Friday July 22nd, 2005

Gasoline prices in Texas stabilize...State unemployment rate decreases slightly, Houston rate increases slightly...Negotiations end for Enron's proposed sale of Portland General Electric to city of Portland...

The average price of gasoline in Texas stabilized this week after setting a record high last week. The weekly AAA Texas gas price survey released today finds the price of regular unleaded self-serve in the state averaged a record $2.23 a gallon. That's essentially unchanged from last week's record level and almost 42 cents above last year's average. AAA Texas spokeswoman Rose Rougeau notes that crude oil has retreated from last week's $60 a barrel level to $57. She also noted a government report that showed crude oil inventories shrank less than expected in the face of feared supply disruptions from hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. The cheapest prices remain in the Corpus Christi area, where they averaged almost $2.17 a gallon--down two cents from last week. The costliest pump prices continue to be in the Dallas area, where they average almost $2.27 per gallon--down fractionally from last week. The national average held steady at $2.30 per gallon--unchanged from last week.


The Texas unemployment rate fell four-tenths of a percentage point in June to 5.1 percent. The Texas Workforce Commission says that's the tenth straight month of job growth. The unemployment rate in June 2004 was 6.1 percent. The U. S. Labor Department says the nation's unemployment rate has fallen to five percent--the lowest point in nearly four years. Statewide, the unadjusted unemployment rate rose to 5.4 percent from 5.3 percent. The Houston area unemployment rate increased slightly from 5.5 to 5.6 percent. Both the state and national figures were seasonally adjusted, which most economists believe gives a more accurate picture of the job market. Non-farm employment increased by 12,700 jobs in June. The state commission says Texas employers have added 115,500 jobs over the year for an annual growth rate of 1.2 percent. Eight of nine industry sectors reported job growth for the year, with manufacturing losing 700 jobs over the year.


No word where the jobs will be targeted, but Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Kleenex tissues and huggies diapers, plans to cut about 6,000 jobs and sell or close about 20 manufacturing plants. That news comes as the Irving-based company reports lower second-quarter earnings. Kimberly-Clark is in the midst of a multi-year program to streamline manufacturing operations. The cuts would reduce its work force by about ten percent, affecting about 17 percent of its manufacturing facilities.


Enron has ended negotiations for the sale of its Portland General Electric utility to the city of Portland, Oregon, according to City Commissioner Erik Sten. Bloomberg reports Enron broke off talks after the city declined to pay a $50 million non-refundable deposit. Enron is selling assets to pay creditors, who are owed about $74 billion. The city had wanted to buy the utility so that electricity rates could be cut and to ensure stable ownership for Portland General.


Halliburton reports a second-quarter profit of $392 million today. The profit compares to a loss of $667 million in last year's quarter. The Houston-based oilfield services and contracting firm credits an influx of new government contracts that boosted results at its KBR and energy services units. The year-ago loss included a $200 million write-off from an offshore engineering, procurement, installation and commissioning project in Brazil. Revenue rose four percent in this year's quarter to $5.2 billion.


Governing directors of the Houston Symphony have approved the fiscal 2005-2006 budget and ratified the new, extended agreement with the symphony's musicians. Unaudited results show that the symphony broke even for the fiscal year that ended May 31st.


ExpressJet Holdings reports lower second-quarter earnings, posting $24.3 million--down from $29.7 million in the previous quarter. ExpressJet operates Continental Airlines's regional carrier Continental Express. ExpressJet produced second-quarter revenue of $388.7 million--up from $370.8 million in the year-ago period.


The Texas Department of Transportation plans a massive expansion of I-45 North that they say could cost between $395 to $455 million. TxDOT's plans were presented to the Transportation Policy Council, but members are concerned that the figures low-ball the actual cost of the 30-mile project. Members say the project could cost as much as $3.18 billion.


Chaucer Consulting has acquired Plus 3 Consultants, a UK-based firm with energy, petrochemical and construction expertise. Chaucer Consulting is headquartered in London but has a North American branch based in Houston. Plus 3's service portfolio includes estimating, costing and planning; contractual disputing and claims; adjudicating, arbitrating and litigating; and giving expert-witness testimony.


Eritrea's Ministry of Energy and Mines has reached an agreement with TGS-NOPEC Geophysical of Houston and Oslo, Norway to promote licensing for oil and natural gas exploration and production offshore central Eritrea in the shallow waters of the Red Sea. TGS says a number of leads and prospects have already been mapped and documented.


Houston-based Earth Decision Sciences has opened its third Latin American office in Caracas, Venezuela. Earth Decision Sciences creates decision support tools for exploration and production. The Caracas office will also serve Colombia, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago. Two other offices are situated in Brazil and Mexico.


The U. S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Northwest Pipe Company, proposing penalties of $197,500 for exposing employees to safety and health hazards. Portland, Oregon-based Northwest Pipe has about 105 workers here in Houston. OSHA alleges 38 serious safety violations, 15 serious health violations and two other-than-serious violations following an inspection that began January 19th at the company's Houston facility.


The Houston-based Anime Network has five new carriage deals for its subscription video-on-demand service. BendBroadband, Click! Network, Massillon Cable TV, PrairieWave Communications and Sunflower Broadband have signed on to carry the service, increasing the number of providers to 15 in the U. S. and Canada. The Anime Network is a division of A. D. Vision, carrying serialized Japanese anime programming. The network became available around the clock in select U. S. markets in July 2004.


Shell Employees Federal Credit Union has changed its name to People's Trust Federal Credit Union, after recently opening its doors to non-Shell employees. The credit union has more than 29,000 members.


High winds and heavy rains from Hurricane Emily have caused millions of dollars in damage to cotton crops in two south Texas counties. Cristobal Perez, executive director of the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Services Agency in San Benito, says the hurricane destroyed 30 percent of the crop in Cameron County. That equates to about $4.7 million. Farmers had harvested about 35 percent of Cameron County's cotton before the hurricane hit, Perez says in the Harlingen Valley Morning Star. Of the remaining 65 percent of the crop in the field, about half was lost. Willacy County officials had similar estimates, saying 60 percent of the crop remained in the field and about half probably wouldn't survive. Farmers in Hidalgo County, farther inland, saved most of their crop because it wasn't ready for harvest.


A north Texas Congressman who's proposed legislation to lift federal flight restrictions at Dallas Love Field is striking back at a Senate Republican from Oklahoma. Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Dallas has introduced a bill to close Tulsa International Airport to commercial airlines. That's after Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe had proposed legislation to close Dallas Love Field to commercial flights. The Oklahoma Republican's bill came after Hensarling co-sponsored a bill to lift federal flight restrictions imposed on Love by the 1979 Wright Amendment. The Tulsa World reports Hensarling titles his bill the "what's love got to do with it act'' and calls it a "lighthearted swipe'' at Inhofe. The measure also targeted Des Moines International Airport in the home state of Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, who joined Inhofe's effort. Hensarling--who fired the first congressional shot in the current battle over the Wright Amendment--now says Congress should stay out of the issue.


Atoka County, Oklahoma prosecutors say the FBI's investigating allegations a Texas construction company forged surety bonds and stole county money. Weatherford-based B-3 Detention Solutions has been building a new Atoka County jail in Atoka. Surety bonds are like insurance policies for construction companies and are required. Money to pay for the bonds is included in the company's $2 million contract. Atoka County District Attorney Mark Campbell says the company forged the bonds and kept the money. Officials say there are no problems with construction of the jail, but the investigation into B-3 Detention caused a two-month delay. The jail is to hold 75 inmates and open next February.


Baker Hughes in Houston today reports the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U. S. rose by six this week--to reach 1,410. One year ago the rig count was 1,216. Texas lost three rigs.


The Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been named 2005 Most Wired Hospital for the second year in a row. Since 1999, Hospitals & Health Networks has surveyed the nation's hospitals on their use of information technology to accomplish key goals, including safety and quality objectives.


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