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Year of the tiger? No, year of the hamster.

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Mark Lennihan/AP/File

(Read caption) The Zhu Zhu Pet hamster was so hot this past Christmas that stores ran out of them. Toy experts say the robo-hamsters could sell even better this year.

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[Editor's note: This story was changed to reflect the correct Feb 14 start date for Chinese new Year.]

The Asian calendar says that we enter the year of the tiger on Sunday. But it doesn't feel like the year of the tiger.

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Except for a few Chinese entrepreneurs and some Wall Street hotshots, is anyone feeling particularly tiger-like? Are you pouncing on new business deals? Buying a flashy sports car?

Recommended: Zhu Zhu Pets safe, US government says

Even that big cat of a golfing powerhouse has gone into retreat (for now).

Instead, 2010 feels much more like the year of the hamster.

Consumers in much of the world are burrowing down, cutting up credit cards and trimming back spending. Governments in Greece and elsewhere face the prospect of having to do the same. For leaders, that's the political equivalent of a squeak, not a roar.

No wonder that the hamster is popping up as a cultural icon:

– The most popular toy in the United States this past Christmas season was the Zhu Zhu pet hamster. In terms of sales, the popular robo-pets are likely to have long tails. Toy experts say that it's often the year after their Christmas-time success that the "hot toy" has its best total sales.

– The world's most innovative hotel room, which generated a ton of publicity last fall, is a hamster hotel in Nantes, France.

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– At a time when some automakers are reeling, Kia Motors this week reported a 63 percent increase in sales in January over the same period a year ago, mostly on the strength of sales to China. Its ads all feature hamsters.

By all means, celebrate the year of the tiger. But root for the hamster.