COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

Looks like the fear of deep cuts in federal government spending -- sequestration -- has a few investors on edge. Stocks dropped for the second day in a row on Thursday, bringing the mini-selloff to 150 points, barely 1 percent. There were few other excuses to make investors move away from stocks as corporate earnings, rising home prices and a positive reading on the index of leading economic indicators all supported the "slow but steady" description of the current fiscal condition.

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Stocks have opened higher this morning, getting a boost from a stock that lately has been an anchor. Shares of Hewlett-Packard are up about 7 percent after reporting solid sales and revenue numbers for the past quarter. Two years ago the stock was trading near $50 a share and has gone into a steady dive that bottomed last month around $16.

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The numbers keep rolling out, showing an impressive recovery in residential real estate sales and prices. The Zillow Home Value Index released today shows home values in January rose for the 15th consecutive month -- up 0.7 percent -- and nationwide are up 6.2 percent compared to the same month a year ago. In San Diego, Zillow says prices were up 1.8 percent compared to December and a stunning 12.9 percent year-over-year. "The winter months are typically when things cool off in the housing market, but high demand and continued tight inventory in many markets have helped keep things at a boil through the early part of 2013," said Zillow economist Stan Humphries. I'm still amazed how many people say this is just a temporary rally in what they perceive to be a continuing bear market for housing.

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Staying with real estate, the Mortgage Bankers Association said yesterday the mortgage delinquency and foreclosure rates finished the fourth quarter of last year down sharply. Loans that were delinquent 30 days or more fell to just 7.09 percent and the percentage of loans in the foreclosure process at the end of the fourth quarter was 3.74 percent, the lowest level since 4Q in 2008. "We are seeing large improvements in mortgage performance nationally and in almost every state," said MBA economist Jay Brinkman.

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Lego has become the world's number two toy company thanks to a 25 percent surge in sales in 2012. The company moved past Hasbro and is now second only to Mattel. What makes this so impressive is the fact that Lego is pretty much a one-trick pony, simply making plastic building blocks. The big increase in sales was powered by its "Star Wars" products as well as Lego Friends, a new set of blocks targeted toward young girls.

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Two more blue chip companies announced dividend increases yesterday. Texas Instruments upped its payout to shareholders by 33 percent to 28 cents a quarter. It marked the 10th year in a row the semiconductor company has raised its dividend. Also, consumer products company Kimberly-Clark increased its dividend by 9.5 percent to an annualized rate of 81 cents. That makes it 41 years in a row the payout his gone up.

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The folks at NBC Sports have to be really ticked that Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy got bumped out of the Accenture Match Play tournament yesterday in Tucson. Tiger lost to Charles Howell III -- who? -- while Rory lost to Shane Lowry, another guy from Ireland most people have never heard of. My guy, Louis Oosthuizen won his match and perhaps the toughest guy in his bracket, Keegan Bradley, lost his first round match. I won't go into any detail about Lee Westwood's embarrassing loss, but he literally gave it away. The best exit of the day went to American Zach Johnson, who hit a shot out of bounds on the 17th hole in his match against Jason Day. Rather than finish the hole, which he had no chance of winning, Johnson went over and shook hands with Day and walked over to a limo that was standing by to whisk him away.

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Two words about Sunday's Daytona 500: Jeff Gordon.

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