Wednesday PM October 20th, 2010

The U.S. economy is growing unevenly, with more than half the regions of the country expanding modestly while others are struggling to grow. A new survey by the Federal Reserve finds that seven of the Fed's 12 regions reported moderate improvements in business activity. Three regions--Philadelphia, Richmond and Cleveland--described economic activity as mixed or steady. Only two regions--Atlanta and Dallas--suggested economic growth was slow. The new survey notes that the economy isn't weakening but is growing too sluggishly to drive down the high unemployment rate.


Global warming, fiercer and more frequent hurricanes and environmental degradation could result in $350 billion in losses over the next 20 years for the Gulf Coast. That's the risk assessment of an analysis commissioned by Entergy. Wayne Leonard, the chairman and CEO of Entergy, calls the report a “call to arms” to the Gulf Coast's governors, policy makers and oil and gas companies to wake up to the threat of climate change and do much more to invest in preparing for a risky future. The Entergy study found that on average, the Gulf region suffers losses of about $14 billion a year. But over the next 20 years, losses are expected to rise to between $18 billion and $23 billion a year, depending on the severity of global warming.


The senior manager of a project to build a more efficient system to contain oil in deep water says that once built and tested the cap-and-siphon contraption could be deployed and in use within weeks of a future well blowout. ExxonMobil's Lloyd Guillory says he is confident the never-before-attempted effort will be successful. He says the $1 billion system that isn't expected to be ready for use until early 2012 will be adaptable to different blowout scenarios. Guillory told the Associated Press during a break in a major oil spill conference in Florida that prevention is the real answer for the industry. He says if prevention is done right, the system would never have to be used.

Several environmental groups are suing BP for the oil spill's toll on endangered species of wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem. The federal suit filed in New Orleans by Defenders of Wildlife, Gulf Restoration Network and Save the Manatee Club accuses BP of violating the Endangered Species Act. The groups are seeking a court order requiring the company to mitigate the oil spill's impact on wildlife and restore their habitats. The suit says the Gulf has at least 27 endangered or threatened animal species, including sea turtles, whales and birds.

The crude has stopped gushing and coastlines are largely clear of the thick goo that washed ashore for months, but the impact of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history will linger for years. Six months after the April 20th Deepwater Horizon explosion, the environment and economy of the northern Gulf of Mexico region remain in a state of uncertainty, with overturned livelihoods, out-of-work fishermen, reluctant tourists, emotional anguish and untold damage to the sea and its shores. It could be years before the spill's effects are understood. The science is largely scattered about what the roughly 200 million gallons of oil that spewed from BP's blown-out well will mean for the animals and plant life that inhabit one of the world's most diverse bodies of water.


Baby gear maker Graco is recalling about two million strollers after receiving reports of four infant strangulations in the strollers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which announced the recall, said the infant strangulations occurred between 2003 and 2005. The strollers being recalled are older versions of the Graco Quattro Tour and Metrolite strollers, all made before 2007. CPSC says if a baby isn't strapped into the stroller, he or she can slide through the opening between the stroller tray and the bottom of the seat--where the child can get stuck and be strangled.


Chrysler is recalling about 26,000 cars and pickup trucks because power steering fluid can leak onto a hot engine and cause a fire. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says on its website that the recall includes some 2010 models of the Chrysler 300 and Sebring, the Dodge Avenger, Challenger and Journey, and some 2011 Dodge Ram pickups. NHTSA says that a power steering hose assembly can separate at the crimped end and leak fluid onto the engine. Dealers will inspect the vehicles and replace the hoses for free. Owners with questions can contact Chrysler at 1-800-853-1403.

Volvo Cars of America is recalling almost 10,000 vehicles to fix front air bag systems that may not deploy in a crash. Volvo says the recall affects certain S80 sedans and XC70 crossover vehicles from the 2010-2011 model year and model year 2010 V70 wagons. The automaker says there could be a problem with a wiring connector in the air bag system that might prevent the front air bag from protecting the driver in a crash. Volvo says dealers will fix the wiring connector free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in late October. Owners may contact Volvo at (800) 458-1552.


A federal law enforcement official says the FBI is in the initial stages of trying to determine whether the financial industry may have broken criminal laws in the mortgage foreclosure crisis. The law enforcement official says the FBI is at the start of a lengthy sorting-out process in which agents will look into what caused the financial institutions to mishandle the flood of paperwork in the historic avalanche of foreclosures. The official says the question is whether financial institutions were acting with criminal intent or were simply overwhelmed by events in the wake of the housing market's collapse. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is just getting under way.


Researchers have used 105 giant fans to create hurricane-force winds in an experiment that crumpled an ordinary home in minutes but left a better-built home standing. Engineers say the experiment carried out inside the Insurance Center for Building Safety in a rural area of South Carolina illustrates why fortified building materials and methods are better than those of conventional homes. The cavernous center was built by insurance companies in an attempt to find ways to reduce damages and losses arising from natural disasters. The conventional house took minutes to collapse in 96-mph winds. Chief engineer Tim Reinhold says the stronger house cost about $5,000 more to build. It suffered only cosmetic damage in the same winds.


Potato growers say the spud is being unfairly singled out by healthy food advocates. After a recommendation by the Institute of Medicine, the federal Women, Infants and Children Program okayed an interim rule that bars participants from buying potatoes with their federal dollars. Potatoes are the only vegetable not allowed. The institute, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, also has recommended that the U.S. Department of Agriculture-backed school lunch program limit use of potatoes. Chris Voight, who heads the Washington Potato Commission, is so exasperated by the proposals that he's in the midst of a 60-day, all potato diet to demonstrate that potatoes are nutritious. Potatoes have plenty of potassium and vitamin C, but they also are loaded with carbohydrates.


A research firm is raising its estimates for advertising spending around the world this year, predicting growth in every region, including the U.S. ZenithOptimedia says it now expects global ad spending to grow 4.8 percent this year to $449.49 billion. That's up from its prior estimate of 3.5 percent growth. The firm said the advertising world is seeing a surge in mid-year advertising, helping offset a downturn brought on from the weak economy in the past few years. This marks the firm's fourth consecutive upgrade, after six straight downgrades. In the U.S., the firm expects total advertising spending to increase by 2.2 percent to $151.5 billion this year, up from a prior forecast of 1.1 percent.


Earnings

The parent company of American Airlines says it earned a profit in the third quarter on more revenue from passengers during the summer vacation season. AMR says its net income was $143 million in the July-through-September period. It was AMR's first moneymaking quarter in two years and a harbinger of better times in the airline industry, which was hammered by the recession. Revenue rose 14 percent to $5.84 billion.


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