It's time to take stock, literally and figuratively. With 2003 almost upon us, we're evaluating the performance of our 2002 stock ideas and preparing to roll out our choices for next year. How'd we do last year? We knew you'd ask.

And we ask you the same. In today's Plan for Tomorrow, Rick Munarriz explains why now's the time to reflect on the year past and map out a game plan for the future. After all, the only ball dropping on Jan. 1, 2003 should be in Times Square.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Kimberly-Clark's Soiled Outlook

Consumer-products giant Kimberly-Clark(NYSE: KMB) dropped a load on the market today, warning its fourth-quarter earnings will fall far shy of expectations.

Earnings before unusual items are now projected to be between $0.72 and $0.76 a share. Kimberly-Clark's own estimate back in October was $0.82 to $0.86. In last year's Q4, the Kleenex king made $0.82 a share.

The culprits behind the stinky forecast are the company's Huggies diaper line and "I'm a big kid now" Pull-Ups training pants. Adding to the pressure, the company's sales in Latin America and Asia have been weaker than expected.

Its diaper war with rival Procter & Gamble(NYSE: PG) has pitted Pampers against Huggies. This round goes to P&G, with its increased promotion for the Baby Stages line.

Kimberly-Clark recently began offering smaller, less expensive packages of diapers, hoping to attract price-sensitive customers. It hoped to eventually increase the price per individual diaper in the smaller bags, but axed those plans because of the intense competition.

The whole "smaller bags" bit might backfire, too. P&G is now playing up the fact that it offers more diapers per bag, even introducing a bizarre contest on its website. It's all about perceived value, right?

Kimberly-Clark's not taking its troubles sitting down, however. In 2003, it will cut costs by $175 million to $200 million, or around $0.24 to $0.28 a share. The company also shrank its planned capital expenditures for the current fiscal year, shelling out only $850 million to $900 million of the original $1 billion forecast.

Next year will likely be another difficult one for Kimberly-Clark. The company sees sales rising only in the low- to mid-single digits. The cost savings should certainly help results, but real strength won't come until it wins back some of the turf it lost to P&G.

Expect the diaper war to get dirtier.

Quote of Note

"A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses." -- Hippocrates (460 B.C.-377 B.C.), Regimen in Health

Sickening Health-Care Costs

As if a sluggish economy isn't bad enough, health-benefit costs are also putting pressure on U.S. companies.

According to a new survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, worker health-benefit costs rose by nearly 15% this year, representing the largest increase since 1990. (Note that inflation during the same period was a mere 2%.) Worse, the poor economy is making it extra hard for companies to cope with the rise in health-care costs.

Since these are typically costs paid for primarily by employers, employees often ignore them. Pay attention now, though. With such significant increases (a further 2003 increase of 13% is expected by many), some big changes are afoot. Many companies will be either unable or unwilling to continue footing these bills. Don't be surprised if your copayments and deductibles increase, for example. Your raises and other benefits might shrink, too.

Hardest hit are small- and medium-sized companies, some of which might consider eliminating health-care coverage altogether. Larger organizations have more bargaining power and enjoy more discounts that can be passed on to employees. According to Mercer, 62% of small employers now offer health insurance, down from 66% just a year ago. The Mercer survey found that the average 2002 cost increase was 11.5% for companies with more than 500 employees, and a whopping 18.1% for firms with fewer than 500 workers. According toTheWall Street Journal (subscription required, free trial available to Fools), "The average employee is costing his employer $5,646 this year in health costs, up 56% from $3,594 only five years ago."

Some companies are taking matters into their own hands, instituting in-house medical coverage. BusinessWeek recently described several such occurrences, such as the printing company Quad/Graphics, which now sports doctors and nurses on its payroll of around 8,000 employees. The company's health plan is proving popular and saving the firm more than $6 million per year.

What's a Fool to do? Well, be prepared for things to get worse before they get better. At this rate, they'll likely get so bad that something has to be done, perhaps via legislation.

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Sales Pick Up

When newspaper publisher New York Times Co.(NYSE: NYT) revealed last night that ad sales are picking back up and it sees solid growth ahead, it just didn't seem like news.

It wasn't. The Times had been scooped by Tribune(NYSE: TRB) with a similar report earlier that day. And one can argue E.W. Scripps(NYSE: SSP) beat both to the punch a day earlier, projecting its newspaper ad revenues would climb by at least 3% next year.

Showing that there's still some pull left in the press, the ink-and-paper world of newspapers is back. At the Times, year-over-year advertising revenue shot up by 9.8% last month. With disposable income still at a premium, sponsors are paying up to be black and white and read all over.

Classified ads have been weak, however. It's a thin job market, so the want ads aren't running as long as they used to. The publisher is also reporting a slowdown in used car listings. With new car manufacturers such as Ford(NYSE: F) and General Motors(NYSE: GM) offering attractive financing terms to move production, used cars are more likely to be traded in than put up for sale.

Even with the late-year spurt, year-to-date ad revenue for the company is off by 2.4%, relative to last year's showing. That's why it will take a few more months of improvement before the turnaround is pegged as legitimate.

The Times will tell you when the news is fit to print. That is, if Tribune or Scripps don't reach you first.

Discussion Board of the Day: Current Events

Got a nose for news? Want to discuss the latest happenings or talk over an article you just read? All this and more -- in the Current Events discussion board. Only on

Get a Job for Christmas

There are only two weeks until Christmas, so it's time to make last-minute purchases, finalize travel arrangements, and -- for some people -- find a job.

Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER) , Schlumberger(NYSE: SLB), Sprint(NYSE: FON), UAL Corp.(NYSE: UAL), Sara Lee(NYSE: SLE), AOL Time Warner(NYSE: AOL), Maxtor(NYSE: MXO), and Charter Communications(Nasdaq: CHTR) are just some of the companies that have announced layoffs in the past week. The cuts come on the heels of the announcement that unemployment in November hit an eight-year high.

The possibility of job loss is the No. 1 reason everyone should have an emergency fund. The standard recommendation is to have six months' worth of expenses in an easily accessible, safe account, such as a money market account. (You can learn more about where to stash your emergency cash in our Short-Term Savings Center.)

If you've been the victim of a "downsizing," "restructuring," or a "chainsawing," here are some tips.

Make sure you have continuous health coverage. The government has given you some breathing room by mandating your right to remain insured under your former employer's policy for a period of time. Called COBRA, the law provides for continued coverage when you leave your job for reasons other than gross misconduct. You have 60 days from the time you are laid off or from the day your current coverage ends (whichever is later) to choose to stay on with your employer's plan. You must pay the employer's cost for such coverage, and the employer may, and probably will, charge you an extra 2% for administrative expenses. However, it is usually cheaper than getting a policy on your own.

Look into unemployment benefits. If you didn't receive any severance pay, or after your severance runs out, you can apply for unemployment benefits at your local Unemployment Insurance Claims Office, Employment Service Office, or Mom and Dad's Generous Check-Writing Office. Eligibility rules and size of benefits are determined by each state. Keep in mind that this is not welfare; this is insurance that your employer has paid for as part of your benefits.

Use the Web for your job search. There are numerous online resources for folks looking for a job. We're not just talking about "Help Wanted" listings. Many sites provide tips on assembling a résumé, doing well at an interview, and career advice. Here are a few:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, (ya gotta dream, baby!).

Press for more severance benefits. If you feel like you deserve a better deal from your employer, make your case. Maybe you can get an extra week or two of severance pay or an extension of health benefits. Perhaps they'll permit you to use some of their resources for your job search. We're talking about things that go above and beyond what your former employer legally owes to you. So ask nicely. If you were the victim of a large layoff, then make your case soon; your employer won't be able to accommodate everyone's requests.

Quick Takes

A fake website imitating eBay(Nasdaq: EBAY) has been shut down. Scam artists apparently sent emails asking victims to log on to and re-enter credit card information. No word on how much info the credit thieves collected, if any.

TRW (NYSE: TRW) shareholders have approved the sale of their company to Northrop Grumman(NYSE: NOC). Northrop shareholders are expected to OK the $7.8 billion deal later today.

Shares of Bally Total Fitness(NYSE: BFT) drooped almost 20% this morning on news that CEO Lee Hillman is retiring, and that his severance package is so large the company will have to take a $5.8 million charge to cover it. For starters, Hillman will receive $1.3 million in cash and a $109,895.83 monthly payment for two years.

The Federal Reserve left key short-term interest rates unchanged yesterday and suggested it's unlikely to cut them in the near future.

In local news, Marie Hopkins found a $20 bill in her brown winter coat. "I put it on for the first time this year," said the Piggly Wiggly cashier, "and when I put my hands in the pockets, there it was!"

And Finally...

Today on We evaluate how the Fool's stock ideas performed last year and preview our ideas for 2003.... Rick Munarriz says now's the time to separate the potential winners from the losers.... Bill Mann catches up with Costco, Schering-Plough, and Church & Dwight.... In Fool's School, what's Foolanthropy and how can you help?... And the Fool Community argues the merits of a new mechanical stock screener.

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