COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

Money in the Morning

The proposal by President Bush in his State of the Union address to double the supplies in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve sent oil prices sharply higher yesterday. Crude closed at $55.04 a barrel, up $2.46. The Department of Energy actually announced the plan to raise reserves to 1.5 billion barrels before the president went before congress. The plan is to start building reserves by 100,000 barrels a day later this year and reach the target in 2027. This morning, the DOE said that oil and gasoline reserves both increased in the past week. Crude is now trading below $54.

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Documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission say that the new CEO of Home Depot could earn as much as $8.9 million this year. Frank Blake's contract calls for a base salary of $975,000. but incentives based on performance and shareholders' returns could push the payout significantly higher. It looks like Blake's predecessor, Robert Nardelli, is going to be able to receive his entire $210 million severance package. A group of angry shareholders had asked an Atlanta judge to put a temporary restraining order on part of the package, but the judge denied the request.

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Speaking of bonuses, thousands of employees at Bank of America are going to be getting a check for up to $1,800 as part of the "Rewarding Success" program based on results in 2006. The payout will go to full- and part-time workers earning less than $100,000. Last year, the bank distributed $237 million to more than 140,000 workers in performance bonuses.

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Here's one for all the snowbirds visiting San Diego. White Castle - the home of the "Slider" - is now taking reservations for its Valentine's Day dinners. That's right, tables will be decked out with candles and decorations and lovers of the bite-sized burgers will get table side service. It is the third year that White Castle has offered the Valentine special. Yes, nothing says "I love you" like a romantic visit to White Castle.

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It looks like legendary investor Warren Buffett is spending about $350 million on women's underwear. Well, not actually Buffett, but his company, Berkshire Hathaway. Yesterday VF Corp. announced it is selling its intimate apparel division to Fruit of the Loom, a company wholly owned by Berkshire Hathaway. VF says this will allow the company to focus on its growing denim business. It makes jeans under the brand names of Wrangler and Lee. By the way, Berkshire Hathaway shares are currently trading at $108,300. That's right, per share. The stock had peaked in December above $114,000.

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