Friday AM March 30th, 2007

State's jobless rate holds steady...Sales representatives, teachers and mechanics top list of Manpower's Most Sought-After Workers...Commerce Department reports Gross Domestic Product annual rate growth of 2.5 percent...

The Texas Workforce Commission says job growth--almost double the five-year average--helped hold the state's jobless rate steady at 4.5 percent in February. The state added 14,000 seasonally adjusted non-agricultural jobs in February and more than 230,000 over the past 12 months. That's a 2.3-percent growth rate. Houston's rate remains at 4.6 percent, which was 5.6 percent the same month a year ago. Commission Chairwoman Diane Rath says the state labor market "continues to grow at a rapid pace across many different industries.'' But the February rate is down from 5.1 percent a year ago. Professional and business services saw the biggest February gain at 5,500 jobs--the seventh straight month with an increase. Trade, transportation and utilities added 4,400 positions for a 12-month gain of nearly 26,000. Construction recorded a 3,700-job increase, and mining added 1,800. Initial claims for unemployment compensation dropped sharply in February to just under 44,000. That's down more than 25 percent from January, when many of the seasonal firings of temporary holiday workers were recorded.

The U.S. Labor Department reported a February national unemployment rate of 4.5 percent earlier this month. The number of newly laid-off workers signing up for unemployment benefits fell by 10,000 last week—for a total of 308,000. The figure suggests the jobs market remains in good shape even as the economy goes through a sluggish spell.

Sales representatives, teachers and mechanics are among those who may find employers fighting over their services. They top the list of Manpower's Most Sought-After Workers for 2007. The top ten hardest positions to fill also include technicians, management/executive personnel, truck drivers, driver/delivery people, accountants, laborers and machine operators. The employment services firm also finds that 41 percent of U.S. employers are having difficulty filling positions because of a lack of available talent.

The economy was doing a little better during the final three months of last year than first estimated. The Commerce Department reports the Gross Domestic Product grew at an annual rate of 2.5 percent. A month ago, the growth rate was put at 2.2 percent. The upward revision is the result of an adjustment to business inventory investment. It's the third straight quarter in which the economy grew at a pace of around two percent--a reflection of the sluggish housing market. For all of last year, the economy grew by 3.3 percent, compared with a rate of 3.2 percent in 2005 and 3.9 percent in '04.

Mortgage rates are stable, despite concerns about possible troubles spilling over from the subprime market. Freddie Mac, the mortgage company, says its primary mortgage market survey found the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.16 percent this week, unchanged from last week. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, a popular option for refinancing, dipped slightly this week to an average 5.86 percent from 5.9 percent last week. Five-year adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 5.88 percent this week, down from 5.91 percent last week. The only mortgage to show a slight increase is the one-year adjustable-rate mortgage, which rose to an average of 5.43 percent this week from 5.4 percent last week. All mortgage rates are lower than they were a year ago.

American Airlines has decided to speed up the delivery of 47 Boeing 737s by four years. In a second announcement, the Fort Worth-based carrier disclosed it has rights to purchase the Boeing 787, although it hasn't ordered any of that model. Some industry analysts say the moves indicate more orders for new planes are likely from long-established but hard-hit U.S. legacy airlines. Seattle aviation industry consultant Scott Hamilton says airlines have been through bankruptcy reorganization can't put off modernizing their fleets much longer. Ronald Epstein of Merrill Lynch also says the American move will likely mean new orders for Boeing and Airbus planes over the next year to a year and a half. For the time being, though, Boeing spokesman Randy Harrison says production rates will remain unchanged.

Sabre Holdings Corporation shareholders voted to accept a $4.5 billion offer for the company from private buyout firms. Affiliates of Silver Lake Partners and Fort Worth-based Texas Pacific Group will pay $32.75 per share in cash and assume about $550 million in Sabre debt. Southlake-based Sabre is the parent of online travel booking service It also runs reservation distribution systems that link airlines with travel agents. It started as an arm of Fort Worth-based American Airlines but was eventually spun off into a separate company. The company has about 9,000 employees. It said recently it expects annual sales to grow five to six percent and that earnings would grow eight to ten percent each year through 2012.

U.S. Steel plans to buy Dallas-based Lone Star Technologies for $2.1 billion in cash. Lone Star makes welded pipe used in oil fields and is the parent of Lone Star Steel. U.S. Steel says the deal will strengthen its line of tubular products for the energy sector and create North America's largest producer of tubular products. Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel says it'll pay $67.50 per Lone Star share. That's a 39 percent premium to Tuesday's Lone Star stock's closing price on the New York Stock Exchange. The deal is subject to Lone Star shareholder and regulatory approvals and is expected to close in the second or third quarter.

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