COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

Stocks got a boost yesterday when the Fed released its Beige Book, a review of economic activity in the 12 fed districts across the country. For the most part the reports were encouraging but lacked any blockbuster news. Investors also seemed cheered by news that Congress was likely to raise the debt ceiling, which would simply pump more government -- taxpayer -- money into the economy. The Dow Industrials posted a triple-digit gain and the move is gaining some support in early trading today.

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This morning's revised report on the nation's economy was a bit of a surprise. The Commerce Department said the GDP -- gross domestic product -- rose at a 2.7 percent rate in the third quarter, well above the initial reading of 2.0 percent. The improvement came from higher exports of U.S. products and a build in inventories by companies. Of course, the media is focusing on the negatives, such as a continued lack of business spending and a slowdown in consumer activity.

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Also out today is the weekly report in initial claims for jobless benefits. The number fell by 23,000 to 393,000. The number of people applying for benefits had surged a few weeks ago in response to Superstorm Sandy.

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Speaking of Sandy, a number of retailers are out with November sales numbers today and Sandy is providing a handy excuse for weak numbers. For instance, Terry Lundgren, CEO at Macy's, said, "Despite the largest volume Thanksgiving weekend in our company's history, we were not able to overcome the weak start to the month, which included the disruption of Hurricane Sandy." Sales at Macy's were down this month by 0.7 percent compared to November 2011. However, over at Pier 1 Imports, sales were up 7.9 percent despite Sandy. "While a large number of our stores experienced closures and disruption due to Sandy, our focus was directed first and foremost on the safety and well-being of our associates and others in need," said CEO Alex Smith.

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A new report from LendingTree calculates the average monthly mortgage payment in each of the 50 states. Turns out the folks in Nebraska pay an average of $711 a month to service the home loan. That represents about 17 percent of household income there. The most expensive place for a mortgage is Washington, D.C., where the average mortgage payment is $1,641. California is not far behind at $1,445, representing 30 percent of household income.

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Walt Disney is the latest company to pump up its dividend and move the payment date forward. The company announced a 25 percent increase in the annual payment to 75 cents a share. It also announced the next dividend will be paid on Dec. 28 in order to make sure the distribution will be taxed at the current preferential rate of just 15 percent. The original payment date was in early January, but the uncertainty of Congress and the White House to get their act together leaves open the possibility of sliding off the fiscal cliff and the tax rate on the dividends to rise sharply.

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I had the chance to attend a wonderful holiday fundraiser last night at the beautiful Grand Del Mar Resort that was hosted by the McKinney Advisory Group. People invited were not asked to make a contribution but simply select one of four worthy organizations that would receive a $100 donation on their behalf. The beneficiaries were the American Heart Association, A Reason to Survive, Father Joe's Villages, and Kids Included Together. Damian McKinney and his staff put on a first-class event and the selected groups came away with some much-needed financial support. Being there and seeing some friends certainly helped put me in the holiday spirit.

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