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George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

He is like the wacky uncle who ruined your Thanksgiving dinner. Senate leader Harry Reid ruined the party on Wall Street yesterday when he came out and said it was time for the "happy talk" regarding the fiscal cliff to end and for Congress to get serious about resolving the pending economic crisis. The financial markets have struggled ever since the elections earlier this month because of uncertainty about how this issue will be handled as the deadline rapidly approaches. About $600 billion in tax cuts are due to expire in 33 days unless the White House and Congress either put a Band-Aid on the situation or actually come up with a long-term fix. After Reid's comments yesterday the markets slipped lower, with the Dow Industrials dropping 90 points, and the selling continues this morning.

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In my most recent Daily Transcript column, I wrote about companies moving up the payment date on dividends scheduled to be paid in January to late December in order to avoid a higher tax bill for shareholders. As of Jan. 1 the tax on dividends goes from a maximum of 15 percent to the tax rate on ordinary income, which could be twice as high. This morning another company, Costco, made a similar announcement. In the case of Costco, it is paying a special $7 per share dividend to shareholders on Dec. 18. "Our strong balance sheet and favorable access to the credit markets allow us to provide shareholders with this dividend, while also preserving financial and operational flexibility to grow our business globally," said CFO Richard Galanti.

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My wife went to Costco yesterday in Carlsbad at 1 p.m. and could not find a parking place. You would think going shopping on a Tuesday afternoon might be a fairly opportune time to hit the store, right? That might also explain why Costco announced this morning that sales in November came in at $8.51 billion, up 9 percent from October.

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San Diego ranks an impressive No. 6 on the list of "America's Favorite Cities" established by Travel + Leisure magazine. San Diego ranked first for athletic and active people, second for people looking for a pet-friendly vacation, and third for family trips. When asked why people like to vacation here they listed weather, cleanliness, public parks and safety as the main attractions.

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Speaking of vacations, a new survey from Mercer, a business consulting firm, finds American workers said they would rather have an extra week of paid time off than a $500 one-time increase in their employer's matching contribution to their 401(k) account. Mercer says it is a clear sign people want "instant gratification" over benefits that potentially deliver value over the long term.

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This could be the best business story of the day, week, month or year: The U.S. Patent Office has rejected an application by Dunkin' Donuts to trademark the term "Best coffee in America." The office said there is no documentation to support the claim. That doesn't mean that DD can't use the term, nor does it prevent any other coffee company from saying the same thing. It just is not a term that can be trademarked. Dunkin' Donuts might have gotten away with an application to trademark the term "America's best-selling coffee," because they do sell more cups of coffee per day than any other retailer. A similar situation popped up a few years ago when Sam Adams applied to trademark "Best beer in America." The application was rejected but they still use the term.

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Just in time for the holidays ... J&D's Foods, which claims, "Everything should taste like bacon," is taking orders for its new Bacon Shaving Cream. It claims to be "the highest quality meat-scented shaving cream on the market today." Which raises the question, are there any others? Among its other products are Baconnaise, bacon-flavored popcorn, and something called "MMMvelopes." The company website says, "After thousands of years and kajillions of horrible tasting envelopes licked, no longer will envelopes taste like the underside of your car. You can enjoy the taste of delicious bacon instead."

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