COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

Things calmed down a bit yesterday. The financial markets traded in a narrow range throughout the day, as there was little in the way of economic news to move stocks and corporate earnings reports were mixed. The Dow Industrials did manage to eke out a gain of 7 points, making it three advancing sessions out of the last four. Sam Stovall of S&P says, "Dow 14,000 has proven a challenging level to eclipse as renewed concerns over European sovereign debt added to investor nervousness following a strong multi-month rise in U.S. equity markets. But like a rusty door, these levels typically require several attempts before finally swinging open." He said the S&P is sticking with its 12-month target of 1,550 for the S&P 500 from the current level of 1,512.

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The number of people filing for unemployment benefits fell by 5,000 in the past week to 366,000. The Department of Labor report has been stuck in that range for some time and will need to move lower in order to provide evidence of an improving economy that is creating new jobs.

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People like their employer-sponsored retirement plan like 401(k)s, but what they really like is the ability to deduct their contributions from their annual taxable income. And, according to a survey from the Investment Company Institute, they want Congress to leave it alone. The survey found 85 percent of households urged Congress to not change the tax-deferred status of these accounts and other savings programs like IRAs. About half of the people surveyed said they might not participate in such defined contribution plans if the tax benefits were eliminated.

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OpenTable, the online restaurant reservation service, has put out its list of the 25 most romantic cities in the United States just in time for Valentine's Day. The cities are ranked on several factors including the percentage of people who rank a restaurant as romantic in their reviews, the percentage of tables seated for two and the percentage of people who dined out last year on Valentine's Day. Turns out San Antonio is at the top of the list followed by Austin, Texas, and Providence, R.I. La Jolla comes in number four on the list. I guess the folks at OpenTable don't realize La Jolla is part of San Diego because San Diego comes in at number 16. Maybe if you added the two together we might be at the top.

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A guy in Germany yesterday went to the iTunes store and purchased a song called "Monkey Drums." Little did he know his purchase marked 25 billion music downloads since the store opened in 2003. For the honor the guy got a gift certificate worth about $13,500, which should keep him busy buying music for quite some time.

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Speaking of purchases, I'm always fascinated by the scale of activity in the retail sector. For instance, in its quarterly earnings report released yesterday, Visa said during the last three months of 2012 it processed 14.2 billion transactions with payments totaling more than $1 trillion.

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Anyone who navigates the freeways around San Diego County each morning knows that traffic jams can often make them late for work. According to Career Builder, traffic is the number one excuse people use when they arrive late at their job. But, the online career site also found some rather creative reasons people say kept them from showing up on time. For instance, one employee said his angry wife had frozen his truck keys in a glass of water in the freezer. Another person said his car was attacked by a bear and he had pictures to prove it. And another person said he had to deliver a stranger's baby on the side of the highway.

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One of the premier golf events of the year gets started today at Pebble Beach. The AT&T National Pro-Am features not only some of the best professional golfers in the world but also a field of amateur players willing to fork over $10,000 to play with the pros. Unlike most tournaments where the pro-am is played on Wednesday, the average Joe plays for three days alongside the pros in this event. Phil Mickelson is the defending champion at Pebble Beach and is coming off his impressive win last week in Scottsdale, Ariz. By the way, the guys on the Golf Channel were commenting this will be the first appearance on the U.S. tour in 2013 for Lee Westwood, the greatest player never to win a golf tournament of merit. And, believe it or not, they think this is the year Westwood wins a big one. Of course, he hasn't done anything in the early tournaments in Europe. I'm sure he's a great guy, but isn't it about time to admit he just doesn't have the right stuff?

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