A Week's Worth

• New Year cheer: After a grueling three-year bear market, the stock market scored big in 2003. The Dow rose 25.3 percent last year, its biggest yearly gain since 1996. The Nasdaq composite also surged - up 50 percent. In addition, new claims for jobless benefits fell to their lowest level since President Bush took office nearly three years ago. That's good news for Republicans in a key election year and another sign US businesses are feeling more confident about the economic recovery. Tech companies see better times for 2004. Market researcher IDC expects businesses to power a 6 to 8 percent rise in worldwide spending on computers and software - up from less than 1 percent growth in 2003. Consumer sentiment, however, slipped a little last month after November's robust reading, according to The Conference Board.

• Happy Birthday: On its 10-year anniversary, the North American Free Trade Agreement has proven to be neither the boon nor the bane some observers said it would be. Instead, the US, Canada, and Mexico have posted net economic gains in terms of exports and jobs. But critics point out it has allowed foreign investors to sidestep environmental, drug-patent, and food-safety laws in all three countries.

• Listen up, boss: Employees want their leaders to communicate, be honest, and share good news when it happens, according to nearly 1,500 telephone interviews conducted for Randstad North America. The survey found that 83 percent of employees who ranked their bosses as excellent communicators said morale is excellent or good where they work.

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