Wednesday PM February 4th, 2009

Unemployment rates moved higher in the vast majority of the nation's 369 metropolitan areas, with Indiana's Wlkhart-Goshen and Dalton, Georgia, registering the biggest annual increases. The Labor Department says 363 of the 369 metropolitan areas saw their jobless rates rise in December from a year earlier. Elkhart-Goshen and Dalton — which both experienced manufacturing layoffs in recent months — had the largest increases in their unemployment rates from December 2007. Elkhart-Goshen's unemployment rate soared to 15.3 per cent in December, up a whopping 10.6 percentage points from December 2007. Dalton's jobless rate soared to 11.2 per cent, up 6.2 percentage points from a year earlier. The measure was approved despite bipartisan concerns about the cost of the stimulus package. It now tops $900 billion. GOP Senator Johnny Isakson is pressing for a tax credit of up to $15,000 for everyone who buys a home this year, at a cost of $18.5 billion. The pending measure would award a $7,500 tax credit only to first-time homebuyers. At the same time, centrist Senators are seeking to cut tens of billions of dollars from the legislation.

Centex's CEO blames the worsening U.S. economy for the homebuilder's sharp drop in third-quarter sales and says the government's effort to stimulate the nation's economy won't work unless it's also aimed at reviving home sales. Timothy Eller made the remarks during a conference call with analysts. The Dallas-based builder reported it narrowed its loss to $663.9 million, from a loss of $975.2 million in the prior year period. But Centex's new home orders sank 80 per cent, while completed sales were cut in half.



Fort Worth-based Pier 1 Imports plans a ten per cent cut of its full-time positions and may close around 125 stores. Pier 1 will also close its distribution center near Chicago. The chain tells the SEC that staff reductions will come from corporate headquarters, the closed distribution center and other administration areas. The closing of under performing stores could come if negotiations to reduce rental rates at some locations fail. There are 22 outlets in the Houston area and some 80 stores in Texas. Pier 1 employs about 15,000 and has 1,100 retail stores worldwide.

Houston-based Baker Hughes will cut about 150 jobs at plants in Broken Arrow and Claremore, Oklahoma. Company officials say the job cuts are due to the economic recession.

According to a private research group, the number of job advertisements placed online last month was down by more than a million from the number that appeared just two months earlier. The Conference Board says it's the biggest two-month decline since the group started keeping track of online help-wanted ads in 2005. There was a drop of just over a half million in December, followed by a similar decline in January. The group looks at the number of jobs posted on more than 1,200 major Internet job boards, and on smaller Web sites. Texas had the biggest overall decline in online job ads.

President Barack Obama announced a $500,000 cap on executive pay for the most distressed financial institutions being helped by taxpayer money. The president says America doesn't begrudge success but also doesn't like rewarding failure. The move comes amid a national outcry over extravagant bonuses for executives heading companies seeking taxpayer dollars to remain solvent.

Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, City Manager Steve LeBlanc and League City Mayor Toni Randall have been meeting with a legislative delegation in Washington, D.C., seeking dollars for transportation and hurricane recovery. Infrastructure spending could be a big part of the economic stimulus plan, and could help fund a commuter rail project linking Houston and Galveston. Mayor Thomas says Galveston has been lost in the shuffle, but she understands the needs of the nation, given the economic crisis.

A trade group says the nation's service sector shrank for the fourth straight month in January, but at a slower pace than the previous month. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade association of purchasing executives, says its service sector index rose to 42.9 last month, from December's downwardly revised reading of 40.1. That January reading was above analysts' expectations of 39, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters. Any reading above 50 signals growth, while a reading below 50 indicates contraction. The ISM survey says new orders and production rose last month, while an employment index fell.

Airline analysts Boyd Group International says the nation's airlines will probably carry 6.6 per cent fewer passengers in 2009 than last year. That could mean about $25 billion less in fare revenue through 2011. Passenger counts may not return to 2008 levels again until after 2014, according to the Colorado-based group. The report says media stories regarding the economy deter consumers from spending on air travel.

Senators voted 71-26 to give a tax break to many new car buyers

The Treasury Department is bringing back the seven-year note and doubling the number of times it auctions 30-year bonds as it works to handle a soaring budget deficit projected to top $1 trillion this year. Treasury says it will begin auctioning seven-year notes once a month starting later this month, and will auction 30-year bonds eight times annually, up from the current four per year. The government also says it will auction $67 billion next week in three-year, ten-year and 30-year treasury securities--a record amount at a quarterly refunding.

HBO is acquiring the rights of a new book being written about the financial meltdown of 2008 by New York Times business writer Joe Nocera and Bethany McLean. McLean co-authored "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.", turned into an Oscar-nominated documentary. The book about the meltdown and the bailout, sold for seven figures to Penguin publisher Portfolio, is set for delivery next January. HBO plans a character-driven narrative explaining the crisis and its handling by Wall Street and Washington, according to Variety magazine.

Federal researchers are developing pinpoint wind forecasts to help utilities predict how much electricity their wind turbines will generate. The National Center for Atmospheric Research and Xcel Energy said the forecasts would let utilities know how much electricity they have to produce from conventional power plants. They say that would make wind energy more efficient, which could lead to lower electricity bills for consumers. The forecasts will use data from satellites, aircraft, weather radar, ground weather stations and sensors on wind turbines. Forecasts will be delivered every three hours. Test forecasts would be issued for Xcel wind farms in Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Wyoming and Texas.

New Mexico officials are applauding the demise of a Texas smelter they say worsened air quality along the New Mexico-Texas border. The bankrupt Tucson, Arizona, copper company Asarco says it won't reopen its El Ppaso smelter and plans to demolish the century-old plant. Governor Bill Richardson says he's proud of the role New Mexico played to keep the region's air clean. New Mexico Environment Secretary Ron Curry says the state has fought for years to keep the plant closed. Curry says New Mexico requested the Environmental Protection Agency review the smelter because they knew Texas' permit cut corners that would have led to worsened air quality on New Mexico's border. Asarco has long denied that its facility caused pollution or would create more pollution if it reopened.

Congress has now decided to give people four more months to prepare for the upcoming transition from analog to digital TV broadcasting. The House voted to postpone the end of analog TV signals until June 12th. The move is meant to address concerns that more than 6.5 million Americans with older TVs would not be ready by February 17th, the originally mandated deadline. The House took up the question last week but under a special procedure that required more than a simple majority. This time it went through a normal vote. The Senate passed the measure unanimously last week and the bill now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature. Obama's spokesman has said the president will sign it.

A new study suggests easing off the gas pedal and going easy on the brake can cut down on greenhouse gases. Denver's pilot program "driving change" is thought to be the first Internet-based system to track pollution spewed by vehicles. Participants were able to check their vehicle's carbon footprint online. So far, results from tracking 160 Denver city vehicles and 240 private vehicles show that lightly tapping brakes, reducing rapid accelerations and not letting cars idle show an overall emissions decrease of ten per cent. According to Enviance, the company providing the Internet-based software, the gas savings for a fleet of 2,000 vehicles could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. One participants says she took a tip from Enviance and drove like there's "an open cup of coffee in the car."

Boasting an upgrade to its mobile maps, Google hopes to prove it can track people on the go as effectively as it searches for information on the Internet. The new software allows people with mobile phones and other wireless devices to automatically share their whereabouts with others. The feature, called "Latitude," expands on a tool introduced in 2007 to allow mobile phone users to check their own location on a Google map with the press of a button. It could also raise privacy concerns, but Google is doing its best to avoid a backlash by requiring each user to manually turn on the tracking software and making it easy to turn off or limit access to the service. Google also is promising not to retain any information about its users' movements. Only the last location picked up by the tracking service is to be stored on Google's computers.


Centex's CEO blames the worsening U.S. economy for the homebuilder's sharp drop in third-quarter sales and says the government's effort to stimulate the nation's economy won't work unless it's also aimed at reviving home sales. Timothy Eller made the remarks during a conference call with analysts. The Dallas-based builder reported it narrowed its loss to $663.9 million, from a loss of $975.2 million in the prior year period. But Centex's new home orders sank 80 per cent, while completed sales were cut in half.


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