Monday AM January 22nd, 2007

Gasoline prices continue dropping...First former Enron executive to go to prison completes home confinement...Interior Assistant Secretary asks Congress for additional authority to renegotiate leases for deepwater production in Gulf of Mexico...

Retail gasoline prices continue to fall across Texas. The weekly AAA Texas Gas Price Survey shows that regular, self-serve is averaging $2.11 per gallon statewide. That's down almost six cents from from a week earlier. Nationally, the retail price average is $2.21 per gallon, down seven cents fromξthe previous week. Houston's rate is downξ5.5 cents to $2.09 a gallon. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says the price drop continues to be fueled by the falling price of crude oil on world markets. She says the key to lower prices at the pump will depend on whether crude prices remain at present levels or fall even lower in the weeks ahead. Crude oil prices this week briefly fell below $50 a barrel on New York markets for the first time since May. The highest gas prices in the Texas survey are in the Austin area, where they average $2.17 cents per gallon. That's down four cents from the previous week. The cheapest gas is in Corpus Christi, where it averages $1.98 per gallon--down eight cents from a week earlier.

A trade group says oil demand in the U.S. has dropped for a second straight year. The American Petroleum Institute says deliveries, a measure of demand, fell by roughly one percent to 20.6 million barrels a day in 2006. Despite the dip in demand, U.S. refineries and blenders produced record amounts of gasoline and distillate fuel oil, and many also produced massive quarterly profits. The Paris-based OECD estimated oil demand in the world's industrialized countries declined last year. Global demand rose in 2006 due to the strength of consumption in China and the Middle East, but the world's appetite has grown at a slower pace for two straight years. Since rising to more than $78 a barrel last July, crude oil prices have plummeted in recent weeks, briefly falling below $50 a barrelξlast week.

The first former Enron executive to go directly to prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy in 2003 has completed home confinement. Federal prison officials say that confinement ended Sunday for former Enron treasurer Ben Glisan, Jr. He pleaded guilty September 2003 in the corporate scandal and received a five-year sentence. Glisan spent time in two federal prisons in Texas--one near Bastrop, the other in Beaumont--before being confined to his Houston home since September. Glisan attorney Tom Allen says his client is now on probation.

Court-appointed evaluators have put a $20 billion price tag on remaining Yukos assets to be liquidated, according to the Vedomosti daily. The valuation is some $6 billion lower than the total claims from creditors registered by liquidators. Yukos representatives argue that the company's assets are worth $30 billion. Yukos will have a series of auctions, but analysts expect them to be dominated by state-controlled Gazprom and Rosneft. Yukos crumbled after a politically-charged government campaign put its former chief executive behind bars.

Interior Assistant Secretary Steve Allred is asking Congress for additional authority to help him renegotiate oil and natural gas leases signed in 1998 and 1999 for deepwater production in the Gulf of Mexico. The leases omitted a clause that would have required producers to pay the government royalties when oil prices exceeded $36 a barrel. House Democrats passed an energy package last week withdrawing billions of dollars in tax breaks to the oil industry, as well as compel producers into renegotiating the flawed leases.

Consumers apparently were feeling a bit better about the economy early this month. Media reports say the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index rose to 98 in early January from 91.7 the month before. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had expected a reading of 92.3. The report is released to subscribers only.

Houston-based Weingarten Realty Investors acquisitions totaled a record $1 billion in 2006. Weingarten acquired 11 shopping centers and three industrial projects in the fourth quarter of 2006. Properties were added in six states. Weingarten disposed of $316 million in non-core assets during the year, including Miracle Corners in Pasadena.

UK-based Sterling Energy is acquiring Houston-based Whittier Energy in a $188 million deal. The boards of both firms have approved the transaction, expected to be completed in the first quarter. Sterling is a five-year-old publicly-traded company with assets in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore west Africa. Its exploration program is focused on Africa.

Houston-based oilfield services provider Schlumberger said its fourth-quarter profit soared thanks to a double-digit surge in revenue. Net income rose 71 percent to $1.13 billion for the three months ended December 31st. Revenue climbed 33 percent to $5.35 billion. Oilfield services revenue rose 30 percent year over year to $4.63 billion.

Former and current Ohio state leaders have visited Rolls-Royce North Americaξlast week in hopes of wooing the power systems giant to Ohio. A spokeswoman for Rolls-Royce says Ohio is one of eight states where the company is considering expanding its operations, including Texas. Other states being considered are Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The states have been asked to submit proposals by February 1st. Canton, Ohio, already is the base for Rolls' business developing fuel cells for more energy-efficient vehicles. On Tuesday, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland led a delegation to the Washington, D.C., area to tout the state to company officials.

Valero Energy ChairmanξWilliam Greehey's family foundation is giving $25 million to the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Center officials say the donation is the largest-ever private gift to that health science center. Nearly half of the money--$12 million--will be used to build 50,000 square feet of cancer research laboratories named after Greehey. The other $13 million will fund the Greehey President's Endowment for Excellence in Children's Health Sciences. San Antonio-based Valero is North America's largest refiner.

Valero Chairman William Greehey has resigned from the board. The San Antonio-based refining company named 60-year-old chief executive William Klesse to fill the role, effective immediately. Greehey, who's 70, will continue to serve as chairman of both Valero and Valero Holdings. Greehey says he's stepping down in part to avoid conflicts of interest between the companies. Klesse will remain chief executive, in addition to his chairmanship.

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