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George Chamberlin's Money in the Morning

Two of the three speakers at yesterday's real estate conference at the University of San Diego spent most of their time talking about where the economy and housing markets have been over the last couple of years but did little in the way of forecasting where things are headed. That duty, interestingly, fell to professor Alan Gin. And, even more interesting, he was actually optimistic about things heading into 2010. Well, maybe the word "optimistic" is a bit too strong, but as least he was willing to have an opinion. Gin said he expects San Diego will experience positive job growth next year after the economy bottoms out in the first half of the year. He, unlike the other speakers, believes that there will be another federal stimulus program in 2010. But, instead of targeting consumers or banks, it will support state and local governments.

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One of the people in the audience actually asked Gin, "What will be the economic impact of SAIC pulling out of San Diego?" There was almost an audible gasp in the room when the question was asked and Gin quickly explained that SAIC is only moving its headquarters back to McClean, Va., and will maintain its operational presence here. In other words, there will be little or no impact. I wonder how many other people also think SAIC has packed up and left.

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The mood was much more optimistic at the 12th annual Torch Awards lunch sponsored by the Better Business Bureau to recognize marketplace ethics. The awards are handed out to companies in different categories based on the number of employees. The winners included ALM Window & Door, Dream Design Builders, Jackson Design and Remodeling, Action Air Conditioning, Toyota of El Cajon, Barney & Barney, San Diego County Credit Union, and the San Diego Imperial Council of Girl Scouts. The speaker at the event was Holly Petraeus, wife of Gen. David Petraeus. She has developed a financial education outreach program at the BBB to help members of the military and their families avoid the abuses that have affected preparedness in the past.

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Absent from the BBB awards program yesterday was Sheryl Bilbrey, the group's CEO. Turns out she suffered some serious back injuries over the weekend when she fell off a horse. Doctor's orders told her to stay away. Mary Ball of Cox Communications and current chair of the BBB board of directors filled in for Sheryl and did a great job. By the way, I'm honored to have served as the emcee for this wonderful event for all 12 years it has been around.

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Here's something for the doom and gloomers to chew on: The Deloitte Consumer Spending Index rose in November to its highest level since 2004, the result of declining unemployment claims and historically low tax levels. The index attempts to track consumer cash flow as an indicator of future consumer spending. "Real earnings remain on the rise due to falling prices while the housing market continues to show signs of stabilizing. These factors may give retailers and suppliers reason for optimism going forward," said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist at Deloitte.

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The headline on an AP story yesterday read, "McDonald's sales take hit from joblessness." That caught my attention because I had read the press release from McDonald's about sales in November and did not remember any mention about unemployment affecting sales. Yet, the story went on to say, "high unemployment ate into sales." Isn't that really clever? As the story went on, it became clear that the analysis was simply the opinion of the writer and not based on any statement by the company. Who knows, maybe sales are always slower around Thanksgiving. Later in the story the writer actually quoted a research analyst saying, "McDonald's did not provide much in the way of explanation." Just the facts, please.

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