopes to stage a reversal of fortunes through VoIP, companies such as Cisco also stand to gain from the inevitability of these deployments. While the area continues to contain risks, it's an interesting area to contemplate as businesses and consumers increasingly show signs they are accepting the technology.

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

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