Regular or decaf? Red meat or veggies? Sugar or saccharine? Smallpox or death by vaccination? Yes, we can add a new question to the list of health-related choices troubling Americans these days.

On Friday, President Bush is expected to announce that all Americans will be able to opt for a smallpox vaccination. The decision comes in response to growing fear among citizens of a biological terrorist attack. The downside? One or two of every million who receive the vaccine will die from it, CNN reports.

The FOOL 50, holding out for a vaccination against the smallpox vaccination, closed flat today.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Bad Air for Airlines

Surely the turbulence will eventually clear for the troubled airline industry, but it won't be anytime soon. Consider these headlines from the past couple of days: "UAL's Bankruptcy Shows Pitfalls of Employee Ownership Plans," "US Airways Gets More Time To File Reorganization Plan," and "Delta CEO Says Airlines Still Need More Help from Congress."

Delta (NYSE: DAL) CEO Leo Mullin says the new security costs are so prohibitive that the entire industry could go bankrupt if the government doesn't pick up the tab. Without that relief and some other help, he told an aviation safety group, "the government will, by default, come to own the airlines."

Because of higher security costs and fewer passengers, Mullin believes the industry will lose about $10 billion this year. His own airline has had to shell out $670 million "due to security restrictions, new bulletproof cockpit doors, seats taken up by federal air marshals, and the $2.50 [per segment] tax cost," according to USA Today.

The best line in that story came from airline consultant Michael Boyd. Referring to Mullin's hopes of the government paying for these costs, Boyd noted the current hands-off atmosphere in Washington, and said Mullin "might as well go to the Salvation Army and ask them to pick them up."

Interesting that even in the midst of these most troubling times, Delta plans to expand its business to enter into the low-cost market, thereby competing directly with the likes of Southwest Airlines(NYSE: LUV), JetBlue(Nasdaq: JBLU), and AirTran(NYSE: AAI). But it's a move the carrier hopes will allow it to gain market share and jet back into the black.

Quote of Note

"We, all of us, need assistance. Those who sustain others themselves want to be sustained." -- Maurice Hulst, The Way of the Heart

Amgen Raises the Bar

It's nice to see a company other than eBay(Nasdaq: EBAY) announce that results should top expectations. The company? Amgen(Nasdaq: AMGN). The biotech bigwig joined eBay's rarified air this morning when it shared that 2003 results should handily top current expectations, thank you very much.

Amgen boldly stated it expects to earn between $1.70 to $1.80 per share next year, up about 26% from the $1.37 to $1.39 it'll earn this year. The company also raised its 2002 sales forecast, predicting sales growth in the low 40% range, up from the high 30s. Then it expects 2003 revenue of between $7.3 billion and $7.8 billion.

Amgen sells Epogen and its variation, Aranesp, for anemia, and Neupogen and variation, Neulasta, for cancer. Sales of the former two drugs could reach $3.4 billion next year; the latter two could hit $2.3 billion in 2003 sales, making Amgen's drugs among the best-selling in the world.

With its recent acquisition of Immunex Corp., Amgen got Enbrel, an arthritis drug with expected sales of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion next year. Amgen has eight other drugs in its pipeline, including three drugs in phase III trials.

Amgen is the biotech company other biotechs aspire to be, even though it has never had a deep product offering -- just two enormous hits. At $50 per share, the company has an enterprise value of about $65 billion, which is an aggressive multiple of about 50 times estimated free cash flow for the year. The stock is valued at 36 times the 2002 earnings-per-share estimate and 28 times the new 2003 estimate. With 26% earnings growth expected next year, that 28 multiple may look about right.

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Beware of Falling Yields

That mattress is starting to look like an awfully tempting place for folks to park their idle cash right now.

Money market funds sank to a new low this past week. According to, the yield on the average taxable money market fund has fallen to a pathetic 0.91%. At this rate, $10,000 in a money market fund would fetch you barely $90 in interest income over the course of a year -- and that's before the tax bite.

Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is yielding more than twice as much at 2.04%. Just six of the 30 Dow components -- American Express(NYSE: AXP), Home Depot(NYSE: HD), Intel(Nasdaq: INTC), IBM(NYSE: IBM), Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT), and dividend-immuneMicrosoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) -- are yielding less than your basic money market fund.

It's hard to believe that blue chips such as Coca-Cola(NYSE: KO) and Disney(NYSE: DIS) are seemingly more ambitious income-producing vehicles than funds designed specifically to produce payouts, but it's true.

How did this happen? Well, while interest rates have fallen, most companies have held true to their dividend rates. Falling stock prices have widened the gap, producing higher yields based on fixed payout amounts divided by a lower share price. Sure, the Dow has come back strong in recent weeks, but it's still down by nearly 15% to date.

The paltry payouts haven't kept cautious investors from piling up just over $2 trillion in money market fund assets. Stocks are obviously not a substitute for the risk-averse. However, one begins to wonder how far yields will have to fall before some of that money is either poured back into the stock market or stashed back under that mattress. Counting down to nil can be painful.

Could it happen? Could money markets come to resemble Microsoft, with all that cash and nary a dividend? Don't bet on it. But, until then, just remember that 24 of the 30 Dow stocks are tipping better than your money market fund.

Discussion Board of the Day: Mechanical Investing

Got a system for the market? If the Dogs of the Dow have puppies, do you crave the pick of the litter? All this and more -- in the Mechanical Investing discussion board. Only on

A Clean Bill of Health

If you want to keep a clean bill of health, check your hospital bills, says a new Consumer Reportsstudy on hospital care. Billing errors can spread faster than a staff infection if you're not vigilant.

The magazine surveyed more than 21,000 readers about the hospital care they received in 2001. Seventy eight percent were happy with the care they received -- higher than Consumer Reports respondents have rated service in banks, restaurants, and hotel chains. The other 22% complained of unanswered calls for assistance, inadequate pain relief, pressure to leave the hospital too soon, or recovery prolonged by complications caused by the hospitalization.

When it comes to billing, though, 5% of the 11,000 patients who reviewed their itemized hospital bills found major errors. As if getting sick weren't taxing enough, those who shelled out $2,000 or more for their care were twice as likely to find billing boo-boos, the study shows.

The most common billing blunders include "upcoding" (charging patients for more costly procedures); incorrect basic charges as a result of keystroke errors or being billed for cancelled work; charges for individual tests that should've been combined (called "unbundled charges"); and overcharging for operating room time, which is calculated by the hour. In addition to being costly, medical bills are a common malady marring credit records.

How to catch the ouchies? The watchdog publication suggests performing an autopsy of your bill.

  • Familiarize yourself with your health insurance -- what it covers and what it excludes. If you need help interpreting your coverage, ask your employer's human resources department to help.
  • If possible, get estimates from doctors, the hospital, and other providers to brace for the cost of care.
  • Keep a log of procedures and medications. If you're too loopy, ask family or friends to help out.
  • Compare your insurance statements and personal care records to your bills.
  • Check for the most common billing errors (listed above).
  • If you find errors, try to correct them with the hospital billing department, and contact the consumer protection office of your state attorney general.

The magazine lists other resources to help consumers get the best care, including Consumers' CHECKBOOK, Hospital Report Cards, Health Grades, and Health Care Choices.

Quick Takes

Barely a day after consumer-products company Kimberly-Clark(NYSE: KMB)warned investors to expect disappointing Q4 earnings, competitor Procter & Gamble(NYSE: PG) raised Q2 earnings projections and predicted double-digit percentage EPS growth for the year ahead. The maker of Tide, Pampers, Pringles, and Old Spice also said it raised its longer-term target of free cash flow as a percentage of earnings to 90%. A mature company ought to show 100%, but we're so delighted any company even nods in this direction that we won't quibble over the 10%. For now.

Shares of drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb(NYSE: BMY) fell 7% today on a Wall Street Journal report that current and former executives say the financial black magic was far worse than channel stuffing -- using sales incentives to boost current-quarter sales and to make revenue numbers look better. The SEC is investigating Bristol's wholesale inventory situation.

President Bush today named Stephen Friedman to succeed Lawrence Lindsey as chairman of the National Economic Council, the president's top economic advisor. Friedman is former co-chairman of the investment bank Goldman Sachs (NYSE; GS), remains a director there, and is a senior principal with Marsh & McLennan Capital, a specialized investment-banking arm of the Marsh & McLennan Companies(NYSE: MMC). Bush reportedly calmed conservatives, assuring them the one-time deficit hawk would support tax cuts.

Optical networking equipment maker Ciena's(Nasdaq: CIEN) stock rebounded 18% after the company reported revenues for its Q1 ending in January could rise as much as 10%, sequentially.

And Finally...

Today on Tom Jacobs lists four reasons Seagate, this year's biggest tech IPO, sinks.... Rex Moore identifies Drip Port competition and compares valuations.... Give your teen more than just a video game for Christmas -- make her a millionaire! Here's how.... In Fool's School, how to net short- and long-term capital gains and losses.... Our Fool Community discusses how to find an investing strategy that works for you, in Hot Topics.... And the Post of the Day: A Fool claims the general investment outlook couldn't get any better.

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