Too Short for Comfort

Astute Motley Fool readers know this particular bolded space up here usually summarizes the story below. However, since the story itself is a sort of summary of February's financial happenings, it would be silly to put a summary of a summary here. So, in summary, we encourage you to skip this part and just read the story.

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By Rex Moore (TMF Orangeblood)
February 26, 2003

February may be a short month, but it hasn't lacked important, crucial, critically humorous financial news.

The major issue continues to be the battle of the budget. Not only is President Bush proposing a $1.3 trillion tax cut over the next decade (on top of a $1.35 trillion tax reduction already passed in 2001), he's also advancing the idea of new savings plans for Americans that would grow tax-free with no age or income restrictions. Finally, he would like to see in every home, by the end of 2003, an ATM that disposes free money. Mr. Bush argues that the amount of steel and plastic involved in the effort will stimulate those industries and trickle down to the rest of the economy. Plus, Americans will be "darn likely" to spend the cash from the machines, providing an added boost.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan sent White House spin doctors scurrying when he questioned the need for any stimulus at this time, and warned of the dangers of sharply increasing the deficit. Denying that those remarks could cost him reappointment when his term expires next year, a Bush spokesperson said, "The president has a great deal of confidence in Chairman Greenspan; he believes he's doing an outstanding job."

Buoyed by that vote of confidence, the soon-to-be 77-year-old announced he would enroll in spring classes at his local community college "just to beef up my resume."

Super-retailer Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) turned in yet another winning year, reporting profits 20% higher than in 2001. Still, some analysts wondered how the company would continue to grow now that it's on every street corner in every city, town, and village in America. Management put an end to the worry by announcing it would soon build a new Wal-Mart inside every Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) coffee shop. Meanwhile, Starbucks said it would continue expansion by building a new store inside every new Wal-Mart.

Analysts, amazed by the simplicity of the "Barbershop Mirror" growth scheme, raised their ratings on both companies to "Jeepers-Wally-this-is-super!" CMGI (Nasdaq: CMGI) Chairman David Wetherell immediately hailed it as "the new growth model for the '00s, even better than what we pulled off a few years ago." He promised to try something similar with fellow fallen dot-com Priceline (Nasdaq: PCLN): a name-your-own-revenue model where the two companies would sell imaginary products back and forth. Several energy-trading firms immediately filed for patent infringement, claiming they came up with the idea first.

With a possible war in Iraq fueling uncertainty, gasoline prices rose above $2 a gallon in several metropolitan areas. A spokesman for AAA says the prices are "uncomfortably close" to gouging. The same spokesman admitted pop star Michael Jackson is "uncomfortably close" to being eccentric.

On a related note, Saddam Hussein lashed out at America once again. "More lies and deceit," he told the Arab television network al-Jazeera. "They led us to believe Joe Millionaire would make his choice on Feb. 10, but the whole show was nothing but a filler. Jerks."

While the threat of war and terrorism is not helping a coughing economy, at least one industry is thriving in this crazy climate: Fears of biological or chemical attacks are causing a run on duct tape. Manufacturers stepped up production after the government suggested the ubiquitous fix-all might be used to seal windows and cracks. USA Today said Manco -- which supplies Wal-Mart, Lowe's (NYSE: LOW), and Ace Hardware -- added six shifts to keep up with demand.

Wal-Mart even credited sales of the tape -- and lingerie, for goodness' sake -- for a strong February showing... making us wonder if Americans are watching too much reality TV.

Despite Wal-Mart's blip, the great East Coast blizzard of '03 helped dump U.S. chain-store sales lower for the week ended Feb. 15 by 1.5% on a year-over-year basis. Homebound consumers discovered things such as old books, rarely played board games, and in-laws living behind the mounds of duct tape and lingerie.

The Federal Communications Commission handed down a controversial decision that could mean more competition among local phone providers and less competition in the broadband sector. Unfortunately for FCC Chairman Michael Powell, it wasn't the decision he wanted. Fellow Republican Kevin Martin sided with Democrats on the panel and forged a slim 3-2 majority, embarrassing Powell.

Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, promptly accused Martin of being a "renegade" leading a "palace coup." Martin fired back that Tauzin "has a weird name" and that no person "who has catfish for arms" should be in Congress.

Meanwhile, Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) continued to take shots at New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. The co-sponsor of the sweeping Sarbanes-Oxley Act believes Spitzer is overstepping his bounds as he attempts to rein in corporate misbehavior by expanding state laws. Oxley once again accused the "ambitious and publicity-hungry" Spitzer, a potential New York gubernatorial candidate, of political grandstanding. A Spitzer press release claimed Oxley was "either too over-burdened or reluctant to act." Oxley says he wants to be a fireman when he grows up; Spitzer, a professional baseball player.

This is not to say these two politicians need to develop a more mature and cooperative stance. This is to say all politicians need to grow up and look up the word "cooperative" in the dictionary.

I hate to sell February short, but I'm out of duct tape. Feel free to catch up with the rest of the month on your own:

Be sure to tune in next month!

Rex Moore marvels at the magic of Marshmallow Fluff. At press time, he owned no companies mentioned in this story, and was down to a quarter of a roll of duct tape and one Fluffernutter. His holdings can be found on his profile page. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.