COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

Money in the Morning

Folks around San Diego County seem to be more confident about the economy than people in Seattle. At least that was the result of a casual survey conducted yesterday by Gary Zimmerman, chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Zimmerman was the speaker at the "State of the Economy" presentation sponsored by the Escondido Chamber of Commerce. He had just delivered a similar speech in Seattle on Wednesday and asked the people there if they were worried about the economy. A majority of hands rose in response. In Escondido, however, only a few people seemed to be fretting about current conditions. And, responding to another question, the people in the Northwest were also more concerned about inflation than Escondidoians. Must be all the rain that makes them sour up there.

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The consumer sentiment index from the University of Michigan was released this morning and showed confidence rose in the past two weeks to the highest level in three years. Economists had been looking for the gauge to remain unchanged. Why is it that economists are always gloomy and consumers always optimistic?

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Remember back in November when OPEC members said they would cut production by a million barrels a day to stem the decline in the price for crude? Well, a report out this morning says that members of the cartel never got around to closing the tap on their oil wells. Could it be that OPEC members are worried that crude could continue its dramatic drop and want to get as much of the stuff out of the ground as fast as they can? Oil dropped below $50 a barrel for a brief time this morning and is trading today around $51.

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A new report this morning says there are 14,823 fast food restaurants and 6,659 convenience stores in California. The Center for Public Health Advocacy compares that to 3,853 supermarkets and 2,393 produce stands, creating a rather unhealthy eating environment for people in the Golden State. The numbers are used to calculate the Retail Food Environment Index, a ratio of healthy to unhealthy eating opportunities. For all of California the ratio is 4.18. San Bernanrdino County, where the first McDonald's restaurant was opened back in the 1950s, has the highest ratio at 5.72. The city with the highest index is Bakersfield at 6.63. Things are a bit healthier here. The San Diego County ratio is 4.20 and the city checks in at 4.58.

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