Pay attention, too, to head count. If it's going down, morale can't be far behind. In fact, when going through financial difficulties, "the better companies lay off employees as a last resort," says Sirota. Other guideposts are more industry-specific: A manufacturing company with a low accident rate or a retailer with high sales per employee are more likely to have happy workers. Look at the trends, too. If sales per employee have been increasing for five or more years, that's even better, Sirota notes.
If you can't find the data in company filings or analyst reports, call the investor relations department. While you're at it, you might want to ask the rep how he or she likes the job. Some investors in equity mutual funds are enjoying a tax holiday because of the billions in losses during the bear market. During the same period, bond prices rose and bond funds accumulated large capital gains. When those bonds are sold, funds must pass on the gains -- and the tax liability for them. A recent Lipper study found that in 2004 bond-fund investors paid $3.7 billion in taxes on these gains and on their regular interest payments. "The tax drag can be two to three times that of the expense ratio," says Tom Roseen, a senior research analyst for Lipper.
Now there is a threat of a double whammy in 2005. If interest rates rise, as many expect, fund managers may rush to sell the bonds. Shareholders face the prospect of paying taxes on gains even as their funds' values are sinking.
The solution: Keep taxable bond funds in a tax-deferred account like a 401(k) or an IRA. If you need current income, use tax-free muni bond funds. Even those funds, on occasion, distribute gains, but the tax bite isn't as large. Forget the tangles -- not to mention the elbow grease -- of rolling up the garden hose. A self-winding hose reel called ReelSmart lets you flip a switch to divert the water flow from the hose to a piston engine inside the drum. That turns the reel until the hose is pulled in and wrapped around it. New open-reel models that can handle 75, 100, or 150 feet of hose can be found for $35 to $85 at Amazon.com and many lawn and garden centers. If you want a tidier look, you can get plastic and wood-enclosed versions that go for $60 to $200 (www.hydro-industries.com). If you've seen the renovated Museum of Modern Art and still are hungry for the avant-garde, consider a day trip to Dia: Beacon, 70 miles north of New York City. To celebrate its second anniversary, the museum is presenting an exhibition of Andy Warhol's paintings -- including portraits of pop icons Aretha Franklin and Sylvester Stallone -- plus sculptures, films, and other materials. The show runs until next April. The 240,000-square-foot museum is located next to the Metro-North Railroad station (www.mta.info) in Beacon, N.Y.