Friday AM March 16th, 2007

Producer Price Index increases with gains in food and energy...OPEC to maintain current oil production levels...Survey: 53 percent of Texas voters support developing additional electricity resources...

The government says inflation at the wholesale level was surging even more than expected last month. The increase of 1.3 percent in the Producer Price Index was led by gains in food and energy. It is the biggest increase since November. The core rate, excluding food and energy, was up four-tenths of one percent. Both numbers were larger than expected, coming ahead of a Federal Reserve policy-setting meeting next week. In another report, the Labor Department says new claims for unemployment benefits fell 12,000 to 318,000 last week. The claims report suggests the job market remains firm.

Not much change this week in long-term mortgage rates. Freddie Mac says the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.14 percent--the same as the week before. The 15-year loan, often used for refinancing, inched up two basis points—to 5.88 percent. Freddie Mac Vice President and Chief Economist Frank Nothaft says there was nothing in the economic background to prompt moves in one direction or the other. He notes that we could see some shifts next week once the market has had time to digest this week's inflation reports.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says he hasn't seen any spillover so far from the troubled housing sector into the broader economy. At a luncheon at the Futures Industry Association Conference in Boca Raton, Florida, Greenspan said it's remarkable that there's been no sign of an impact on consumer demand. At the same time, though, he said "a spillover may still happen,'' but that it's hard to find any such evidence. The former Central Bank chief says the threat of declining house prices is of much greater concern than the ailing sub-prime mortgage market.

Meeting in Vienna, OPEC representatives agreed to keep their oil production right where it is. The cartel's secretary-general says the group is content with prices and supply levels. The decision was widely expected. Production could still decline if ministers implement compliance with cuts agreed on in the past four months. In meetings in October and December, OPEC agreed to take a combined 1.7 million barrels a day off global oil markets as they sought to shore up sagging oil prices and shrink burgeoning inventories.

A survey finds that 53 percent of Texas voters strongly support the state government developing additional electricity resources, according to the Houston Business Journal. Houston-based Promark Research polled 809 Texas voters in January for Florida wind energy firm FPL Energy. Twenty percent of those polled oppose using coal as a method of generating electricity.

Nasdaq has named former Representative Michael Oxley as a non-executive vice chairman to oversee Nasdaq's relations with its listed companies, according to BusinessWeek. Oxley will advise Nasdaq on public policy issues. The Ohio Republican was one of the main drivers behind corporate reform laws. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act passed in 2002 in the aftermath of Enron and other accounting scandals.

Some 150 trucks will off-load 7,600 cubic yards of concrete over a 15-hour period to form the 27,000-square-foot foundation for One Park Place, a new downtown high-rise apartment building, beginning at midnight Friday evening. The overnight foundation pour marks the beginning of construction for the new residential development on McKinney Street facing Houston's new Discovery Green downtown park and the George R. Brown Convention Center. The tower will have 37 stories, with 346 apartments and six levels of interior garage space. Two retail areas are planned for the ground floor.

Transmeridian Exploration says it's considering the sale of all or part of its interest in an oilfield in western Kazakhstan, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Houston-based firm says is has held discussions with potential partners.

A Chinese chemical company in Jakarta, Indonesia, will reportedly begin exporting 100,000 tons of biodiesel a year to an unnamed Houston buyer next month, according to the Houston Business Journal. The company produces biodiesel from palm oil feedstock. It has built a new production facility to increase production to meet terms of its contract with the Houston buyer, according to the company's president.

ConocoPhillips is making a $6 million donation to the University of Oklahoma's school of geology and geophysics. School officials say the Houston-based oil company's donation is one of the largest corporate gifts ever made to UO. The gift will be used for scholarships, fellowships and the creation of a visiting professor position. It'll also be used to renovate and upgrade the school's building. This brings to $33 million the total gifts and pledges ConocoPhillips has made to the university. OU President David Boren says the gift "continues a long history of support for education by ConocoPhillips.'' He says OU's first private donors included Oklahoma oilmen Frank Phillips and E.W. Marland. They founded companies that coalesced into ConocoPhillips. Boren says he'll recommend to the OU Board of Regents that the school be renamed the ConocoPhillips School of Geology and Geophysics.

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