COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

It was a nice day for investing yesterday unless you happened to own shares of Apple stock. Overall, the markets did well with the Dow Industrials up 83 points and back above a key threshold at 13,034. But the Nasdaq was down 23 points entirely on the weakness in Apple. The shares dropped $37 Wednesday to $538 after a series of analysts -- lemmings -- cut their rating on the stock. It was the biggest one-day decline in Apple shares in four years and represented a $35 billion loss in market value. The selling continued this morning with Apple falling to as low as $516 in the first half hour of trading before rebounding.

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The jobs reports this morning paint a mixed picture. The number of people filing for unemployment benefits fell 25,000 to 370,000, the third week in a row the number has declined as people put out of work by Hurricane Sandy are able to finally get back to work. However, the monthly report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas showed a big jump in announced layoffs by U.S. companies. Employers announced plans to shed 57,081 workers from their payrolls, up 20 percent from October. The numbers were pushed higher by Hostess Brands, which announced it will lay off all of its 18,500 employees as it shuts down its operations due to a protracted labor dispute. "The approach of Christmas is not likely to provide any relief from large-scale layoffs. In fact, the end of the year tends to see heavier downsizing activity, as companies make last-minute attempts to meet earnings goals or adjust payrolls based on the budget for the coming year," said CEO John Challenger.

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Speaking of jobs, more than 40 employers are expected to participate in a job fair next Thursday, Dec. 13, at Liberty Station's NTC Promenade. Sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other organizations, "Hiring Our Heroes - San Diego" is an opportunity for veterans and military spouses to meet with companies in the region that are currently hiring. As a special feature, Sgt. Dakota Meyer, the first living Marine in 38 years to receive the nation's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, will be speaking at the event. The job fair runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is free to eligible veterans and spouses. Registration is requested at www.recruitmilitary.com.

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Turns out the decision by many large retailers to open their doors on Thanksgiving evening was a smart move. A report out today shows 30 percent of consumers shopped either in stores or online Thanksgiving day. Interestingly, that was higher than the number of shoppers on the following day, Black Friday, which is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. There's a chance you haven’t seen anything yet. According to Consumer Reports, 51.7 million Americans say they haven't even started their holiday shopping. With that in mind, many retailers are beginning to adjust their hours. Macy's announced today it will open its doors for 48 consecutive hours from 7 a.m. Friday, Dec. 21, through 7 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 23. That, of course, is the last weekend before Christmas and it should be pandemonium.

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Another company is not only moving forward its next dividend payment to shareholders to make sure it is paid in 2012 rather than next year when tax rates could be higher, it is also paying all of its 2013 dividends before the end of this year. Towers Watson, a global company involved with risk and financial management, said it's next dividend payment scheduled for Jan. 15, 2013, will now be paid on or about Dec. 26 of this year. The press release goes on to say, "The company’s board of directors has declared an accelerated dividend for fiscal 2013 in lieu of dividends potentially payable in April 2013, July 2013 and October 2013." This is the latest indication companies have little faith Congress and the administration will be able to successfully navigate away from the fiscal cliff and, as a result, the tax rate on dividends will swell from the current maximum rate of 15 percent to whatever the tax rate will be based on ordinary income.

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By the way, I saw an online survey asking people "Do you think tax rates on capital gains and dividends should stay at a preferred rate?" Overwhelmingly, 71 percent said yes, taxes should stay where they are, and 29 percent seemed to support a tax increase. Of course, the results are no surprise since the survey was on the website for a securities industry association.

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