Thursday PM April 5th, 2007

TXU threatens shutdown of older natural gas power plants in PUC dispute...Census Bureau says Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston are two of the fastest-growing metro areas...Labor Department, Monster release firm job figures...

TXU is threatening to shut down some of its older natural gas power plants. The state's largest power generator says it might have to do so if it can't come to terms with the state Public Utility Commission over charges that the company manipulated the wholesale market. TXU rejects the commission's accusations that it sold power to the market in 2005 at inflated prices to boost its profit. The commission has proposed a penalty of $210 million. Mike McCall, chief executive of TXU's wholesale division, wrote to the commission that the fine means the Dallas utility might not be able to afford to operate the plants. TXU met with commission staff members to discuss an alternative to shutting down plants. They discussed a mitigation plan that sets guidelines for how the company would operate in the wholesale market. McCall didn't say which plants or how many TXU might close.

The Texas House agreed to allow regulators to reduce prices for some residential electric customers. But the legislation was derailed before lawmakers could vote on whether the state can review the proposed buyout of Dallas-based TXU Corporation. After debate, the whole bill by Representative Phil King of Weatherford was halted on a technical point. Lawmakers were moving toward a vote on whether to allow state regulators to review the pending $32 billion sale of TXU to private equity firms. King opposed that attempt to change his bill. King's bill was sent back to a House Committee and likely will be brought up again in the full House later this month. TXU officials didn't immediately return calls for comment. The Texas Senate last month voted to allow state regulators to review the proposed TXU buyout.


Births, immigration and migration from other states helped make Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston two of the country's fastest-growing metro areas. Details were released by the Census Bureau. The population of the Dallas-Fort Worth area grew by more than 842,000-- topping 16 percent--from 2000 to 2006. It's the second-largest numerical increase of the 361 metro areas studied. Houston, which was ranked third, gained nearly 825,000 people--or 17 and a-half percent. Authorities say about half of the growth in the two metro areas is coming from births. The rest is due to new immigrants or people moving from other regions of the U.S. Austin and San Antonio also ranked among the country's top 20 in population growth during the decade. The Labor Department says the number of people filing new applications for unemployment benefits rose by 11,000 last week. The total is put at a 321,000 claims. Release of the jobless claims number comes a day ahead of the monthly unemployment report. While jobless claims are at their highest level since the beginning of March, the report suggests that the job market is firm overall. That's despite the troubles in the housing and domestic automotive industries.


Tracinda Corporation, headed by billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, has made a $4.5 billion cash offer for Chrysler. Tracinda says it wants to build and strengthen the automaker and "will offer the UAW and Chrysler management the opportunity to participate as equity partners in the transaction.'' Tracinda says the offer is subject to Chrysler reaching a new collective bargaining agreement with the United Auto Workers. The company also wants to cut a deal with DaimlerChrysler on sharing the unfunded pension liabilities and health care costs of Chrysler retirees. DaimlerChrysler confirmed at its annual meeting that it's in talks to sell the Chrysler unit. At least three groups are reported to have expressed interest in Chrysler. Among them is Canadian auto-parts supplier Magna International, which is said to have made a bid of $4.7 billion.


The Labor Department says the number of people filing new applications for unemployment benefits rose by 11,000 last week. The total is put at a 321,000 claims. Release of the jobless claims number comes a day ahead of the monthly unemployment report. While jobless claims are at their highest level since the beginning of March, the report suggests that the job market is firm overall. That's despite the troubles in the housing and domestic automotive industries.

Online job recruitment continued to grow last month, although at a slower pace than a year ago. The Monster Employment Index rose eight points in March, to an all-time high of 185. At the same time, though, year-over-year growth was 13 percent compared to 23 percent in 2006. Monster says last month's recruitment activity was broadly based, with all nine U.S. census regions posting gains. Online demand for workers was strongest in the transportation and warehousing industry and the real estate and rental and leasing category. Industry categories registering declines include aerospace, aviation and defense contractors.


Customs officials with colorful brochures and multilingual videos hope to make the U.S. more welcoming and less complicated for international visitors. The agency commissioned its first model port this week at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Visitors can watch--on mounted television monitors--a video on the customs process and review guides to filling out custom forms. Customs officers will later begin roaming the winding lines to answer questions. A federal initiative designated the Houston airport and Washington Dulles International Airport for the pilot program. It's an effort to make the customs process easier and more efficient. Travelers going through Dulles can expect to see similar features later this spring. The effort will spread to the country's other major airports within five years.


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