Friday August 18th, 2006

Interior Department: hurricanes caused 124 petroleum spills in Gulf... Interior Department to open more Alaska wetlands to new oil drilling... Business school application levels increase again this year...

The Interior Department reports Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused 124 spills of petroleum products into the Gulf of Mexico. The federal agency says almost all of the spills were minor. None resulted in pollution reaching shore. Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast last August 29th. Rita made landfall September 24th in southeast Texas. The Interior Department, in its revised assessment, says the 124 spills from drilling rigs and pipelines totaled nearly 18,000 barrels. The releases included both oil and condensate--a liquefied form of natural gas. The Feds say that safety valves installed below the ocean floor shut down drilling wells before the storms hit. The government last May reported that 457 pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico were damaged and 113 drilling platforms were destroyed.


Despite uproar over pipeline corrosion, the Interior Department is set to open an area of environmentally sensitive wetlands in Alaska to new oil drilling. Government geologists believe at least two billion barrels of oil and huge amounts of natural gas lie beneath the coastal lagoons, river deltas and sedge grass meadows. The lease sale comes as federal regulators and a house committee investigate inspection and maintenance programs of BP-Alaska. Last week, widespread pipeline corrosion forced the partial shutdown of Prudhoe Bay oil production. The Interior Department will open tracts in the area for leasing within days, with the winning bids to be announced in late September.


Business school application levels increased again this year, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. GMAC President and CEO Dave Wilson says that includes women and minority applications, international and full and part-time applications.

"Well Ed, the great news is that there's a very strong surge in applications to MBA programs, both in the U.S and around the world. That's in a broad base, and when we look at some of the subgroups, you'll see very strong growth in the number of female applicants, too all levels of programs, an increase in the number of international students looking to come and study in this country, and an uptick in the--a significant uptick—in the number of minority applications. Both part-time and executive MBA programs are showing substantial increases. They aren't as dramatic as the full-time program but that's because they started at a higher level. They did not suffer nearly as much during the slowdown in 2003 and 2004 as the full-time programs, but all programs—full-time, part-time, executive MBA—are showing strong increases."

Wilson says the economy often determines the level of MBA applications.

"As often as not, when the economy first goes into a recession, the very early months you will see people taking their severance packages and using that to go back to school. And then as the recession deepens, you'll find people remain at work less willing to leave the office to go and study full-time. Coincidently, you're not seeing great opportunities for employment on the back end, and so during 2003, it was a very weak employment market for MBAs. Starting 2005, that came back pretty strongly and this year even more so, with more recruiters coming to each campus to recruit MBAs, and the ones who were coming, making more offers per student. And so it was a much stronger employment market. And if you think about it, the MBA tends to be an economically-based decision to go back to school. As opposed to the decision to pursue your passion in study."

But Wilson says there's more to the applications increase than just the economy.

"The strength in the application uptick this year is driven both by the economy but by a very strong report in our corporate recruiters survey completed this spring. We saw salaries had increased to a starting salary, on average, of $92,000, and that's compared to a salary of somebody entering an MBA program at $64,000. So there's a significant uptick there, and the story, again, of more recruiters coming to campus and each recruiter making more offers. And so, for those who are debating when to go back, that's the kind of signal they look to and say 'wow, maybe now is the time to step into the MBA marketplace. Ed: And as far as the women applications increase, any reasons for that? There are two. One is certainly observable empirically, and that is that the schools have worked very hard to recruit more female applicants and more early career-stage applicants to joint their programs, to bring more richness and diversity. And that implies, as I say, to full-time, part-time and executive. But there's a second factor, and that is as we see more and more women enter the managerial ranks, it becomes more and more challenging and exciting to join that peloton, and we're seeing young women go back to get their MBAs to enter the managerial ranks in greater and greater numbers."

The Graduate Management Admission Council is a nonprofit organization of worldwide business schools. It owns the GMAT admissions test used by schools to assess applicants.


Texas ranks second on Forbes' first-ever list of the best states for business, coming in just behind Virginia. States were ranked on business costs, economic climate, growth prospects, labor, quality of life and regulatory environment. Texas was among the best in population growth, transportation, tort climate and cost of living. But Texas ranks last in terms of high school attainment and it scored poorly on unemployment, crime and poverty.


The pensions overhaul bill that President Bush signed this week doesn't cover just retirees. There's also something in it for parents preparing to send their kids to college. The new law assures parents putting money aside in state college savings programs known as 529 plans that those programs will continue. It makes permanent the federal income tax benefits that give contributors a tax break on income from money saved and invested for college expenses. Those parents can expect to save $4 billion in taxes over the coming decade.


Students packing up and heading for college need to be mindful of protecting their identity once on campus. According to ID theft and data breach expert Terrence Defranco, college students are among those most targeted by identity thieves, largely because of their lifestyles. For example, research done for Chubb Group Insurance Companies shows 49 percent of college students receive credit card applications on a daily or weekly basis. And nearly 30 percent of students throw out those applications without destroying them. Defranco, who heads the security firm Edentify, notes colleges and universities are sitting ducks for thieves because of the amount of data they handle. He says there are things students can do to protect themselves. They include putting tight limits on the use of credit cards for Internet purchases and make sure Internet browsers use the highest level security tools available.


Texas is growing faster than the national economy—one percent faster—according to the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Richard Fisher told a Houston women's group that the state's actual first-quarter job growth of 4.4 percent was nearly double the expected 2.4 percent. He noted the national real estate industry has returned to more normal conditions, but Texas has one of the most resilient housing markets in the country. Fisher said the U.S appears to be at a crossroads in the conduct of monetary policy and the national economy, which is slowing from its unsustainable pace of earlier this year.


San Antonio-based Valero Energy says it's signed an 11-year deal to supply fuel to more than 300 Susser Petroleum service stations in Texas and Oklahoma. Some former Citgo stations will switch to the Valero brand under the agreement. Valero says the deal will push the number of Valero locations in Texas above 1,900. Most of the stations switching from Citgo to Valero are in south Texas, including Corpus Christi, Laredo, Brownsville and Edinburg. Valero says it'll have about 5,500 sites in the United States, Canada and Aruba. The Valero retail brand first appeared in 2000, when the company bought Exxon Mobil's refinery in Benicia, California and about 350 service stations and branded wholesale locations in California.


Dell's unprecedented recall of 4.1 million faulty laptop batteries is creating headaches for its corporate customers. They've come to rely on notebook PCs as an indispensable part of doing business. Information technology departments are faced with the prospect of testing--and potentially having to swap out--the batteries of hundreds or thousands of notebooks. Analyst Cindy Shaw of Moors & Cabot today said that will be a time-consuming burden on the IT department. Round Rock-based Dell and the Consumer Product Safety Commission this week announced the agency's largest-ever electronics recall. It covers about 14 percent of the Latitude, Inspiron, XPS and Precision notebooks sold between April of 2004, and July 18th of this year. The problem stems from battery cells supplied by Sony. Corporations, which tend to buy computer systems in bulk, will have access to Dell's direct sales and support teams to expedite the replacements. But company officials say it will still take roughly 20 days for new batteries to arrive.


Freddie Mac says long-term interest rates, on average, are down this week to the lowest point since mid-April. That's the fourth straight weekly decline. The average of 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages is at 6.52 percent, compared to 6.55 percent last week. A month ago, that average was 6.8 percent. For 15-year fixed, the average is put at 6.2 percent, unchanged from last week. One-year Treasury-indexed adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 5.65 percent. That's also down from last week. The group's chief economist says rates have eased amid reports of a slower-growth economy and a weaker housing market. He also says people who are already homeowners may want to consider refinancing to take advantage of lower fixed-rates, if they aren't locked in.


Dallas-based Southwest Airlines said it'll add five daily round-trip flights at Dallas Love Field for service to St. Louis and Kansas City. That's where Southwest is battling Fort Worth-based American Airlines. Southwest says it'll add two daily trips between Love and St. Louis and one each to Kansas City, New Orleans and Albuquerque, New Mexico--starting October 5th. Southwest already operates a combined 14 daily flights to those cities. The airline also says it'll add another Dallas-Kansas City flight on October 29th and increase service at Orlando and Tampa, Florida, in October and November. In December, it'll add two daily roundtrip flights from Chicago to Reno, Nevada and Fort Myers, Florida.


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