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George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

Put the wraps on January. It was, by just about every measure, a great month for stock investors. The Dow Industrials were up 756 points - 5.1 percent - the best January since 1994. We start February with the blue chip index just 2.15 percent away from an all-time high. There is one interesting lesson to take away from the Dow performance last month. The best performing stock about the 30 companies in the index was Hewlett-Packard, up 15.9 percent. It is interesting to remember HP was the worst performing stock in the Dow for all of 2012. As Warren Buffett would say, sometimes you get a chance to buy a company at significantly discounted prices at a time when no one else wants to own it.

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Stocks are running fast in early trading on this first day of February with the Dow up 130 points at the get go. The index topped 14K this morning for the first time since October 2007. The increase follows the release of the January employment reports showing U.S. payrolls rose by 157,000 and the unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 7.9 percent. What has the markets moving higher is the revised numbers for November and December. The DOL originally said November payrolls rose by 161,000 but revised the number to 247,000, the highest reading in 10 months. The December payroll number was revised to 196,000 from 155,000. As a result, the monthly average increase in payrolls for all of 2012 was 181,000, well above the original increase of 153,000.

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Also helping the market today is the latest reading on consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan. The index rose in the second half of January as households relaxed after early concerns about the increase in payroll taxes that went into effect at the start of the year. This report is in complete contrast with the consumer confidence report earlier this week from the always grumpy Conference Board.

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Also helping the markets today are reports rolling in from the car companies about January sales. General Motors reported sales were up 16 percent for the month and Ford said retail sales were up 24 percent. "Our investment in fuel-efficient new vehicles - including EcoBoost engines and hybrid technology - continues to pay off," said Ford's VP Ken Czubay.

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Once again the folks at MarketWatch.com have found a way to turn good news into bad. A report from CoreLogic showed U.S. foreclosures fell 21 percent in December from the same period a year ago. Good news, right? Well, the report on the website was quick to note foreclosures "remain far higher than pre-bubble levels." No kidding, Sherlock. Of course, pre-bubble foreclosure levels were low, that's how bubbles are created. It is like saying the stock market has rallied 100 percent but is still below its all-time high. Shame, shame, shame.

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Kudos to the Golf Channel. The network was scheduled to begin its coverage yesterday of the Phoenix Open - strangely being played in Scottsdale - at 1:00 Pacific time, but started an hour earlier to provide coverage of the amazing round being put together by Phil Mickelson. Lefty was tearing up the course and appeared to be on the way to joining a very small group of professional golfers who have carded a round of 59. In fact, had Mickelson birdied the last two holes he would have put up a 58, something that has never been done in a professional tournament. However, he parred 17 but lined up a birdie putt on 18 that literally went in and back out of the hole. Still, his 60 gives him a four stroke lead going into today's second round. By the way, the fans love Phil. Even though his play of late has been less than spectacular, the crowd was really with him and it was good to see that great smile again.

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Oh, by the way, the Super Bowl is this Sunday. All I can say is, go Niners!

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