Proving that plastic isn't just for its Happy Meal toys anymore, McDonald's(NYSE: MCD) has decided to accept credit and debit cards at its registers.

The payment method, spurred by savvy customers' interest in accruing points, frequent-flyer miles, and other perks from card issuers, will be available at various locations by mid-2003. Burger King, owned by Diageo PLC(NYSE: DEO), and Wendy's(NYSE: WEN) are testing the idea, and the No. 2 sandwich chain, Subway, already accepts cards at some locations.

Will this spur a Big Mac Attack for the struggling fast-food giant? We grimace with anticipation.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Firms Fined Millions

The bill has finally come due for major Wall Street investment firms. After years of misleading investors with biased research and stock ratings, the giants of the industry are reportedly facing fines totaling $1 billion.

The SEC, along with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office, the New York Stock Exchange, and the National Association of Securities Dealers, are in the process of informing each firm the amount it will have to pay to end the probes. These regulators have spent months investigating claims that analysts sometimes gave glowing reports on companies in order to lure their investment-banking business.

Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER) will not be involved, since it settled with Spitzer for $100 million in May. As part of that agreement, Merrill agreed to provide separation between its research and investment-banking divisions. According to an Associated Press source, the amount the remaining firms will have to pay is dependent on their willingness to "implement changes to prevent future investment advice abuses and conflicts between firms' stock analyses and their investment-banking business."

Here are the approximate fine amounts, according to various published reports:

Citigroup (NYSE: C) : $500 million
Credit Suisse First Boston(NYSE: CSR): $250 million
Lehman Brothers(NYSE: LEH): $75 million
Deutsche Bank(NYSE: DB): $75 million
Bear Stearns(NYSE: BSC): $75 million
Goldman Sachs(NYSE: GS): $75 million
J.P. Morgan Chase(NYSE: JPM): $75 million
UBS Warburg(NYSE: UBS): $75 million
Thomas Weisel Partners: $60 million
Morgan Stanley(NYSE: MWD): $50 million

Wall Street investment firms getting what they deserve: priceless.

Quote of Note

"A market is the combined behavior of thousands of people responding to information, misinformation and whim." -- Kenneth Chang

Hooray for ID Theft!

Not everyone watched in horror as news unfolded about the U.S.'s largest identity theft ring. In fact, yesterday's Fed bust is just what the credit industry ordered.

We're not saying that credit bureaus orchestrated the thievery of more than 30,000 credit reports. But behind their public horror (after all, it was their databases that were hacked), the marketers must have felt at least a little bit giddy.

Fear sells. The fact that three crooks practically hand-picked 30,000 IDs to swipe -- with initial losses estimated at $2.7 million -- was, well, scary. Especially for the estimated 200 million Americans whose credit is tracked by the three main credit bureaus -- Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax(NYSE: EFX).

So many identities to steal! When your product preys on paranoia, a worst-case scenario can be a blessing in disguise. That was evident as Equifax's chief privacy officer geared up for the softball Maria Bartiromo lobbed his way on The ClosingBell. How can individuals prevent their identities and credit record from being stolen? What a no-brainer, Maria. Simply subscribe to Equifax's Credit Watch monitoring service. Ka-CHING.

The sale of credit information -- including individual credit reports, combined reports, FICO scores, monitoring services, and now other credit-based scores used by insurance companies -- directly to consumers has the potential to become a billion-dollar industry by 2005, up from $600 million this year, according to a report in USA Today.

This sort of event changes the investment thesis argument for companies such as Equifax -- which reports $1.1 billion in income right now -- and generally for the better. Why should the credit bureaus be the only ones making a mint off of people's fear? Heck, if you click that Credit Watch link two paragraphs up, we Fools will get a little coin from the comfort our advertiser is offering.

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Callaway's Hazard

If golf means more to you than putting a brightly colored ball past a spinning windmill, maybe you caught Ladies Professional Golf Association star Annika Sorenstam win her 11th competition this year. That's the most wins in a single year since 1964. Even if you heard the news over the weekend, Callaway Golf(NYSE: ELY) wants to be sure you hear it again.

Last night, the company issued a press release to congratulate Sorenstam for the win and pat its own back because she won the Tyco(NYSE: TYC)-sponsored ADT Championship with 11 Callaway clubs in her arsenal. Believe it or not, there was a time when these simple tournament wins and modest press releases ignited a rally in Callaway's stock.

Nearly a decade ago, when the company stormed the scene with its revolutionary oversized clubs and titanium drivers, Callaway rode the boom in the golfing industry. Top golfers swung Big Berthas, and hobbyists followed suit. But while a "hole in one" is a great golf shot, it's not a desired attribute in a business model. Callaway had a hole in one, and it came from the competition. Rivals caught up; discounters flooded the market; and even counterfeiters had their chance to land on the green.

Callaway's sales peaked five years ago. Despite ramping up its apparel efforts, introducing new drivers, and even entering the golf ball business, the company has yet to climb back to its 1997 performance. A profit warning back in September and a delay in filing its third-quarter financial report earlier this month have kept the stock's performance below par; it's trading where it was back in 1993.

The company has made the strategic changes to roll with the slow economy. It launched trade-in programs and sells certified, pre-owned gear. But Callaway earned $0.97 a share last year and is on track to earn $0.92 a share this year. Wall Street is looking for $0.95 a share come 2003. That's not growth. That's a sand trap. Until the company shows some resiliency, it's probably best to putt around this hazard.

Discussion Board of the Day: Foolish Golf Tips

Do you play golf? What's in your golf bag? How did the Fool's own David Forrest earn the Bogey moniker? Tee time anyone? All this and more -- in the Foolish Golf Tips discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

It was out with the new and in with the old last month as the Commerce Department reported a 4.5% slide in new home sales for October, while the National Association of Realtors posted a better-than-expected surge in the resale market. Sure, any house can be a home, but let's see if this month's cut in interest rates will bring back the new housing sector. If not, maybe the homebuilders have hit their cyclical peak.

Citizen caned? The SEC is probing Citizen Communications(NYSE: CZN). Under the fiscal microscope are potential irregularities involving payments made to its public utilities division for services that were not rendered. Think the stock rose, bud? No. Of course not. Wells, it fell.

No one is monkeying around at E*Trade(NYSE: ET). The online financial specialist is acquiring the Ganis Credit division of Deutsche Bank(NYSE: DB) in a deal valued at $101 million. E*Trade has spent the last few years building on its discount brokerage roots to become a diversified financial services powerhouse.

So is the economy zigging or zagging? The Conference Board is reporting that consumer confidence index bounced back after dipping in each of the five previous months. But does that mean that we're all out spending that optimism? Not exactly. Instinet's Redbook survey is reporting relatively flat sales at the retail level through the first three weeks of November. Then again, we all know what happens later this week.... That's right. Turkey leftovers. Lots and lots of leftovers. Well, that and the start of the holiday shopping season. Those are the store-level comp figures that will definitely bear watching.

And Finally...

Today on Our annual Foolanthropy charity drive begins!... Tom Jacobs explains when to cover a winning short.... A guest Fool evaluates the merits of cyclicals.... In Fool's School, why dying without a will can tie up your estate in court.... And the Post of the Day: Advanced Micro Devices.

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