Monday PM December 18th, 2006

Poll shows most consumers have finished Christmas shopping; some wait for further price cuts...Former Enron executive pleads guilty to post-collapse fraud...Lundberg Survey: national gasoline prices up just over two cents a gallon in the past two weeks...

With just a week left until Christmas, more than 75 percent of consumers say they've wrapped up their shopping, compared with just over 67 percent who said that a year ago. At the same time, America's Research Group says a lot of those still shopping aren't happy. More than half of those surveyed express dissatisfaction with the lack of 50 percent-off discounts. And more than 48 percent of those still hitting the malls say they're waiting to get bigger last-minute savings. The weekend survey also finds the purchase level of gift cards is at an all-time-high this year.


A former senior benefits director in Enron's human resources department has pleaded guilty to defrauding the company of about $3 million. Christian Deeb Rahaim faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud, in a scheme not connected to Enron's 2001 bankruptcy. Rahaim admitted in a Friday court hearing that he presented a fraudulent $1.2 million bill to Enron for consultation services in June 2005. He said he used the money to pay personal credit card debt, open personal investment accounts and buy a $500,000 home in Cyprus. Authorities have seized and forfeited the home and all remaining funds in Rahaim's investment accounts. Sentencing is set for March 26th by U.S. District Judge David Hittner.


The Lundberg Survey says the price of gas inched up just over two cents a gallon around the nation in the past two weeks. The national average for self-serve regular was $2.29 a gallon. The price is about eight cents a gallon higher than the same period last year. The cheapest gas in the country was found in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the price of self-serve regular was $2.10 a gallon. The highest average price for that grade was $2.74 a gallon in Honolulu. California prices increased almost eight cents a gallon from two weeks ago.


Trammell Crow shareholders have approved the proposed buyout and merger with Los Angeles-based CB Richard Ellis Group, according to the Houston Business Journal. The merger is expected to be finalized on December 20th. It's a $2.2 billion deal. Approval has already been given by the Federal Trade Commission. Both firms have extensive holdings in Texas. Trammell Crow provides building management, brokerage, project management, development and real estate investment services. CB Richard Ellis provides investment advisory services, property management, construction management, marketing and leasing.


The U.S. deficit in the broadest measure of trade hit an all-time high this summer, due largely to the soaring foreign oil bill. The Commerce Department says the current account trade deficit shot up 3.9 percent in the third quarter to a record $225.6 billion. The figure represents 6.8 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product--up two-tenths percent from the spring quarter. The current account is the broadest measure of U.S. trade. It tracks not only the flow of goods and services across borders but also investment flows. Economists watch the numbers closely as they represent the amount of money the country must borrow from foreigners to make up the difference between what we buy and what we sell overseas.


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