The shakeout is now complete at the Securities and Exchange Commission. After just three tumultuous weeks on the job, William Webster resigned this afternoon as chief of the new Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

His short tenure was controversial from the beginning: A sharply divided SEC committee gave Webster the nod, even though many thought John Biggs was better qualified to police the accounting industry.

The maelstrom intensified when word leaked out that SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt knew Webster once headed the audit committee of a company later charged with fraud, and failed to tell anyone else that. Pitt resigned last Tuesday.

With the oversight board now leaderless, it's now more important than ever to demand the very best for the next SEC chief. If you'd like to help out by passing your feelings on to the president and your representatives in Congress, here's your opportunity.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

J.C. Penney's Profit Pops

J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP) was bubbling over with good news today. In the middle of a "very complex turnaround effort," the department store chain more than doubled its third-quarter profit and raised its full-year forecast.

Several areas contributed to the strong results. Like many other companies in the current economic malaise, Penney's has implemented a tough cost-cutting program and closed some weaker-performing stores. Thus, while total operating profits increased 40%, expenses edged up only 2.3%.

Also boosting performance was a tax gain related to the sale of an insurance business last year. That added $0.12 per share to the kitty, but even without that amount, Penney's earned three pennies more than expected, or $0.30 per share.

The most heartening catalyst, however, was an actual increase in demand. An unusually cold October drove more customers through the doors, and, once inside, a new centralized store presentation apparently had its desired effect. Revenue for the quarter increased 2%, while same-stores sales rose 4% in the department stores and 5% at Eckerd drug stores.

Just a month ago, management expected full-year earnings in the range of $0.90 to $1.00 per share. Buoyed by the third quarter, however, CEO Allen Questrom bumped guidance up to $1.10 to $1.15.

Considering that earnings for all of 2001 totaled only $0.26 per share, it's easy to see how far this company has progressed in just one year.

Quote of Note

"Economy is a savings bank into which men drop pennies and get dollars in return." -- Josh Billings (1818 - 1885), American humorist and lecturer

The Price of Aging

As if the myriad of costs associated with aging -- retirement housing, greens fees, spoiling the grandkids -- weren't overwhelming enough, a study by the AARP reveals that most aging Americans are unaware of how much they'll need to shell out for long-term care.

According to the aptly named study, "The Costs of Long-Term Care: Public Perceptions Versus Reality," the majority of 45-plus-year-olds surveyed underestimate the costs and funding sources of long-term care, which includes nursing homes, assisted living residences, and in-home care provided by skilled nurses and aides.

The basic gist of AARP's discoveries:

  • Only 15% of those surveyed could identify the cost of nursing home care within 20% of the national average. More than half (51%) estimated the cost too low. (The national average monthly cost of nursing home care is $4,654.)

  • Only one in four could come within 20% of the estimated median cost of care in an assisted living facility, and 38% said they did not know. (The national estimated median cost for assisted living per month is between $2,000 and $2,500.)

  • One in three had absolutely no idea how much an in-home visit from a skilled nurse or aide costs. (FYI: The average Medicare reimbursement is $109 for a skilled nurse visit and $64 for a home visit by an aide.)

  • About three in 10 said they have insurance that covers the costs of long-term care. Yet the Health Insurance Association of America estimates that only about 6% of Americans purchased such insurance, meaning that folks may be confusing long-term care insurance with other types of coverage, such as disability insurance or Medicare.

  • Approximately seven million Americans age 65 or older will need long-term care this year, and that the number will nearly double to 12 million by 2020.

Don't be caught facing unexpected bills in your golden years. Get to know the costs, funding sources, and coverage options of long-term care in our insurance area, where we show you how to compare policies.

For help figuring out all the costs of your dream retirement, build your own comprehensive plan, look no further than our Rule Your Retirement online seminar. Sign up before this Thursday, Nov. 14!

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The Thrill Is Gone

Summer's over. The roar of the roller coaster has grown silent. Regional amusement parks have locked their turnstiles and sent all but a skeleton maintenance crew home. But like a glass house of mirrors, all is not how it appears to be. Yes, most of the thrill parks have shut down for the season, but this is the industry's biggest week.

Why? Cedar Fair(NYSE: FUN) and Six Flags(NYSE: PKS) posted third-quarter results. The country's two largest regional amusement park operators live and die by this quarter, earning more during the summer period than they do all year. They have historically reported a loss through the other three quarters, only to turn it around with gusto in July, August, and September.

Cedar Fair reported earnings of $2.01 a diluted share, two pennies ahead of Wall Street's projections. But that was almost a given. It has been the picture of consistency, even bucking industry trends while operators like Disney(NYSE: DIS) and Six Flags have warned of dramatic drop-offs in attendance.

Through the first three quarters, Cedar Fair actually reported a 3% attendance gain. You haven't heard that kind of feel-good news from Disney or Universal Studios park operator Vivendi(NYSE: V), and you won't hear it from Six Flags, either, when it reports tomorrow.

While Six Flags has hinted it's beginning to bounce back from an early summer lull, investors aren't lining up for the ride. The stock has surrendered more than two-thirds of its value this year, as the leveraged company has provided more ups and downs recently than its collection of scream machines.

Last month, Six Flags announced that, after a soft June and July, business picked up and stayed up through the summer's end. Analysts expect the company to report earnings of $1.45 a share tomorrow, but it will be even more interesting to hear what it has to say during its Thursday morning conference call. Will Six Flags sell off some assets? Will it invest in needed park improvements? Either extreme might be welcome right now, because staying the course landed the stock at the bottom of the lift hill.

Sure, summer's over, but for amusement park operators, next summer starts now. Fasten your seat belts. The ride's not over yet.

Discussion Board of the Day: Roller Coaster-Loving Fools

Did you go on any roller coasters this summer? Hate roller coasters? Where can you go to get a coaster fix this time of year? All this and more -- in the Roller Coaster-Loving Fools discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

A lot of folks turn toThe Wall Street Journal for business news, but sometimes the medium is the message. Dow Jones(NYSE: DJ) is reporting that ad lineage for its paper's stateside edition was up by 4% in October. That's significant because it's the first year-over-year increase since May 2000. While the company has suffered a dramatic drop-off in technology ads, that has been more than offset with strength in travel, services, retail, and auto spots.

It's going to be a photo finish for some folks at Eastman Kodak(NYSE: EK), which provided more details on layoffs than were first announced last month. In moves that may eventually dismiss as many as 1,700 workers, the company will trim its research and development staff by 150 employees and let another 150 go from its global manufacturing and logistics units. By 2004, it expects the sum of all of its moves to save $200 million annually. Expect the mood to be somber at the next company picnic. Take a picture. It will last longer.

The Hunt(NYSE: HUN) hunt is over. The office-products specialist will be acquired for $12.50 a share by privately held Berwind. Among the many items made by Hunt is the X-ACTO knife used by art framers. Hunt employees are just hoping the buyout is complete and no one will take the X-ACTO knife to them -- like Kodak...

... Or Research in Motion(Nasdaq: RIMM). Yes, the Blackberry maker has some berry, berry bad news: It will let 220 employees go in order to meet financial targets. The move comes as a bit of a surprise after the stock surged last week on news of a licensing deal with wireless king Nokia(NYSE: NOK).

You've gotta bail. America Online Interactive Programming Chief James De Castro is leaving the company after just seven months on the job. That's a pretty brief tenure wedged between "Welcome" and "Goodbye," but it wasn't a complete surprise. He was on the shortlist to head up leading online service for parent company AOL Time Warner(NYSE: AOL), but it went to Jonathan Miller instead. America Online is still trying to bounce back from a slowdown in Web-based advertising, and the company's plan to produce exclusive compelling content is sound. How's that for exclusive and compelling?

And Finally...

Today on Zeke Ashton says when a management team shows Integrity, he keeps the faith.... Tom Jacobs casts a critical eye on a company's earnings press release.... In Fool's School, term vs. cash value insurance.... And the Post of the Day: Berkshire Hathaway.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim