COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

Yesterday it looked for a while as though investors were about ready to take the stock market over the cliff in utter frustration because Congress and the Obama administration refuse to set egos aside and address the financial problems facing the nation. At one point in Thursday trading the Dow Industrials were down more than 150 points and looked to be heading lower. But word that the parties were going to meet today at the White House brought the markets back from the brink. The Dow finished with a loss of just 18 points. However, early trading today -- the next-to-last trading session of 2012 -- finds stock prices falling sharply again.

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The Board of Equalization is suggesting Californians get out and finish all of their holiday shopping this weekend. Thanks to Proposition 30 approved by the state's voters in November, the sales tax will be going up a quarter of 1 percent on Jan. 1, 2013, to 7.50 percent. "Higher sales tax will mean lower purchasing power for California consumers after the New Year," said Michelle Steel, vice chair of the Board. She points out the increased tax will "affect the lowest income earners in the state who spend a higher proportion of their income on taxable goods."

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The National Association of Realtors reported this morning that pending home sales -- homes in the escrow process -- rose in November for the third straight month and reached the highest level in more than two years. "Even with market frictions related to the mortgage process, home contract activity continues to improve. Home sales are recovering now based solely on fundamental demand and favorable affordability conditions," said NAR economist Lawrence Yun. In the West, pending sales rose 4.2 percent compared to the national increase of 1.7 percent. However, compared to a year ago, pending sales in the West are down 3.2 percent, "with inventory constraints limiting sales."

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The annual hiring forecast from CareerBuilder finds there will be more jobs available in 2013, but U.S. employers will continue to play it safe. The nationwide survey found 60 percent of companies report they are in a better financial position now than last year but only 26 percent say they plan to add full-time, permanent employees in the new year. "We don't expect 2013 to bring any big surprises in regard to employment, rather it will continue on a path of stability and gradual growth, barring any significant economic disruptions," said CEO Matt Ferguson.

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There will be plenty of people to hire in the coming year. The Census Bureau said this morning the U.S. population on Jan. 1, 2013 will be 315,091,138 people, up 0.73 percent from a year ago.

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People seem a bit surprised by the announcement yesterday that Blackstone Group was proceeding with plans to spin off its SeaWorld Entertainment operations, including the theme park here in San Diego. The idea was floated several months ago and will now proceed with an IPO sometime in early 2013. Blackstone paid $2.7 billion for the package of 11 parks including Busch Gardens. Blackstone never makes long-term investments, rather it seeks out value with the intent to sell the asset as soon as possible and profitable.

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I warned UCLA not to wear light blue jerseys last night in the Holiday Bowl game against Baylor. Light blue has not been a winning color at Qualcomm Stadium this year and Baylor put a world of hurt on the Bruins, winning 49-26. I was doing some work last night during the game and watched the scoreboard change like a pinball machine in the first quarter as Baylor jumped out to a 21-0 lead. I'm thinking today's Russell Athletics Bowl in Orlando could be the best bowl game today as Rutgers takes on Virginia Tech.

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