This year has been hard to bear (and we know that pun's not lost on you). As we look forward to better news in 2003, we reflect, with some amazement, on 2002.

Who knew CEOs would contribute to the nation's overcrowded prisons, and the beloved Mickey D's french fry would get dumped for a younger, leaner model?

In an effort to beckon the bulls, we wave our red cape and offer you the Top 10 business stories of 2002.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Losing Confidence

Dour, gloomy, sullen. You'll see similar words in newspaper headlines tomorrow describing today's release of the Consumer Confidence Index. The numbers fell sharply in December, which apparently surprised the experts.

What is the index all about? It's published by The Conference Board, a not-for-profit organization that conducts market-based research. The Consumer Confidence Survey is based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households.

The index fell from 84.9 in November to 80.3 this month, the sixth decline in the last seven months. The Conference Board's Lynn Franco says rising unemployment and a discouraging job outlook are the main factors affecting Americans these days: "Weak retail sales over the holidays clearly reflect the current mood of consumers."

Why should anyone care? It's an interesting measure for a lot of market watchers, because consumer spending accounts for roughly two-thirds of the nation's economic activity. If the average American decides to keep more money in her pocketbook, it's likely businesses will feel the pinch. Some of that may have already shown up in the form of disappointing holiday sales.

The falling index is certainly not a signal to go out and sell your stocks. No one can predict with certainty the future course of the economy, much less the market itself. After all, the index is a short-term indicator, and mostly a measure of retail activity. Investing, meanwhile, is a long-term endeavor.

Quote of Note

"Look not mournfully into the past. It comes not back again. Wisely improve the present. It is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future, without fear." -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Tyco's Fortunate Flub

You know a company's oversold when its stock climbs higher on news that auditors have found $382 million in accounting errors. Then again, when you're talking about Tyco(NYSE: TYC), last night's announcement is a relative victory.

Rocked by CEO shenanigans, fiscal irregularities, and a nasty case of indigestion after a string of iffy acquisitions, the new optimism seems to indicate Wall Street believes it has overcome its checkered past. Once regarded as the poor man's General Electric(NYSE: GE) because of the conglomerate's knack for assembling a quality portfolio of diverse businesses, Tyco has made a poor man even poorer. The stock has surrendered nearly three-quarters of its value over the past year.

It's definitely welcome news for the company that the internal investigation failed to uncover fraud beyond the aggressive bookkeeping. Tyco has spent the last few years picking up hundreds of smaller companies. While the jaded can wonder if the frenetic shopping spree was simply a cover for financial trickery to keep the stock buoyant, most will agree that even the hodge-podge collection Tyco has amassed is worth something.

Even the most cynical analysts expect the company to earn at least $1.50 a share this fiscal year, and $1.75 a share come fiscal 2004. As the company trims its debt through asset sales and begins to earn back what previous management squandered, it wouldn't be all that surprising if this ugly duckling becomes one of the better performing large-cap stocks of 2003.

Discussion Board of the Day: Turnaround/Value Investing

While Tyco investors are pondering everything from the merits of jail time to the company's eclectic collection of properties over in the Tyco discussion board, is the company a worthy turnaround story now? With so many stocks beaten down over the past few years, are there diamonds in the rough among the fallen? All this and more -- in the Turnaround/Value Investing discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

You have to walk a fine line when your business interests lie in both health care and funeral services, but Hillenbrand Industries(NYSE: HB) will have to toe that line a little further. The company revealed it will delay filing its annual report with the SEC. While it doesn't expect its operating results to differ much from last month's initial report, it's not an open-and-shut casket case, as Hillenbrand has to figure out the full amount of a one-time charge related to antitrust litigation. In short, don't bury this 10-K. It's not dead yet.

Fading B2B star Ariba(Nasdaq: ARBA) also filed a Notification of Late Filing on Form 12b-25. Its reason for the delay is different than Hillenbrand's -- the company is considering restating its fiscal 2001 results due to the accounting treatment of a $10 million exchange between officers that was originally considered as strictly a personal transaction. The move will not affect the financial results of fiscal 2002.

Has the security been breached at CompuDyne(Nasdaq: CDCY)? The maker of blast-resistant doors and windows isn't exactly bringing the house down with news that it will miss its fourth-quarter targets. This marks the second time since October that the company has lowered its projections. CompuDyne faults cost overruns and mismanagement at its West Coast Corrections business. Now if only the company could work on a blast-resistant business plan.

Medic! Sterion(Nasdaq: STEN) is closing out fiscal 2002 with a fourth-quarter loss. The medical equipment specialist suffered from delayed product rollouts, lower sales in its container business, and higher costs to integrate recent acquisitions. While the strategic purchases helped prop sales higher by 46%, earnings for the year fell to a meager $0.04 a share showing. In medical terms, that's almost a flat liner.

In local news, Bethany Rodgers from Pine Street dialed up her favorite rock oldies station, bent on requesting Dan Fogelberg's "Same Old Lang Syne" to close out the year. By the time morning man DJ Daddy-o picked up the phone, Bethany got cold feet. "It felt too trite," she admitted. "It was just too obvious a song request." After a nervous pause, she asked to hear "Daydream Believer" by The Monkees, instead.

And Finally...

Today on Matt Richey covers his best investment of 2002.... Tom Jacobs reveals the power behind Johnson & Johnson's new breakthrough.... In Fool's School, what exactly does a CFO do, anyway?... And the Post of the Day: Why do mutual funds underperform?

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