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George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

In what has to be the clearest sign of how whacky things have gotten out there, consider the yield on the four-week Treasury bills that were auctioned yesterday: zero, nada, nothing. Nervous investors put $30 billion into the short-term bills, a sign that people are more concerned with the return of their money rather than the return on their money. An analyst at Morgan Stanley called the situation "absurd."

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The same fears were repeatedly expressed at the real estate conference sponsored by the USD Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate. Speaker after speaker presented a bleak picture for the markets in 2009. There was one exception, however. LaVaughn Henry of the PMI Group ended his presentation by saying that, "More millionaires will be created in the next five years than any other time."

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A surprising statement this morning from the World Bank. In its new report called "Global Economic Prospects 2009," it poured cold water over all the beliefs that commodity prices will soon boom again. "We find that speculation about looming shortages of food and energy are not well-founded, and that the world won't run out of key commodities given the right policies," said the author Andrew Burns. The forecast is for oil prices to average $75 a barrel in 2009.

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Even lower prices for oil and gasoline are anticipated by the Department of Energy. In its most recent outlook report, it anticipates that oil will average around $51 a barrel in the new year and prices at the pump -- for all grades -- will be slightly over $2 a gallon.

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Despite the significantly lower prices at the pump, Americans continue to whine. The Discover U.S. Spending Monitor finds that a record 62 percent of people surveyed rated their personal finances as fair or poor in November and 56 percent said things are getting worse. Yet, despite that negativity, 51 percent say they have money left over after paying their monthly bills. It was the eighth consecutive month that 50 percent or more of consumers reported having more discretionary money left at the end of each month.

— George Chamberlin, Executive Editor

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