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Archive for Sunday, May 4, 2003

The Motley Fool

May 4, 2003

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Last week's answer

Based in Japan and employing more than 100,000 people, I'm a premiere driver in the tire industry. In my early days I made rubber-soled shoes. In 1990, my U.S. division merged with the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., which traces its roots back to 1900. That division alone has 38 manufacturing facilities making 8,000 kinds of tires. (One is a 13-foot-tall tire for earth-moving equipment.) Firestone tires have won more Indy 500 races than all other tire brands combined. I sell some 50 million tires a year. My Japanese founder's name means rock-built river crossing. Who am I? (Answer: Bridgestone Corp.)

Know the answer? Send it to us with Foolish Trivia on the top and you'll be entered into a drawing for a nifty prize! The address is Motley Fool, Box 19529, Alexandria, Va. 22320-0529. Send questions for Ask the Fool, Dumbest (or Smartest) Investments (up to 100 words), and your Trivia entries to Fool@fool.com.

Buy or rent?

Should I rent, rather than buy, a house if I'm going to live there for only a few years? -- C.R., Sacramento

That may be smart. If you buy a house and then sell it within two to three years, you may not recoup the various buying and selling costs (typically totaling more than 6 percent of a home's value). In many regions, home prices have risen so much that some cooling-off is expected.

In the first years of a traditional mortgage, your payments mostly go toward interest, not toward paying off the principal balance. After living in the house for only a few years, you'll still owe the majority of the loan. (Plus, you'll have paid for repairs, property taxes, etc.)

Renting is always worth considering. It's true that mortgage interest is tax-deductible, but if you're renting a place for considerably less than you'd have to cough up in mortgage payments, you might invest the difference and watch a nest egg grow. If you expect prices to fall or stagnate in the coming years, renting might be prudent.

May is "Home Month" in Fooldom. Drop by www.Fool.com/homecenter for home buying/selling tips and mortgage guidance, and visit www.fool.com/ccc to learn how to maximize your credit, which can save you thousands when you're home-shopping.

Do stockbrokers need college educations? -- S.P., Tucson, Ariz.

No, but they must pass the Series 7 licensing examination, and sometimes a Series 63 exam, too. Successful completion of these tests permits brokers to advise you, solicit business from you, and execute transactions on your behalf. But these tests don't measure the ability to discern outstanding investments. Just because someone passed an exam doesn't necessarily mean they know what's best for you.

Diaper rash at Kimberly-Clark

Diapers and gas turned out to be a bit messy for Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB) in its first quarter, causing earnings to dribble 7 percent lower on a year-over-year basis.

Diapers rubbed the company the wrong way because of intense pricing pressure from competitors such as Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG). As Kimberly-Clark -- maker of such consumer brands as Huggies, Pull-Ups, Kleenex, Scott, Kotex and Depend -- battled for market share, it was forced to implement "competitive price reductions and promotions."

Also soiling performance was the rising price of natural gas and other energy, which the company uses to manufacture its products.

In the end, however, the diaper wars are not chafing investors. Earnings were slightly above expectations, and Kimberly-Clark is maintaining its full-year profit forecast. Sales rose about 4 percent, to roughly $3.5 billion, and though they were helped along by favorable currency exchange rates, the increase also reflects 2 percent volume growth.

The company is trading at a trailing price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 15, which is about half the industry average and near a five-year low. By comparison, Procter & Gamble's P/E stands at 25. However, while Kimberly-Clark may be worth considering, it's no relative bargain. P&G's P/E is also near a five-year low, and both trade at about 25 times trailing-12-month free cash flow -- a much more accurate measure of a company's profitability.

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