COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

We're putting the wraps on January 2013 today and it will go into the books as a good one for investors. The Dow Industrials are up more than 6 percent this month, making it the best start to a new year since 1989. It ends the month less than 2 percent away from the all-time high set in October 2007. As usually happens, the stock market is going up while many indicators might suggest the economy is in trouble. Little progress is being made in Washington to resolve budget disputes, consumer confidence is flagging, the job market is still a long way from improving, and global tensions continue to escalate. In other words, it’s a perfect time to be buying stocks.

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There is plenty of economic news out this morning. The parade of jobs reports leading up to tomorrow's official government release of January employment data includes news that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits rose by 38,000 in the past week to 368,000. The increase, which surprised most "experts," comes following two weeks of sharp declines in initial claims. Also out today is the report from Challenger, Gray and Christmas showing announced layoffs in January rose from the previous month to 40,430, but are 24 percent lower than January last year. "The ongoing shift toward online commerce was also behind the final nail being placed in the coffin of video rental chain Blockbuster, which announced the closure of all remaining stores, impacting about 3,000 workers," said John Challenger. However, he also pointed out planned layoff announcements this month will likely be more than offset by planned hiring.

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The Fed concluded its two-day meeting yesterday and, to the surprise of no one, said it will continue its aggressive program of purchasing mortgage backed securities to keep interest rates near zero, saying, "Growth in economic activity paused in recent months, in large part because of weather-related disruptions and other transitory factors." The Fed will have no problem with its "quantitative easing" posture, especially after yesterday's report showing the GDP declined in the fourth quarter. Also, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke must be pleased with another report showing the Labor Department's employment cost index rose by just 0.5 percent in the past quarter, well below the levels that would suggest inflationary pressures. By the way, Bernanke's current term as chair of the Fed ends exactly one year from today.

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Walk down most streets and ask people if they have ever heard of a company called Research in Motion or, better yet, what the company does and you would likely get a bunch of blank stares. However, ask them if they've ever heard of BlackBerry and they would say "sure, the mobile phone company." So, after 15 years, the Canadian company has decided to change its name from Research in Motion to BlackBerry. It comes at the same time it is introducing two new smartphones that analysts suggest will be make-or-break for the company. I'll be anxious to see what our tech correspondent, Phil Baker, has to say about the new phones.

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Remember at the end of last year when a lot of companies were paying extra dividends and pulling forward regular distributions into 2012 because of the uncertainty of the "fiscal cliff" and the possibility that dividends would once again be taxed as ordinary income? Well, it turns out the move significantly pushed up incomes during December. The government reported today that personal income rose last month by 2.6 percent, the biggest increase since May 2008. Income from dividends rose by 34.8 percent. Of course, most experts were unaware of this dividend bonanza and instead were focused on the increase in payroll taxes. As a result, the experts had predicted a drop in personal income. And they actually pay these people.

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Earlier this week the North County Trade Tech High School in Vista held a ceremony to acknowledge the support for the school's Green Building Tech Academy from H.G. Fenton, the local commercial and industrial real estate company. Not only has Fenton provided financial support for the school, it has also provided internships and job opportunities to students at the school. Two of those students spoke at the event, including 17-year-old Fernando Agraz, who talked about how his life has changed since becoming part of the Fenton family. He said as a high school student he always looked forward to the weekend, but added, "You never realized how important Friday was until you start working." Along with fellow student, Shaun Fejerang, it made everyone involved with Trade Tech and the New Haven program realize how lives can be changed simply by caring.

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