There may be some presidential elections where the difference between candidates is not that great or where Americans might feel that their one vote among millions isn't worth the hassle of getting to the polls. Election 2004 is not one of those elections.

With one candidate winning by just hundreds of votes in Florida in 2000, no one should take this right for granted or leave it to others to decide the country's political direction. You have a voice; use it.

President Bush and Sen. Kerry are locked in a statistical dead heat as you read this. It is not often we can say that on the eve of a national election. Tomorrow, get up a little earlier, come into work a little later, skip lunch, or just spend a little less time monitoring your portfolio. Do whatever it takes to get out and vote.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

JetBlue's Amazing


W.D. Crotty

There was plenty of bad news in the latest quarterly report from Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation JetBlue(Nasdaq: JBLU). The company missed analyst estimates by two cents, operating margins declined sharply, load factors were down from year-earlier levels, and the company's on-time performance fell. So, what was so amazing about this quarter?

Start by looking for other profitable airlines. Among the major carriers, Southwest Airlines'(NYSE: LUV), 54th profitable quarter and JetBlue's 15 consecutively profitable quarters are noteworthy. America West Holding(Nasdaq: AWA) lost $44.2 million in its third quarter -- ending a string of five consecutively profitable quarters. ATA, the U.S.'s tenth-largest airline, filed for bankruptcy and joined United, USAir, and Hawaiian as court-run airlines. Delta Air Lines(NYSE: DAL) has avoided bankruptcy for now, with a tentative wage agreement with its pilots and lots of financing with "significant conditions" -- $500 million from General Electric's(NYSE: GE) Commercial Finance unit and up to $600 million from American Express'(NYSE: AXP) Travel Related Services Company.

What is amazing is that JetBlue was profitable while growing available seat miles (the industry measure for capacity) by 33% while others contracted or stood still. It is even more amazing that this profitable growth occurred while four hurricanes ravaged the company's key operating areas and fuel prices soared.

What makes JetBlue unique? Many will point to 36 channels of DirecTV(NYSE: DTV) entertainment in every leather-covered seat back. Other will simply note the three straight years as the winner of CondeNast's Traveler's Readers' Choice Award for best domestic airline. Low cost and an airline people like to use are a winning formula.

But that formula has another element. When fellow contributor Tom Taulli saw I was going to write about JetBlue, he emailed me about CEO David Neeleman and his latest trip on JetBlue. Tom, like me, has seen Mr. Neeleman working as we passed through the company's New York hub. This is not a CEO stuck in a walnut-paneled office out of touch with customers and employees. He is hands-on -- and that (amazingly?) probably accounts for his understanding of what passengers want and what it takes to provide it.

JetBlue's stock is trading at 52 times current-year estimates and 39 times 2005 estimates. That is far from cheap. But, when operating expenses are 6.08 cents per operating mile -- and competitor Southwest is at 7.61 cents -- there is clearly room for this amazing story, like a fine wine, to improve with age.

Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned.

Discussion Board of the Day: eBay

Were you affected by PayPal's outage last month? Did you take advantage of the free transactions day? Are you an international PayPal customer upset that eBay didn't take its alleged PayPal apology overseas? All this and more -- in the eBay discussion board. Only on

Sysco's Rich Valuation


Nathan Slaughter

Given the impact that hurricane season had on casual dining chains and fast-food restaurants throughout the Southeast, it should come as little surprise that the company that supplies those eateries with much of their food might also have quarterly sales numbers that are a little watered down. This morning we found out, when food distributor Sysco(NYSE: SYY)reported a modest 5.6% increase in first-quarter revenues to $7.5 billion, which would have actually declined slightly without the help of acquisitions and inflation.

Sales figures could have been worse, though, as the company noted that nine of its 11 subsidiaries operating in the affected regions managed to improve sales on a year-over-year basis. Furthermore, the gains look respectable relative to the 2.9% third-quarter sales growth posted by rival Royal Ahold's(NYSE: AHO) US Foodservice unit. Nevertheless, a gradual slowdown in Sysco's top line remains a concern. After the company delivered double-digit compounded sales growth during the past decade, revenue growth slowed last year to an inflation-adjusted 3.7% gain.

Earnings continued their upward march, as they have done in each of the past 28 years. Aided by further improvement in operating expenses (which have fallen from 15.1% to 14% over the past 18 months), earnings climbed 9.4% to $0.35 ($225.9 million), in line with estimates.

As the leading company in a mature industry, Sysco enjoys streamlined distribution, purchasing power, and economies of scale. However, after acquiring 120 smaller companies and building an impressive customer base that includes fast-food outlets such as Wendy's(NYSE: WEN) and casual diners such as Applebee's(Nasdaq: APPB) -- as well as 400,000 other restaurants, hospitals, schools, and hotels -- the company is struggling to find new sources of growth.

The long-run trend, however, seems to favor consumer preference for dining out rather than staying in, and Sysco provides one of the few products for which demand is a foregone conclusion. The company also offers an attractive dividend yield and some of the highest profitability metrics in the extremely low-margin business.

Operating margins, for example, have expanded to 5%, more than double the 2% of Performance Food Group(Nasdaq: PFGC), the No. 3 player in the space. Return on equity (ROE) has also steadily risen, from 28% to 38% over the past few years. Sysco's stability and consistency come at a price, however, and at 24 times trailing earnings, the firm's rich valuation is likely more decadent than some investors are willing to consider.

For related stories on Sysco, see:

Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns none of the companies mentioned.

Quote of Note

"Where so many hours have been spent in convincing myself that I am right, is there not some reason to fear I may be wrong?" -- Jane Austen

Can Disney Do No Wrong?


Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)

While few may be willing to admit it, even when Disney(NYSE: DIS) stumbles these days it seems to bounce back even stronger. Let's consider a few of Disney's tricks in October that wound up as treats.

When some sponsors pulled out of Disney's top-rated, racy Desperate Housewives show on ABC, some saw it as a sign that the Mickey Mouse company was back to fending off boycotts and angry family groups. Not exactly. Losing advertisers that were paying discounted rates in the upfront market is actually a blessing for ABC. Now it can fill those spots with marketers willing to pay even more for the large audiences that the show is attracting.

When Disney officially unloaded its 313-store Disney Store chain through a licensing agreement with Children's Place(Nasdaq: PLCE), many saw it as a sign of failure. Sure, but it was also a way for the company to transform a division that was still posting losses as of its June quarter into an opportunity to let an experienced specialty retailer turn it around, with Disney collecting passive royalties.

You can go back even further, and some of Disney's biggest mistakes are starting to smell like roses. When it loaded up its ABC schedule with sitcoms to help fill the void left behind by Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, it flopped, but that paved the way for hour-long hits like Desperate Housewives and Lost.

From CEO Michael Eisner's pending retirement silencing some critics until his replacement is named to the NHL lockout coming just as Disney skirted past a costly contract, just about every cloud that once appeared full of heavy rain seems to have a silver lining.

Disney is now finding gold coins lining the pockets of its ponchos.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been to all six of Disney's domestic theme parks this year, but he's never been caught overpaying for a churro. He owns shares in Disney.

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