Archive for Sunday, November 2, 2003

The Motley Fool

November 2, 2003

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Last week's answer

I trace my roots back to a hardware store in North Wilkesboro, N.C., in 1921. For a long time, my main customers were professional homebuilders. But when fewer new homes were built in the early 1980s, I began transforming my stores to be more oriented toward do-it-yourself consumers. My new layouts were designed to appeal to women as well as men. Today I rake in sales of more than $26 billion annually, serving some 9 million customers per week at more than 900 stores in 45 states. I'm the second-largest home improvement retailer in the world. Who am I? (Answer: Lowe's)

It's time to winterize

In the dead of winter, a fire might seem like a cozy comfort. It won't be, though, if the fire is your beloved home going up in flames. This is the time of the year to prepare your home for the cold days ahead. Doing so will not only prevent damage, but will also save you some big bucks. (After all, heating costs are rising these days.) Here are some tips:

  • Have your furnace and furnace filter inspected and cleaned. Check for gas leaks. Make sure your heating system is working properly -- ideally by bringing in a pro to do so. Remove any stuff that's crowding the heater, lest it burst into flames.
  • Examine your windows and doors, and seal up any sources of drafts. You might apply some caulk or weather-stripping, or perhaps some insulation.
  • Clean out gutters and drainpipes. And while you're on that ladder, inspect your roof, looking for loose or damaged shingles or flashing, or leaking vents.
  • Make any necessary repairs to your steps, driveway and sidewalks. Consider adding slip-proof strips where needed.
  • Drain any outdoor faucets and irrigation systems.
  • Give your favorite chimney sweep a jingle and have your smokestack cleaned out before you use it. Keep the damper closed when you're not using the fireplace.
  • If you have an outdoor swimming pool, it's time to close it.
  • Make sure your home safety equipment is in place and in working condition -- this means fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Replace any old batteries before they fail you. Review safety and emergency procedures (such as an escape plan) with your family.
  • Finally, don't forget that your car needs winterizing, too.

Get those snow tires out, and take your car in for any scheduled maintenance work. Ensure that you have enough clean coolant and that it's not leaking, and that your tires have plenty of tread and are inflated properly.

For more advice on buying, selling or maintaining a home, drop by www.fool.com/homecenter or http://msucares.com/pubs/publications/p1505.html.

Didn't keep track

My dumbest investment has been not keeping track of my reasons for buying an investment. Too often when markets are heading up, I do my research and have my list of stocks to watch.

After my stocks start showing some solid gains, I forget why I bought them and just hold on.

Soon thereafter, I lose whatever paperwork I had that would've told me to sell and get out. If the market crashes, I no longer have my sell signals ready to show me the way out. As my losses extend, my will to do research drops dramatically. When the markets get their legs under them again, I'm without any idea where to start looking for good bargains. Because I haven't kept up with my research, my skills are rusty and basically nonexistent. Hopefully my personality will change soon. -- Arthur Rufus Jr., New York, N.Y.

The Fool Responds: Keeping track of why you bought various stocks and what your sell signals will be is a good investing habit. So is keeping your stock research skills sharp. You might also consider simplifying your life by investing in an index fund.

America West takes flight

Low-fare airline America West (NYSE: AWA) recently released upbeat traffic numbers for both September and the third quarter of 2003. It's also launching nonstop coast-to-coast flights at relatively inexpensive prices and is enjoying increased customer satisfaction.

These bode well for America West as it tries to garner the corporate traffic that all travel companies crave. Offering low price points could attract business if the flight experience and selection don't turn customers away when compared to what's offered by full-price competitors.

These are bold moves from America West, which continues to look for ways to grow effectively. It dropped out of the Columbus, Ohio, market earlier this year, but has added service to Costa Rica, added new destinations in Mexico and Canada, and expanded its Las Vegas business.

Operating in the low-fare segment is no small challenge, as companies such as Southwest have staked out strong positions there by simplifying their fleets and carefully selecting point-to-point flights rather than using the traditional "hub-and-spoke" airline model that you may have experienced while flying from Boston to Cincinnati with stopovers in Atlanta and Calgary.

Marketing itself appropriately, including picking the right destinations and price points, will be key to America West's success. Interested investors might keep an eye on the company's progress. They should also look at Southwest and JetBlue Airways, which have been performing well.

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