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George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

Well, what do you know? Stock prices don't go up forever. With great shock, the business media seemed perplexed yesterday when the Dow Industrials fell 108 points after the Fed released the minutes from its most recent meeting showing concern by several members about the aggressive bond buying program and asking if the time has come to take the foot off the financial accelerator. To be sure, the Dow has met resistance at the 14K level and it may take several more efforts to move above that level. But, when it does, the move could and should be significantly higher.

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Investors are digesting a slew of economic reports this morning. The Labor Department reported initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 20,000 in the past week to 362,000. And, another government report showed the cost of living was unchanged January. This report will anger people who are screaming about higher prices at the gas pump. The report says declines in food and energy prices offset increases in the cost of housing, air fares and medical care. Most of the increase in gas prices has occurred in February, so when the report on the consumer price index for February is released in a month it should show a sizeable increase.

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An expected slowdown in home sales did not occur in January. The National Association of Realtors said existing home sales rose 0.4 percent to an annualized rate of 4.92 million units. "Buyer traffic is 40 percent above a year ago, so there is plenty of demand but insufficient inventory to improve sales more strongly. We've transitioned into a seller's market in much of the country," said NAR economist Lawrence Yun. Total inventory fell to 1.74 million units at the end of January, representing a 4.2-month supply of housing, the lowest level since April 2005. Homes sales here in the West declined by 5.7 percent in January.

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Two elite blue chip companies announced dividend increases this morning. Wal-Mart said it is increasing the payout to shareholders by 18 percent to an annualize rate of $1.88, "one of the largest increases in our history," according to CEO Mike Duke. Wal-Mart has increased its dividend for 39 consecutive years. Also, Coca-Cola upped its dividend to 28 cents a quarter, an increase of 10 percent. A press release said the increase reflects "confidence in the company's long-term cash flow." Coke has raised its dividend for 51 consecutive years.

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Much to the disappointment of travel agents everywhere, a growing number of people are booking their travel online. In fact, a report from comScore.com showed travel e-commerce in 2012 topped $102 billion, the first time the dollar volume for airline tickets, hotels, car rentals and other travel topped $100 billion. "Travel is a leading online commerce category, and despite being a pioneer in the sector 15 years ago it is still growing at nearly double-digit rates and remains very competitive," said John Mangano of comScore.com.

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I don't use the term "classy" very often when talking about people on Wall Street, but one guy I have long admired passed away this week. Many people got to know Marty Zweig when the soft-spoken investor appeared regularly with Louis Rukeyser on "Wall Street Week." He ran several successful mutual funds, wrote a popular newsletter, and was among the first to warn of the pending crash of 1987. Zweig's appetite for investing was sparked when his uncle gave him six shares of General Motors stock when he turned 13. He will be missed.

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When I heard play at the Accenture Match Play Championship golf event near Tucson, Ariz. had been postponed because of snow I thought it was just a bunch of pampered athletes who just didn't want to get cold and wet. After all, it isn't really an official PGA event. But, when I saw the picture of the golf course and the deep drifts of snow it was pretty clear play was impossible. Several matches were under way and will be completed today. Most of the best players in the world are participating in the match play, including Tiger, Rory and Lee. I've changed my pick to win the thing after looking a bit closer at the brackets. I'm going with Louis Oosthuizen. He has been playing very well in early events this year and is in a pretty easy grouping with only Keegan Bradley blocking his way.

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An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday ranked major league baseball teams on how they improved their rosters during the off season. When it came to the San Diego Padres, the article said, "At best, the Padres can be roughly a .500 team. At worst, well, the weather in San Diego is still gorgeous."

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