Monday PM November 9th, 2009

Oil companies are evacuating workers from the Gulf of Mexico as Tropical Storm Ida approaches. Chevron says it's removed enough employees to affect oil production in the Gulf. The company said it's watching its Pascagoula, Mississippi, refinery, and taking "all necessary steps" to secure it ahead of the storm. Ida has been downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane. The storm trajectory would put it east of New Orleans and the majority of oil and gas facilities in the Gulf--but that can change. Oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico account for about 25 per cent of U.S. crude production and 15 per cent of natural gas production. When hurricanes struck the Gulf coast last year, gasoline prices in some parts of the country spiked.


The average price of regular gasoline in the United States has jumped 2.86 cents over a two-week period to $2.68. That's according to the national Lundberg Survey of fuel prices released Sunday. Analyst Trilby Lundberg says the average price for a gallon of mid-grade was $2.81. Premium was at $2.93. Tucson, Arizona, had the lowest average price among cities surveyed at $2.36 a gallon for regular. Anchorage was the highest at $3.30. In California, prices were down slightly. A gallon of regular cost an average of $2.96. Fresno had the state's least expensive gas at $2.83 a gallon. San Francisco remained the steepest at $3.04.


Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is warning against putting the brakes on economic stimulus measures too quickly, saying that would weaken the economy. Speaking after Saturday's meeting of the Group of 20 finance officials in Scotland, Geithner said Friday's U.S. job numbers showed it is still "a very tough economic environment." He said the ultimate cost of the economic crisis will be greater if expansionary measures are stopped too soon.


With the technology industry looking on, the Supreme Court explores what types of inventions should be eligible for a patent. The court's decision should settle a long-running debate over whether business methods should be eligible for patents. And it could undercut patents on software. A ruling that sides with the Patent Office could bar patents on processes and methods of doing business such as online shopping techniques, medical diagnostic tests and procedures for executing trades on Wall Street. In a worst-case scenario for the high-tech industry, the ruling could invalidate many existing software patents or at least make them more difficult to defend in lawsuits. And it could make patents harder to obtain in the future because software is generally patented as a process for doing something rather than as a physical invention.


The $7 billion indebted North Texas Tollway Authority pays hundreds of millions of dollars annually to contractors for work, much of which its top official says costs three times more than if the entity did it, according to a newspaper analysis. The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday that NTTA has long relied on five top-priced consultants who routinely charge the entity three to four times what a staff member might earn to perform various tasks such as to design, build and repair its roads and to address legal problems. NTTA Executive Director Allen Clemson estimates much of the work NTTA pays to have done by someone else costs about three times more than if NTTA did it. Clemson says he's reviewing how the entity spends its money. He said some additional staff members may be brought in-house in the future.


Thousands of Texas farmers and ranchers who since September have sought federal drought relief still await their checks. The U.S. Department of Agriculture on September 14th announced applications would be accepted for funds under the livestock forage disaster program, to cover 2008 and 2009 losses. The Austin American-Statesman reports that of the more than 4,600 Texas drought applications for LFP assistance the farm service agency has received, only about 500 checks have been sent. FSA authorities blame the delay on a system overhaul made necessary by the 2008 farm bill, which called for a permanent disaster relief program. Previously, each disaster plan had to be enacted with an individual federal mandate. Texas Agrilife Extension economists say the drought, since 2007, likely has pushed ag losses to more than $4.1 billion, in spite of recent heavy rains.


The first key scheduled report of the week isn't until Thursday, when the Labor Department releases the weekly jobless claims. Friday brings word on the U.S. trade gap and a reading on consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan.


 

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