Monday PM March 26th, 2007

National new home sales drop for second month in a row...Governor's panel recommends TSU remain independent--but be held to strict financial oversight...University of California asking Supreme Court to step in after appeals court blocks class-action Enron shareholder lawsuit against investment banks...

National new home sales dropped unexpectedly last month--the second monthly decline in a row--bringing sales to the lowest level in nearly seven years. Analysts had expected to see a gain of about seven percent in new home sales for February. The Commerce Department says sales of single-family homes decreased by 3.9 percent--the lowest level since June of 2000. The government report also shows January new home sales plunged 15.8 percent. A factor in the sales slowdown was higher prices. As a result, inventories grew. Year over year, new-home sales were 18.3 percent lower. The unexpected drop in new home sales last month has investors worried that the housing downturn will undermine overall economic growth. The disappointing data also comes amid continued concern about the subprime mortgage market, which has been slammed by an increase in delinquencies in recent months. The National Association of Realtors reported last Friday that sales of previously-owned homes rose nearly four percent last month.


A panel appointed by Governor Rick Perry is recommending Texas Southern University remain independent--but be held to the "strictest financial oversight.'' Perry released details of the review about the financially troubled school in Houston and says he'll review the report. The report also recommends the legislature provide emergency funding to TSU for expenses through fiscal 2007. Perry in January appointed the advisory panel to come up with ways to improve TSU's finances, governance and mission. A 2006 report by TSU's interim chief financial officer outlined overspending, missing purchase orders and poor financial projections at the historically black school. Regents last year fired TSU President Priscilla Slade. Slade faces trial in August on two counts of criminally misusing university money for her private benefit. She denies the allegations.


A federal appeals court last week blocked a class-action shareholder lawsuit against several investment banks that had advised Enron. The University of California says it will now ask the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and let the case proceed. The university is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed by former investors in the now-bankrupt energy company. Settlements in the case so far have totaled $7.3 billion, to be shared by 50,000 investors.


Anadarko Petroleum has terminated 300 jobs as it streamlines after its acquisition of two companies. The cuts affected technical, administrative and support employees. The 300 positions represent about seven percent of Anadarko's domestic work force. About 250 work in the Houston area. In January Anadarko announced it could lay off as many as 500 employees before May after buying Western Gas Resources and Kerr-McGee.


Motorists are getting more bad news when they "fill 'er up.'' The latest Lundberg survey reports the average price of self-serve regular nationwide has gone up 5.5 cents a gallon in the past two weeks. It's now at about $2.61. However, analyst Trilby Lundberg says don't despair. Refining capacity is being restored after an extra heavy year of repairs and maintenance. She says if crude oil prices don't jump further and the supply isn't threatened, gas prices will probably peak and then fall, perhaps prior to mid-April. Nationwide, the lowest price for regular fuel can be found in St. Louis at $2.34. The highest gas is in San Francisco at $3.19 a gallon.


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