No one can fault Fed Chief Alan Greenspan for having a marvelous grasp of the obvious. In a prepared speech before a congressional committee today, the Green Man said, "Evidence has accumulated that the economy has hit a soft patch."

No kidding? Thanks for the information, dude.

You have to appreciate his measured response. But once -- just once -- we'd like to hear him say, "I think we're really hosed. I've cut interest rates lower than they've been since I was a sprightly man. I'm not sure there's much else I can do."

For some other tricks Greenspan could pull out of his sleeve to try to spark the economy, read this article on CNNMoney. Keep in mind, however, that we're morally opposed to their ridiculous idea of creating a new stock market bubble by allowing investors to buy more stock on margin. What are you guys smoking over there at CNN? Maybe you should send some over to so we can go insane, too.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

No Woes for Wal-Mart

Gigantic discount-retailer Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT) beat Q3 earnings expectations by a penny on top of a solid sales gain. Now it's looking to the crucial holiday-laden fourth quarter, like a weary parent hunting for a Chicken Dance Elmo.

Sales improved 11.5% to $58.797 billion. Billion! We realize it's nothing new for Wal-Mart, but sometimes the impact's lost when we cut off the zeroes and replace them with a word. In a mere three months, it sold roughly $58,797,000,000 worth of merchandise. Good grief, that's a lot of stuff!

The Dow component earned $1.820 billion, versus $1.481 billion in the prior period. On a per-share basis, that's $0.41, compared to $0.33 -- an increase of 24.2%. About 3.6% of that improvement can be traced to a change in the way Wal-Mart accounts for goodwill.

Comparable store sales, as a whole, were up 3.5%. Breaking them down by division, Wal-Mart stores racked up a comps gain of 4.2%. Sam's Club continues to struggle in its fight with rival Costco(Nasdaq: COST), and only saw a 0.4% comps gain. Sam's Club's operating profit also faltered, down 2.4% to $240 million.

The company managed to pull off a good quarter despite concerns about widespread weakness in its sector. The retailer dampened comps expectations each month of the quarter, and the resulting 3.5% growth is indeed below what most have come to expect from the giant. For the first nine months of the year, though, comps are up 6.1%, which isn't too shabby, given the ugly consumer-spending landscape.

What fate awaits Wal-Mart and the holiday shopping season? We can't know. For its part, the world's biggest retailer remains cautious. Its forecasted earnings are at the low end of expectations, and it expects comps growth of 3% to 5%.

A slow Christmas season would certainly hurt the quarter, but with sales and net income substantially ahead of the first nine months of fiscal 2001, Wal-Mart will likely bring home a festive fiscal 2002.

Quote of Note

"Stop quoting me!" -- Anonymous

Funds to Cut Fees

The Fed's recent interest rate cut of half a percentage point is affecting money market funds.

With the Fed funds rate now at a shockingly low 1.25%, short-term investments made by money market funds don't yield much more, and that's putting pressure on the funds.

The average taxable money market fund yields 1.21% percent now (1.22% for the average tax-free fund), according to iMoneyNet. When you factor in a fund's management fee, not to mention the marketing fees some funds charge to reward the brokers that sell them, well, there's not much left.

Currently, about 384 money market funds sport yields of 1% or lower, and that's likely to drop as the short-term securities these funds own mature in the next few months and are replaced by new investments with lower interest rates.

According to a Reuters report, about 73 funds already have yields below 0.50%, suggesting they may soon drop into negative territory. The solution? Well, there's no silver bullet, here. Many funds will likely lower their fees to plump up their yields. Meanwhile, many investors are looking elsewhere. Money market funds are among the safest places to park your pesos, but it can be hard to justify doing so when your reward is almost nil.

Fools are encouraged to shop around. Learn more about your short-term savings options (which include higher-yielding certificates of deposit, for example) at and our Short-Term Savings Center. (We've got some good deals for Fools, negotiated for you with MBNA.)

Also, remember that your long-term money is likely to do best for you invested in the stock market. If you need a new or better brokerage, learn more at our Discount Broker Center. And finally, understand that for many of us, the best long-term choice is a simple index fund -- it takes hardly any research and will nearly mirror the stock market's return in the years to come.

Retirement Fact of the Day

According to the AARP, about three in 10 of aging Americans it surveyed 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.

Worried about your retirement wealth? Our Rule Your Retirement online seminar can help!

Pepsi and Sony in Concert

The first time Sony(NYSE: SNE) and Pepsi(NYSE: PEP) got together, it was hot.

While filming a TV commercial for the silver medalist in the cola wars, an explosion engulfed Sony recording artist Michael Jackson in flames. Michael made it out singed, but OK. But you know what they say about old flames....

Yesterday, Sony and Pepsi announced they'll team up in an ambitious global marketing campaign that links Sony's music brands with Pepsi's beverages. The two purveyors of pop will cross-promote products, though it seems Pepsi's getting the short end of the marketing shtick.

Think about it. Pepsi is everywhere, while Sony only wishes it could create music legends with the kind of global recognition as the soft drink. The entertainment giant will wedge its music into Pepsi ads, and use the soda and salty snacks specialist to gain access into non-traditional retail establishments, such as convenience stores and gas stations, which feature Pepsi prominently.

Pepsi will also sponsor Sony artists on the road and during televised specials. While the soft-drink giant hopes prominent artists like Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen will pitch its brand, it's pretty obvious this deal is a one-way street. You won't see two-liter bottles of Pepsi Blue bundled with PlayStation2 video game systems. Yes, the annoyingly infectious The Ketchup Song is Sony's handiwork, but you won't get Doritos with that sauce.

Michael Jackson called Sony's music chief Tommy Mottola " very, very, very devilish." One can only imagine the words Pepsi will have for Sony if the deal doesn't prove mutually satisfying.

The cross marketing will kick off over the summer. Without checking the almanac, it looks like it's going to be a scorcher.

Discussion Board of the Day: PepsiCo

Tried Pepsi Blue yet? Do you think that Pepsi has more to gain from the Sony deal than it seems? All this and more -- in the PepsiCo discussion board. Only on

Choosing a Nursing Home

Choosing a nursing home for a relative is never pleasant. Fortunately, however, comparing nursing homes just got easier.

The results of a government survey of the nation's 17,000 nursing homes is now available on the Medicare website. Consumers can see how a facility was rated in 10 categories, including percentage of patients with pain, delirium, and bedsores.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson announced the results yesterday. In a press release, Thompson said, "Not only will consumers be better informed, but nursing homes, themselves, will be able to see more clearly what they must do to make the quality grade. They will have to compete in the quality arena."

The information is based on data that nursing homes themselves must report as part of receiving Medicare funds. Also included are the results of annual inspections and complaint investigations. Facilities looking to improve their scores can get advice from the quality improvement organizations under contract with Medicare.

High-quality nursing home care doesn't come cheap. A year's stay can cost between $50,000 and $150,000. If someone can't afford such steep prices, then Medicaid takes over -- but only after most of the person's assets have been depleted. And do you want the government determining where you or your parents get admitted, and thus the level of care?

Enter long-term care insurance, which covers (to varying degrees) nursing home costs. Some policies even cover expenses incurred by people who don't need full-time care, such as physical therapy in the beneficiary's own home.

Like many forms of insurance, long-term care insurance gets more expensive as you age. Generally, people in their late 50s to early 60s should begin evaluating the need for long-term care insurance and which features make sense. A comprehensive policy can be pricey, but ensuring that you or your parents will have the best care might be worth it.

Quick Takes

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says a war with Iraq would likely have no more than a modest impact on the U.S. economy. Meanwhile, news that Iraq accepted U.N. proposals to send weapons inspectors into the country sent crude oil prices to a five-month low. Should peace prevail, oil from the Persian Gulf region would continue to flow, ensuring steady demand.

Troubled Vivendi Universal(NYSE: V) will name Barry Diller "interim co-chief executive officer," according to Bloomberg. Diller is chairman and CEO of USA Interactive(Nasdaq: USAI), and also oversees Vivendi's U.S. media division. And yet he still has the time to do his own laundry.

Here's some gloomy news: Some 60% of major U.S. companies are planning layoffs next year. So says a survey by the Business Roundtable group, which questioned 125 corporate executives and found most of them were worried about continuing weakness in the economy.

On the earnings front, Federated Department Stores(NYSE: FD) nearly doubled its third-quarter operating earnings despite flat sales. The parent of Macy's and Bloomingdale's credits reduced expenses and lower markdowns.

In local news, people are coming from as far away as McIntosh County to see Tabor Wilson's talented pet, Amanda. The North American red fox, found in the woods as a baby three years ago, actually guards the Wilson's henhouse. Said one tourist: "Don't that just beat all?"

And Finally...

Today on Cable & Wireless appears unable and hopeless. Can someone put it out of its misery?... Bill Mann takes a break from buying and selling to reset the Rule Maker Portfolio's goals.... Diluted vs. basic earnings, in Fool's School.... The Fool Community ponders whether I Bonds are a good investment.

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