COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

Closer and closer. The stock market continues to move toward an all-time high, with the Dow Industrials gaining 47 points on Tuesday and now just 145 points away from breaking the old high set on Oct. 9, 2007. One good day could take the blue chip index up slightly more than the 1 percent needed to set the record. It is so interesting to watch this happen despite the pending arrival of sequestration on March 1, concerns about the national debt, rising taxes and many other glaring concerns. Stocks are the only game in town right now despite heated warnings from the business media and a chorus of investment analysts who have completely missed the rally.

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Retail sales were able to eke out a gain of 0.1 percent in January despite the increase in the payroll withholding taxes that went into effect at the start of the year. A government report released today said online sales were higher in the month, evidence of the harsh winter weather covering much of the country. Once again, experts had been predicting sales would decline because that's what other experts were saying. Another report out this morning from the National Retail Federation says retail sales were up 0.3 percent in January, up 5.4 percent compared to the same month a year ago. "With the return of healthy housing prices, stronger employment statistics combined with historic highs on Wall Street, consumers seem a bit more confident these days," said NRF economist Jack Kleinhenz.

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A new survey from Northern Trust finds high net worth American households -- those with more than $5 million in investable assets -- believe the country is worse off now than it was in 2007. The main reasons for the negativity: rising deficits, ballooning national debt and stubborn unemployment. Interestingly, only 25 percent say they personally are in a worse financial position now than they were five years ago. In other words, they feel negative about the economy not because of any direct evidence but rather because they have been told things are really, really bad. However, wealthy business owners have a more optimistic outlook with 80 percent saying they plan to increase payrolls or hold them steady over the next 18 to 24 months.

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Amazon.com has bumped Apple out of the top spot on the new list of America's most reputable companies. The ranking, compiled by Harris Poll, is based on social responsibility, emotional appeal, financial performance, products and services, vision and leadership, and workplace environment. The report found nine out of 10 people who used Amazon.com said they would recommend it to friends and family. Apple, which held the top spot last year, slipped to number two, followed by Disney, Google and Johnson & Johnson.

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Have you planned your vacation for this year? Well, American Express says 50 percent of Americans have already got a trip on the books and, for those heading abroad, the most popular destination is Brazil, followed by New Zealand, Morocco, Scotland and Canada. Interestingly, Seattle is the most popular destination for those staying closer to home, according to American Express travel agents. I was just up in Seattle over the weekend to visit with a couple of grandkids and, while it is an interesting city, it is just a bit weird for my tastes. Also on the list of U.S. cities people plan to visit are Santa Fe, N.M.; Nashville, Tenn.; Denver, Colo.; and Palm Springs, Calif.

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Burger King is joining the coffee wars. The second largest U.S. hamburger chain said it is now serving a new custom blended coffee from Seattle’s Best, a company owned by Starbucks. Starting next month BK will introduce a "cafe-quality latte that is rich in flavor." To be sure, breakfast has become big business at the fast-food restaurants, especially McDonald's. It makes you wonder why it took so long for Burger King to get into the game.

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