Wednesday PM September 30th, 2009

Layoffs easing, according to latest metro unemployment figures…Businesses consider flu options…More than half of homeowners with modified loans are behind on payments again…

The unemployment rate fell in about 60 per cent of metropolitan areas in August from the previous month, as layoffs eased nationwide. An Associated Press analysis of Labor Department data found that the jobless rate dropped in 232 of 380 metro areas. That’s an improvement from July, when metro areas were split between those with rising and falling joblessness. It’s much better than in June, when the unemployment rate rose in about 90 per cent of metro areas. But in many cases the jobless rate declines in August were due to large numbers of people dropping out of the labor force. Economists say that usually indicates unemployed workers are becoming discouraged and giving up on their job searches.

Employers cut back on their job cutting last month, according to ADP, as reported by the Houston Business Journal, with private payrolls recording 254,000 jobs in September. Small businesses shed 100,000 jobs, but that’s 22,000 fewer than in August.

The economy sank at a pace of just 0.7 per cent in the spring, a better-than-expected performance that provided strong evidence the recession was ending. The small dip in gross domestic product for the April-June quarter follows the 6.4 per cent annualized drop logged in the first three months of this year, the worst downhill slide in nearly three decades. The new reading on second-quarter GDP shows the economy shrinking less than the one per cent pace previously estimated. It also was better than the annualized 1.1 per cent drop that economists were predicting. The final revision of second-quarter GDP comes on the last day of the third quarter, in which many analysts predict the economy started growing again at a pace of about three per cent.

A new survey has found that when it comes to preparing for a swine flu outbreak, the top concern for most U.S. business leaders is getting enough vaccine for their employees. The Business Roundtable survey also says about one-third of business leaders want more up-to-date information from the government about the flu’s severity. A spokesman for the trade group says businesses will have to see how severe the flu is before deciding if they need to increase the sick time available for employees. About 90 per cent of U.S. businesses surveyed had a plan in place to handle the flu. Those plans were updated after the swine flu appeared in April.

The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spoke at a meeting in Houston sponsored by the public relations firm Edelman. Dr. Julie Gerberding spoke about corporate social responsibility for leaders of health care entities.


“The private sector businesses have some responsibility for not only the health and wellness of their employees, but also the health and sustainability of the communities in which they do business. So it isn’t just health, per se, but it also deals with the environment and how you contribute to energy conservation and the other kinds of issues that are so important to our society today.”

Dr. Gerberding says businesses are struggling to restore credibility and trust.


“But really benchmarking businesses are going way beyond that and saying ‘how can we not just do the kinds of things that lead to health and wellness in our environment; how can we be a company that leverages that for our own profitability—the profit of the business, but also the people and the planet in which they operate. Really, recognizing that truly long-term success depends on your ability to be successful on all three of those contexts.”

Dr. Gerberding directed the CDC from 2002 through this year.

A federal judge has thrown out the last remaining legal challenge against a large coal-powered electric plant near Waco. Attorney Eric Groten of Sandy Creek Energy Associates says the ruling in Sandy Creek’s favor means the plant near Waco will open by 2012 as planned. Environmentalist groups had sued to stop the plant, challenging its air-pollution permits and questioning whether the proper pollution control equipment was being installed. Environmentalists have for years fought against the plant and ten others around the state that are either under construction or in the permitting process.

The London production of Lucy Prebble’s Enron is coming to Broadway, and now the dates have been announced. Previews are set for April 8th, followed by an April 27th opening at a Shubert theater still to be determined, according to Variety. It’s a multimedia production, incorporating music, dance and video. The Broadway transfer will be directed by Rupert Goold, but no casting has not been announced. The play is currently being staged in a sold-out run at Royal Court Theater in London, garnering rave reviews. The play moves to the Noel Coward Theater in January and to Broadway in April. Sony recently purchased the film rights to the stage production, according to Reuters. Variety reports the screen rights were bought by Columbia Pictures. Prebble is doing the screen adaptation and Spider-Man producer Laura Ziskin will be producing this film. The collapse of Enron was made into a made-for-television movie called The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth about Enron in 2003, with Mike Farrell playing Ken Lay. The documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room by Alex Gibney was released in 2005, based on Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind’s best-selling book. In early 2008, Warner Brothers announced it was working on an Enron movie based on Kurt Eichenwald’s book Conspiracy of Fools, with Leonardo DiCaprio producing and possibly starring.

Lenders are ramping up efforts to avoid home foreclosures, but a report by bank regulators says more than half of borrowers who get help fall behind again. More than 50 per cent of homeowners with loans modified in the first half of last year had missed at least two months of payments a year later, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision. But the results were better among those who saw their payments drop substantially. About one in three borrowers whose monthly payments were reduced by 20 per cent or more had fallen behind again within a year. That compares with more than 60 per cent for borrowers whose loan payments were left unchanged or increased.

Likely losses from the financial crisis in the three years to 2010 have been reduced by $600 billion to $3.4 trillion as the world economy grows faster than previously expected. That’s according to the International Monetary Fund. The organization warns, however, the impetus for far-reaching financial reforms risks being lost if the improving situation leads to complacency. The IMF says its analysis suggests that U.S. banks are more than halfway through the loss cycle to 2010, whereas in Europe loss recognition is less advanced, reflecting differences in the regions’ economic cycles.

A new report shows Nevada’s Reno-Sparks region is the nation’s hardest hit area when it comes to construction jobs lost in the recession. The report released by the Associated General Contractors of America ranks the metropolitan area 337th based on the percentage of construction jobs gained or lost in the past year. From August 2008 to August 2009, Reno lost 35 per cent of its construction work force. The area of Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, did only slightly better, followed by Tucson, Arizona, Wenatchee, Washington, and Redding, California. On the other end of the spectrum, construction employment in Columbus, Indiana, grew 14 per cent. Other spots that improved include Anderson, Indiana, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Longview, Washington, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The contractors group is proposing tax breaks and other measures to jump start new construction.

Newspapers may have slowed, or perhaps even stopped, their financial descent after three years of plunging revenues, crumbling stock prices and heavy layoffs. The latest glimmer of hope came as the largest U.S. newspaper publisher Gannett announced that its third-quarter earnings will be substantially above analysts’ forecasts. Although Gannett’s revenue for the period fell slightly below analysts’ projections, executives said newspaper advertising sales didn’t fall as badly as they did in the first half of the year. Still, newspapers have yet to come up with a solution about what to do regarding the massive shift of readers and advertisers to the Internet.

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking its first steps to control climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, factories and refineries. The EPA proposes a rule that would require polluters to install the best available technology to capture greenhouse gases whenever a facility is significantly changed or newly constructed. The rule applies to any industrial plant that emits at least 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year. When the rule is final, the EPA said operators of as many 14,000 sources of pollution would have to get additional permits. The EPA action, announced the same day as a climate bill was introduce in the Senate, could put new pressure on Congress to pass legislation to avoid the federal rules.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded $5 billion in grants to support research into cures for cancer and other diseases, and to create jobs. President Barack Obama made the announcement at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The money comes from the $787 billion economic stimulus program that is designed to help create jobs and turn around the economy. The program included $10 billion for the NIH. Jared Bernstein, who is Vice President Joe Biden’s chief economist, says the $5 billion will support some 12,000 existing projects and create thousands of jobs over the next two years for researchers and educators, as well as medical equipment makers and suppliers.

A survey by finds the average ATM fee for non-customers rose 12.6 per cent this year to $2.22. You’ll likely get a fee from your own bank, too–an average of $1.32. That fee, however, dropped from $1.46 from last year, as some banks reduced or waived it. About 72 per cent of banks now charge customers a fee for using an ATM from a different bank. The average fee for a bounced check, meanwhile, rose 2.1 per cent to $29.58 this year. In 1998, that fee was $21.57. The annual survey by was conducted in August, and studied banks in the country’s top 25 metropolitan markets.

A Federal Reserve official sees no need to rush to boost interest rates and rein in the extraordinary support for the economy, suggesting there are still dangers to the unfolding recovery. In a speech in Mobile, Alabama, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart says: “I think it may well be some time before (a) comprehensive exit need be under way.” In recent days, other Fed officials have raised the prospect of having to raise rates quickly once the economy gains traction to ward off inflation. Lockhart says economic recoveries after recession tend not to be strong. He says the troubled commercial real-estate market, a fragile housing sector, rising unemployment and still hard-to-get credit could weigh on the recovery.

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston is opening its new Dickinson Family Health Clinic this week, just over a year following Hurricane Ike. UTMB recently opened other new clinics: Galveston Infusion Therapy Clinic at its cancer center; Friendswood Imaging Center; an endovascular clinic in Clear Lake; and the Women’s Health Center at Bay Colony.

A state Medicaid survey says the recession helped drive enrollment and spending on the insurance programs to unexpected levels and could create severe budget crunches in the next couple of years. The Kaiser Family Foundation says average Medicaid enrollment saw its highest growth rate in six years for fiscal year 2009. Spending growth averaged nearly eight per cent. State and federal governments fund Medicaid. It covers health care for the needy, the elderly and people with disabilities. The study says federal stimulus funding delivered this year prevented some cuts to providers and benefits. But spending and enrollment increases will persist, and health care reform could add more pressure.

The United States is giving other governments and the private sector a greater role in a key Internet organization. Decisions by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, affect how computers send e-mail and relay Twitter posts, for example. There have been concerns that the group’s U.S. ties could inhibit the Internet’s growth globally. The U.S. government said it isn’t cutting its ties to ICANN completely. But it agreed to establish advisory panels made up of government and private-sector representatives around the world. ICANN has had oversight over domain names under a loose agreement with the U.S. government, which funded much of the Internet’s development. ICANN’s latest agreement with the government expires Wednesday.


Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

News Anchor

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with much of his early career as a rock’n’roll disc jockey. He worked as part of a morning show team on album rock station KLBJ-FM, and later co-hosted a morning show at adult rock station KGSR, both in Austin. Ed also conducted...

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