COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

Stocks snapped back yesterday after a couple days of decline. To be sure, prices have been in a narrow range this week following the big move higher the previous week to open 2013. We seem to have moved back into a period where few investors are willing to sell and buyers are being more selective. It will be interesting to see what happens to make the markets break out one way or the other. Sam Stovall of S&P says the passage of the "fiscal cliff" bill has reduced the risk of another recession from 15 to 20 percent to just 10 to 15 percent in the next 12 months.

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A large investment firm is pouring money into the residential real estate market. And I do mean pouring. The Blackstone Group has recently spent $2.5 billion to purchase as many as 16,000 single-family detached homes from nine major markets across the country. It has been spending about $100 million a week on properties to be warehoused, refurbished and used as rentals. In a Bloomberg interview, Blackstone chairman Stephen Schwarzman said, "Housing is much stronger than people anticipated."

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Speaking of housing, Freddie Mac is reporting mortgage interest rates rose in the past week to the highest level in two months. The average rate of a 30-year, fixed-rate loan rose to 3.40 percent. The rate was a 3.89 percent a year ago.

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Yet another item shows hope for the remodeling industry, hard hit during the recession. According to the National Association of Remodeling, activity in the fourth quarter suggests more households are ready to make their homes more livable. The number of inquiries for remodeling rose 3.9 percent in the period and the value of jobs sold were up 4.3 percent compared to the third quarter. Tom O'Grady of the NAR said, "Clients are feeling more stable in their financial future and their employment situation. Therefore, they are spending more freely on remodeling needs."

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A new report from the National Taxpayer Advocate, an independent government office, finds about 60 percent of taxpayers plan to hire a professional to help them file their tax returns this year and another 30 percent will use commercial software like TurboTax. Businesses and individuals will spend more than 6 billion hours complying with filing requirements -- the equivalent of 3 million people working full-time. And who says the government doesn't help create private sector jobs? In its annual report, the Advocate's office says since 2001 Congress has made nearly 5,000 changes to the tax code, an average of more than one a day, and the number of words in the code has reached nearly 4 million.

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The Labor Department reported this morning there were 3.68 million job openings at the end of November, up slightly from the previous month. Job openings are up 12 percent from the same time a year ago. Still, with about 13.3 million people unemployed, there are 4.1 potential job seekers for each job available.

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It is official: Tiger Woods will be playing in the Farmers Insurance Open later this month at Torrey Pines. Tiger has eight trophies from Torrey Pines on his shelf, including the historic win at the U.S. Open in 2008. The Century Club is thrilled with the news as it will increase attendance by at least 30 percent during the four days of play. That means more money to share with charities around San Diego County with the bulk of the funds going to the Monarch School.

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