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George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

Here's a bit of a shocker: The Consumer Electronics Association says that its measure of consumer confidence has climbed to its highest level in more than a year. The CEA-CNET Index of Consumer Expectations has risen this month following three consecutive months of declines. "With recent increases in the stock market and some signs of a firming in the real estate market, consumers are beginning to indicate they'll be better off financially over the next year," said economist Shawn DuBravac.

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Speaking of the stock market, that was quite a rally yesterday. The Dow industrials, Nasdaq and S&P 500 all gained about 7 percent on the session, an impressive gain to be sure. Most of the credit is going to the new plan announced from the Treasury Department that will help banks get rid of troubled assets. The National Association of Realtors said that existing home sales rose by 5.1 percent in February. There was also evidence that prices were stabilizing and, in some areas, starting to go up.

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It looks like more taxpayers are going the do-it-yourself route this year. H&R Block is reporting that the number of returns prepared at their retail outlets are down 6.2 percent compared to last tax season at this time. However, the number of digital returns prepared so far has increased by 5.1 percent. The company blames this change "primarily driven by increased price sensitivity of clients due to current economic conditions." It does say, however, that the revenue from returns that are being prepared by its professional staff are up 7.9 percent because of the higher complexity of returns that have been prepared.

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Today is the 21st annual American Diabetes Alert Day. A new survey finds most people (52 percent) say that the worst thing that could happen to them is developing a chronic illness, while only 19 percent dread amassing considerable financial debt, and 11 percent say losing their job would be the worst possible situation. The suggestion, of course, is that few are doing anything to curb their risk for diabetes. Part of the ongoing campaign by the American Diabetes Association is to combat childhood obesity. To that end, UnitedHealth is distribution a total of $10,000 to 18 California organizations that already have developed programs in their communities. Here in San Diego County, grants will be going to the Health Adventures Foundation in La Mesa, the Julian Unified School District, the After-School All-Stars in San Diego and the UCSD Town and Country Learning Center.

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What is the Easter version of Bah Humbug? Whatever it is, a new report this morning says that consumer spending this year is likely to drop by 8 percent from 2008. Spending will still reach $13.6 billion on Easter clothing, candy, flowers, decorations and greeting cards according to ISISWorld. It identifies candy as being hardest hit with sales to reach just $1.77 billion, down 10.2 percent from last year. The report points out that Easter falls this year on April 12 compared to March 23 last year and the extra 20 days, "will cushion some of the inevitable blow on spending." A separate survey by the National Retail Federation says that the average consumer will spend $116.59 this year compared to $135.03 in 2008.

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