When's the last time you received a chair massage at work? What about a Friday night beer bash in the office kitchen?

No, we're not trying to get you fired. A new survey ranks the country's best places to work, and these are just a few of the perks employees appreciated from their companies. A commitment to training, profit sharing, and high pay scales were also high on the list.

Taking top honors for the second straight year is "Main Street" stockbroker Edward Jones. Based in St. Louis, the company pays an average annual entry-level salary of $64,070.

The survey, conducted by the Great Place to Work Institute, is published annually by Fortune magazine. Ironically, the Great Places to Work Institute failed to make the cut.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

IBM , Cisco Pull the Switch

IBM (NYSE: IBM) will soon sell Cisco Systems'(Nasdaq: CSCO) just-released data storage networking switches. The two announced the nonexclusive deal this morning, which brings Cisco into a new market and a likely realm for future growth.

Storage networking switches help companies effectively route information, giving them access to data stored in different areas or on different servers of their storage networks. Brocade Communications(Nasdaq: BRCD) and McData(Nasdaq: MCDT) are currently the largest firms selling these switches.

Characteristically, Cisco isn't afraid of a little preexisting competition. It has said it wants to be the largest or second-largest seller in this market within two to three years. And it's expected to be a heckuva market, worth $4.3 billion in 2006, up from $1.2 billion last year, according to research firm Gartner.

Cisco's storage network switches became available for testing last month, and are currently being tested by several companies (in addition to IBM). While IBM is the first to publicly announce its intention to sell switches, others will undoubtedly be added to the lineup over the next few months.

It appears that Cisco is getting into the storage market at a good time. Several companies in the data storage industry indicated yesterday that perhaps the tide is turning for corporate spending in that market.

EMC (NYSE: EMC) announced sales are up handily and will show a fourth-quarter profit. McData said it will report earnings of $0.06 to $0.08 a share for the fourth quarter, rather than the break-even quarter analysts expected. Storage Technology(NYSE: STK) also reported a stronger-than-expected Q4.

All of this bodes well for Cisco. IBM already accounts for about $1 billion of the company's sales, and the new switches will only improve that number. Plus, EMC and others will likely begin selling switches, giving Cisco a quick foothold in a growing and apparently strengthening market. Its size and reputation among corporate customers give it an advantage at a most opportune time. That's good news for Cisco, but not for the competition.

Quote of Note

"There are 60,000 economists in the U.S., many of them employed full-time, trying to forecast recessions and interest rates, and if they could do it successfully twice in a row, they'd all be millionaires by now... as far as I know, most of them are still gainfully employed, which ought to tell us something." -- Peter Lynch, One Up On Wall Street

Dueling Proposals

After weeks of buildup, President Bush unveiled his "growth and jobs" package today. The $674 billion plan is designed to boost the economy by accelerating tax cuts, eliminating the dividend tax, and providing incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment.

The White House claims the proposal would provide 92 million Americans an average tax cut of $1,083 this year and create 2.1 million jobs over the next three years. Democrats have attacked the plan, saying it helps mainly the rich and is designed to boost Bush's reelection chances in 2004. They have provided a $136 billion counterproposal that would give a $300 rebate to every taxpayer, extend unemployment benefits, and offer breaks to small businesses and state governments.

The central question surrounding both proposals is how much they would actually help the economy. Fool co-founder David Gardner told CNN's TalkBack Live that when aggregated over the entire economy, Bush's tax cuts would bring significant results for both businesses and individuals. "Most Americans do a better job of spending their own money than Uncle Sam," he said.

Many experts believe neither proposal would have much effect in 2003. An Associated Press story suggests a slow recovery this year, with the possible war with Iraq or terrorist activities being the biggest threats to that scenario. The proposed stimulus package, on the other hand, won't help much in the short term because of the length of time it will take to work through both houses of Congress.

[Bill Mann will provide detailed analysis of the president's proposal in Wednesday's Rule Maker column.]

Bristol-Myers Settles Suit

Giants in distress sometimes make attractive investment options, but often investors rush to buy them too soon.

Whether it's McDonald's(NYSE: MCD) or AT&T(NYSE: T), when a big company founders, there's usually plenty of time to wait and watch for signs of recovery before buying shares.

Drug giant Bristol-Myers Squibb(NYSE: BMY) is no exception. The stock has lost 60% over the last two years, and now trades at 15 times '03 earnings estimates and pays a 4.4% dividend yield. Those numbers may be awfully tempting, but hold your ponies. The company has been trampled for a reason.

One issue was resolved today. Twenty-nine states, generic drug makers, and pharmacy chains sued the drug maker for antitrust allegations regarding two of its drugs: anti-anxiety drug BuSpar and anticancer drug Taxol. The claim is the company kept cheaper, generic drugs from customers by filing misleading, last-minute patents. Management stands by its actions but agreed to settle. It'll pay an additional $580 million (it already coughed up $90 million).

The largest concern for investors, though, is the company's accounting. After "irregularities," Bristol-Myers is slated to restate earnings for the last several years. Until it does, there's no way of knowing its current value. Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating possible sales-figure manipulation.

The company has the cash to pay the $600 million, and it has a strong product line, despite recent drug expirations. But it's probably best to wait for the restated numbers -- and build trust in management -- before buying the stock. This is one to put on your watch list, though, if you're interested in a $55 billion pharmaceutical company with a strong yield -- one that could be well-priced when the clouds start to clear.

Shameless Plug: 60-Second Guides

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Debtors Get a Reprieve

Companies are using your credit score to determine much more than your eligibility for low interest rates and sweet rewards, such as those offered by The Motley Fool Visa Card. That little number can play a role in what you pay for home and car insurance premiums.

A law restricting how insurance companies use the information they glean from your credit history is now in effect in Washington state. Look for other legislators to follow suit.

Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said insurance companies are no longer allowed to cancel insurance policies or deny coverage based on certain information in a consumer's credit report, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.

The things that cannot affect your coverage are:

  • The absence of credit history
  • The number of credit inquiries
  • Collection accounts identified as medical bills
  • The initial purchase or finance of a vehicle or house that adds a new loan to the consumer's existing credit history
  • The use of a particular type of credit or debit card
  • The total available line of credit held by the consumer

Beginning July 1, insurers in Washington must also disregard the same factors when determining premiums. Those companies that based policies on inaccurate credit histories must reissue or rerate the policy retroactive to the effective date of the current policy term.

If you live outside of Washington, ask your insurer how your rates have been set. Then check your credit karma, and if need be, clean it up with our How-To Guide, FICO 850: Achieving Perfect Credit.

What's in Store for EMC?

It's easy to keep a secret when your specialty is data storage.

For EMC(NYSE: EMC), the light at the end of the tunnel seemed like it would never come. In October, the tech giant missed third-quarter estimates, announced layoffs, and waxed grimly about its near-term earnings potential.

"While EMC's competition has jockeyed for position during the industry's downtime, both the company and the stock will see brighter days once corporate spending flicks the switch," we argued at the time.

Well, someone flicked the switch. Absent a $160 million restructuring charge, the company this month will announce a fourth-quarter profit of a penny or two a share on a healthy sequential uptick in sales.

Even better, EMC's in the black before the one-time charge -- even the most upbeat Wall Street analysts pegged a breakeven quarter, at best. But the real surprise is that the tech bellwether is looking to report more than $1.47 billion in fourth-quarter revenue. That's well above Street forecasts and a substantial gain from the third quarter's $1.26 billion showing.

The company's new line of CLARiiON networked storage and software solutions has kick-started the necessary return of corporate spending.

While it's unclear how much progress the company made in the 250-million share buyback announced in October, when its stock dipped below $4 a stub, any stock it bought back then was money well spent, as shares have nearly doubled over the last three months.

Can the company keep it going? Will corporate spending continue to shine kindly on EMC? Are the profits here to stay? The company might shed some light on these beefy questions when it reports final fourth-quarter financials in two weeks.

Discussion Board of the Day: EMC

Is this the match that ignites the tech recovery in 2003, or is it just an EMC-specific one-time blip? What is the company doing right, and can it stay ahead of the competition? All this and more -- in the EMC discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

Quick Takes

While Circuit City(NYSE: CC) ads are pitching the convenience of the chain's return policy, it's a shame shareholders can't follow suit. The company is reporting a 6% dip in December same-store sales. Confirming the lackluster holiday sales for consumer electronics retailers, Tweeter Home Entertainment Group(Nasdaq: TWTR) reported it would miss fourth-quarter profit targets, as well. That's right -- it's a blown Tweeter.

Strumming a better tune, Guitar Center(Nasdaq: GTRC) is raising its fourth-quarter earnings outlook on a 15.4% spike in sales. But is the music retailer hitting high notes, or is it simply falsetto? While comps grew by 7%, that came at a time when some competitors closed their guitar cases and shut down for good. While fading rivals may be sweet music to Guitar Center's ears, we'll see if near-term results are inflated by the barren competition. The band's still playing.

Big Blue means big business for Sanmina(Nasdaq: SANM), after signing a three-year supply contract with IBM(NYSE: IBM) that will result in roughly $3.6 billion in revenue for the electronics manufacturing specialist. IBM also outsourced more good news, announcing it will team up with Ibis Technology(Nasdaq: IBIS) to produce a new line of wafer chips.

Don't let the myriad problems at McDonald's(NYSE: MCD) and the lower buyout price for Burger King lead you to believe the burger's dead. While its larger peers are getting their buns toasted, Sonic(Nasdaq: SONC) is serving up healthy profit growth with a side of optimism. The fast-food chain produced November-quarter earnings of $0.26 a share -- a nickel better than Wall Street was expecting -- and expressed comfort in growing earnings by 18% over the balance of the 2003 fiscal year.

And Finally...

Today on Fool.com: The Motley Fool Select gang is out to beat the market with dividend-paying stocks.... Jeff Fischer reflects on Rule Breaker's 2002 and Amazon's soaring success.... A Fool proposes a new metric to calculate how to spend time wisely in the New Year.... Why a guy should take notes when his woman drags him shopping.... In Fool's School, is online banking right for you?.... And the Post of the Day: One Fool bets you can't win at poker.

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