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George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

Today's economic news is pretty much right on target. Consumers continue to spend at a fast pace as retail sales in November rose by 0.8 percent, the fifth month in a row that sales have increased. Also, higher energy prices pushed up the producer price index last month by 0.8 percent. Tomorrow we'll get the latest report on the consumer price index, which measures the cost of living -- which impacts our pocketbooks. It probably will also be higher due to increased prices at the pump.

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By the way, the retail sales numbers are especially impressive when you factor in a report out this morning from American Express. It finds 84 percent of people surveyed still have not wrapped up their holiday shopping. That means the malls will be busy in the remaining days until Christmas. The survey also found shoppers have longer lists than last year and are buying more expensive items.

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We also will be getting the latest reading on the economy this morning from the Federal Reserve. The Bernanke Bunch will issue a printed statement at 11:15 a.m. our time and it is expected there will be little change in monetary policy. Remember the Fed on Nov. 3 announced it would use as much as $600 billion to purchase long-term Treasury securities to keep interest rates from going up. How is that working out, you ask. Well, in reality the Fed action has done nothing but push up interest rates to the highest levels in six month. Hopefully they'll leave everything alone and just go away until 2011.

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A less than optimistic comment on the housing market in the New Year comes from Weyerhaeuser, one of world's largest forest products company. "We do not anticipate significant improvement in the housing market in 2011. While there is significant near term uncertainty, the longer-term outlook remains positive as we expect improved macroeconomic conditions and housing starts to return to trend levels," said CEO Dan Fulton.

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Speaking of real estate, Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the California Association of Realtors, will be among the panelists at today's Eleventh Annual Residential Real Estate Conference sponsored by the USD Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate. She will be joined by a couple of USD professors, Alan Gin and Ryan Ratcliff.

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AOL this morning released the winners of its 2010 City's Best program that asked people to vote for their favorite food, entertainment and lifestyle options in 25 cities including San Diego. There are some interesting -- and controversial -- winners. For instance, in the category of best fish tacos the winner was Brigantine Seafood Restaurant. Who knew? Best burger went to Johnny B's Burgers and Brew. As far as Italian food is concerned the best restaurant was Filippi's and the best pizza was Graziano's. The award for best thrift and vintage shop went to 2 Dollar Thrill. And, in perhaps the most unusual category, the San Diego Zoo was selected as the best place in San Diego to break up a relationship.

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A new survey from the Major League Baseball Players Association finds the average salary of big league players has topped $3 million a year for the first time in 2010. By position, first basemen had the highest average salary at $9.5 million, which might explain why Adrian Gonzalez is no longer a Padre. Relief pitchers have to get by on only $2.1 million a year, making them the lowest paid players.

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