Thursday PM March 8th, 2007

Gasoline hits $3 mark in some states...ConocoPhillips discusses new business arrangements with Venezuela...Trade delegation from Bahrain visits Houston...

Three-dollar gas is back--in California, Hawaii and now New York. At least one station in the New York City area is selling gasoline for more than $3 a gallon this morning. Regular at the Citgo station is going for $3.06. This follows gas spiking back above $3 in parts of California and Hawaii. Nationally, AAA tracks regular at an average $2.50 a gallon--up more than 30 cents in the past month. As crude oil prices hold steady around $62 a barrel, analysts say drivers should expect more gas price hikes with the approach of the spring and summer driving season.

Venezuela's state oil company said that ConocoPhillips and Chevron have agreed to discuss handing over their heavy oil projects to the government by May 1st. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has decreed that Petroleos de Venezuela take at least a 60 percent stake in four heavy oil-upgrading projects in the Orinoco River region. He invited the six private companies operating there to stay on as minority partners. The Venezuelan company said today it's formed transitional committees with Houston-based ConocoPhillips and California-based Chevron to oversee the terms of the takeover. It says ConocoPhillips has expressed its willingness to discuss a "mutual and satisfactory agreement for both parties'' with the committee. Exxon Mobil also is involved in the Orinoco. It's CEO Rex Tillerson has told Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal the company would try to negotiate a fair agreement with the Venezuela company, but it would walk away if the terms were unfavorable.

A trade delegation from Bahrain is visiting Houston to meet with businesses about investments and trade. Shaikh Mohammed Al-Khalifa says Bahrain is an island of calm in the Middle East, linked by a causeway to Saudi Arabia.

"It's very easy to get caught up in the messages of war and destruction, but the fact of the matter is, is our economies are peaceful and there's plenty of opportunity." Ed: "What types of investment or businesses would you like to see brought to Bahrain?" "Aluminum and downstream manufacturing, areas in financial services, and then there's of course real estate. There are opportunities. Ed: "There's a degree of trade right now, isn't there, I mean in both directions." "Our bilateral trade has, as a result of our free trade agreement now, has exceeded a billion dollars. U.S. exports to Bahrain in '06 grew by over 50 percent. Bahraini exports to the United States grew by 40 percent. So we have a strong trade growth as a result of our free trade agreement, which we're proud of. Increasing the awareness of Bahrain to people here has been our main goal, and as a result the questions have been about some of the opportunities, and also some of the security-related questions, which in our opinion, what goes on around us has clouded the actual opportunities that exist, and we're here to highlight that, yes, we have, you know, I like to say that we live in a rough neighborhood, but, where you know, in our immediate vicinity it's very peaceful. You know, crime is very low. You know, I don't lock my car, actually."

Deputy Secretary of Commerce David Sampson credits record level growth to the Bahrain-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

A $7.75 million jury award over the drug Vioxx will stand. A south Texas judge let Merck's request for a new trial expire--but the company will appeal. Merck sought a retrial after learning that shortly before the trial, one of the jurors took a cash loan from the widow of Leonel Garza. Garza died in 2001 at age 71 after taking Vioxx. His clerk confirms State District Judge Alex Gabert did not act on Merck's bid for a new trial within the 75-day time limit, which effectively denies the request. The time limit expired Monday. The jury last year awarded $32 million to Garza's family. The verdict was reduced by state caps on non-economic damages.

The Texas jobless rate slipped to 4.5 percent in January--in line with the national rate. The Texas Workforce Commission reports the number of people filing for unemployment benefits rose as seasonal workers lost their jobs. January's seasonally adjusted rate was down from a revised 4.7 percent in December. The TWC says the state continued to add jobs at the professional level and in the mining industry. Houston's rate is 4.6 percent—up from four percent. The nation's unemployment rate for January was 4.6 percent—a decline. The Labor Department reports new applications for jobless benefits dropped by 10,000 to 328,000 last week. It is the lowest level in a month. At the same time, the four-week average rose to 339,000. The February unemployment rate is due to be released Friday. Analysts expect the jobless rate to remain unchanged at 4.6 percent.

The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau is welcoming 21 conventions, trade shows and other events in April. More than 47,700 attendees are expected to spend an estimated $46.5 million in Houston during the month. Scheduled events include the Houston Buckaroo Showcase of Music at the Marriott West Loop, the Little League International Congress at the Hilton Americas and the 38th annual Offshore Technology Conference at Reliant Center.

The Houston Police Department recruiting division is conducting an open house at HPD Headquarters on Travis this Saturday. Potential police recruit candidates will be able to ask questions about joining. Information about the April 17th civil service exam will be available. Another open house is set for March 24th. No lateral entry candidates are being accepted during these two open house sessions.

Tags: News


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