Pity the poor bears. It is interesting to watch all the naysayers run for cover -- and come up with lame explanations -- following the big rally over the past two trading sessions on Wall Street. Yesterday, the Dow Industrials gained 308 points, the biggest first-day trading session for the start of a new year in market history. Add to that the 166 points added on Monday, the last day of 2012, and all of a sudden the index is once again just 5 percent away from its all-time high set back in October 2007.
Selling today has been very limited -- the Dow is down just a few points in early trading -- following a couple of decent employment reports. Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported this morning announced layoffs by U.S. companies totaled 523,362 in 2012, the lowest number since 1997. And, ADP reported private-sector payrolls rose by 215,000 in December, above expectations. Middle sized companies -- those with 50-499 employees -- created the most jobs, 102,000. The official government report on December employment will be released tomorrow morning.
***** Retailers are reporting today on December sales and, depending on your perspective, the numbers are either pretty good or pretty bad. The headline of Marketwatch.com sums up its perspective: "Retailers start new year on jittery note." First of all, the numbers are for December, not January, so the proper headline should have been "Retailers end year on jittery note." However, not all the reports were jittery, especially at stores where people were actively shopping during the holidays. Stores like Costco, Macy's, Nordstrom and TJ Maxx reported increased sales in December while the various dollar stores and drug stores saw declines.
***** Speaking of Macy's, the company announced it will be closing eight under-performing stores this year, none in San Diego County. However, one of the oldest and most visible stores in Southern California will close. The Macy's in Pasadena, opened in 1980 and situated along Colorado Boulevard, will be closed later this year.
***** Are you ready for a PB and Spam sandwich? Hormel Foods, the maker of packaged products like the iconic Spam, announced this morning it is buying Skippy peanut butter for $700 million from Unilever. While the product, which first hit stores in 1932 and is the top-selling PB in China, does not fit the mold of Hormel's line of meat items, it does serve a purpose. CEO Jeffrey Ettinger said, "It allows us to grow our branded presence in the center of the store with a non-meat protein product and it reinforces our balanced portfolio."
***** By the way, Hormel announced it is increasing its annual dividend from 60 cents a share to 68 cents in 2013. It represents 47 years in a row the food company has raised its payout to shareholders.
***** People who like to file their income taxes early -- the ones due a refund -- may have to wait a little while. As a result of the last-minute budget negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff," it will take some extra time to modify the tax forms and materials needed to get refunds prepared for tax year 2012. The IRS will have more details later this month.
***** Singer Patti Page's passing on New Year's Day will be mourned by many music fans across the country, including a popular country singer who was impacted early in his career by her. A few years ago Vince Gill was performing at the California Center of the Arts and commented that his mother always wanted him to include a song on his albums with a waltz tempo. He grew up listening to Patti Page songs, he said, most often the "Tennessee Waltz." Patti was in the audience that night and joined him on the stage to sing that song. Vince got pretty choked up and let her carry the load. I was fortunate to be there and it was a great moment.