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'98 FLOPS

Your financial ledgers may remember 1998 as a year of blockbuster IPOs and record-smashing Dow gains, but let us not forget everything that flopped and fizzled.

For every megamerger, there was a miscalculation, and for every stock split a mishap. A quick survey of the marketplace may refresh the memories of those who would rather forget the big ideas and grand designs that weren't. _ Los Angeles Times

Monica Inc.: This whole sex scandal was supposed to make Monica Lewinsky so much cash she would never have to shop at the Gap again. At least, that is what the New York publishing houses figured. Early speculation on a potential book deal suggested the former White House intern would pull about $6-million.

By year's end, however, there was precious little left to say. While the scandal made for some clever advertisements for Cross pens, Tommy Hilfiger and other companies, independent counsel Kenneth Starr spilled the juiciest parts of Lewinsky's story. She wound up with a deal with St. Martin's Press for less than $1-million.

Others stand to collect on the scandal-mania permeating the nation's capital. A spokeswoman for Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, who is offering up to $1-million to anyone who can document an adulterous affair with a member of Congress, says no one has collected the money.

Forever in Your Debt: Remember bankruptcy reform? Neither do many lawmakers, who never acted on a sweeping overhaul of the nation's bankruptcy laws. House members had approved the bill with an eye toward making it harder for people to file for protection from their creditors.

Banks and credit card companies lobbied furiously for the package, which limited consumers' eligibility for Chapter 7 relief. Senate and White House officials couldn't agree on the language of the bill, as critics attacked the companies for pouring some 2-billion credit card offers and other solicitations into American mailboxes last year.

Hype Doesn't Matter: Sony Corp.'s Godzilla has two redeeming qualities: First, it eventually ends. Second, it was mildly amusing to watch Sony studio executives deny they had oversold the film.

After spending $200-million to produce and market the monster movie internationally _ including a commercial blitz with no lizard but the phrase "Size Does Matter" _ executives watched ticket sales plummet 45 percent from the first day of release to the second. The film grossed $136-million domestically, far below expectations.

Even some hard-core Godzilla fans in Tokyo were disappointed with the American version of their folk hero. The monster is known in Japan as "Gojira" _ a mixture of the words gorira (gorilla) and kujira (whale). We are still trying to learn the Japanese phrase for "refund."

Tax Man Is Here to Stay: Eliminating the Internal Revenue Service as we know it was all the rage at some conservative think tanks and Capitol Hill offices. Republicans even managed to win House approval of a bill to scrap the entire tax code in 2002.

But could they really defang the IRS? Face it: Two things are inevitable in life, and Congress would have an easier time outlawing death. The House bill turned out to be largely symbolic.

Sure, lawmakers eventually required the tax man to ease off on some penalties for overdue payments, and the IRS was forced to issue more than 20,000 individual apologies to people it had mistreated, but it's not going anywhere. See you at the post office April 15.

Foul Trouble: No matter how bad an NBA team is, players usually don't start consoling themselves with statements such as "There's always next year" before they even reach the All-Star Game. This year, players, owners and fans alike already have given up hope _ for the league.

The lockout was almost funny when it started last summer. To some players and general managers, it just meant a little more time by the pool before the tough-talking negotiators put aside their differences by the fall.

Now it has deprived fans of 25 percent of the season and left the television networks aghast that they plunked down $2.6-billion to air league games during the next four years. Of course, odds were against Michael Jordan playing anyway.

Off-Road Rage: The fad had peaked. Finally, the analysts predicted, a backlash against sport utility vehicles was to take hold this year. Working-class everycars would seize the freeways back from fashionable gas-guzzlers.

Let this be a lesson: Never underestimate the power of peer pressure in the auto market.

Unfazed by concerns about safety, consumers continued to snap up Explorers, Suburbans, RAV4s and other SUVs: 2.4-million of them were sold in the United States last year.

Eventually, they'll go away. Just not this millennium. Automakers reported they sold more light trucks and SUVs than cars in November _ the first time that has happened since World War II. And the experts at J.D. Power now say the market will hold steady through 2003.

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