Tuesday PM November 10th, 2009

Oil prices drifted below $79 a barrel in Asia as a storm threatening oil installations in the Gulf of Mexico weakens and investors eye a volatile dollar. One-time Hurricane Ida weakened to a tropical storm, easing concern that it could disrupt supply when it reached the Gulf Coast this morning. Tropical Storm Ida has come ashore near Mobile Bay in Southern Alabama with top sustained winds weakened to about 45 mph. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ida's center first touched land on Dauphin Island and then the Alabama mainland later in the morning. Shell's Motivadoesn't own retail facilities in the Gulf Coast, but has been monitoring the storm on behalf of its Shell-branded wholesalers. Shell evacuated about 160 people over the weekend who were not essential to producing and drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.


Texas came up $1 billion short of fiscal 2009 projections for sales tax and natural gas tax collections during the recession. The figures are from the Texas Comptroller's Office for the fiscal year that ended August 31th. A spokesman for Comptroller Susan Combs, Allen Spelce, says the report is a "snapshot" and the agency is working on an economic forecast. Dick Lavine with the Center for Public Policy Priorities says the economy was softer than expected. Lavine says Texas would have been "in a lot of trouble" if the state did not get federal stimulus money. The Houston Chronicle reports Texas received $30.9 billion in federal funds in fiscal 2009, nearly 18 per cent more than the previous year. The increase was due in large part to stimulus money and recovery funds after Hurricane Ike.


Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Leo Vasquez says 2009 property tax statements are available to the public online, and will soon be arriving by mail. More than 850,000 property tax statements are going in the mail, with most receiving their statements by November 23rd. Some 1.55 million accounts will be receiving a statement. School districts and municipal districts rely on property tax collections. For the fiscal 2009 tax year, the Tax Office expects to collect over $4 billion in payments.


Don't look for any easing of unemployment over the next several years. That assessment comes from Federal Reserve officials, who warn that the jobless rate will probably remain high because the economic recovery won't be strong enough to spur a lot of hiring. The comments from the presidents of regional Fed banks in San Francisco and Atlanta are the first public words from Fed officials since the government reported last week that the jobless rate is now 10.2 per cent. The Fed officials warn that rising unemployment could put a crimp on consumer activity, and restrain the recovery.


After a slow start, the Obama administration's mortgage relief program has reached one in five eligible homeowners, a government report says. More than 650,000 borrowers, or 20 per cent of those eligible, have signed up for trials lasting up to five months, the Treasury Department says. The modifications reduce monthly payments to more affordable levels. Launched with great fanfare in March, the plan got off to a weak start, but now nearly 920,000 loan modification offers have been sent to more than 3.2 million eligible homeowners. That works out to 29 per cent, up from 15 per cent at the end of July. The next big challenge for the program is converting trial modifications to permanent ones. The government expects to release information on that later this month.


Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd is circulating legislation that would give the government sweeping new powers to prevent another economic collapse, including the ability to dismantle failing institutions and increased oversight of lenders to consumers. The proposal was expected to gain broad support among Democrats, but Republicans haven't signed on. Dodd told his colleagues last week to expect a party line vote when his committee considers the bill. Dodd's plan, which would scale back the powers of the Federal Reserve, differs slightly from proposals by the Obama administration and by House Democrats. Dodd also would establish a single federal regulator for banks.


Iraq's prime minister says his cabinet has approved a deal with a consortium led by U.S.-based ExxonMobil to develop a prized oil field in the country's south. The Exxon Mobil-Royal Dutch Shell Group will develop the West Qurna 1 field and receive $1.90 per barrel produced. It plans to boost production from 280,000 barrels per day to 2.325 million barrels within seven years. The oil ministry is expected to finalize the 20-year service deal soon. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also said that his government is still discussing a second deal with a consortium led by Italy's Eni to develop the 4.1 billion barrel Zubair field.


The Federal Reserve says GMAC is the only one of 19 stress-tested banks that needs more capital to withstand losses if the economy softens. The crucial player in the U.S. auto industry, GMAC has been unable to raise the nearly $12 billion regulators said it needed after stress test results were announced in May. The Fed says the finance company is expected to close the gap with more money from the $700 billion financial bailout. GMAC has already been given $12.5 billion in taxpayer infusions. It's negotiating with regulators over how much more it will receive.


The government says flights operated by the major airlines were more likely to arrive on time in September than in the previous month or September 2008. The Transportation Department said that the 19 carriers reporting on-time performance were on time 86.2 per cent. The best on-time records were posted by Hawaiian, Alaska Airlines and Southwest. The worst at getting you there on time: Atlantic Southeast Airlines, Comair and Delta. Many airlines operated fewer flights in September than a year earlier, which helped by reducing crowding on the tarmac and at terminal gates. There were fewer complaints about mishandled baggage, cancellations were less frequent in September, and there were only two flights that waited on the tarmac for at least four hours, the government said.


Fedex is predicting a little more holiday cheer this year. The company, based in Memphis, Tennessee, forecasts it will ship 13 million packages on December 14th, which it expects to be its busiest day this year. It shipped about 12 million packages on its peak day last year. Fedex bases its predictions on discussions with large customers and improving economic data. Fedex ships an average of about 7.5 million packages a day. Both Fedex and UPS generally release their holiday peak predictions in November. But neither company offered predictions last year, citing economic uncertainty. UPS expects to release a prediction later this month.


 

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