Tuesday PM April 24th, 2007

National used home sales suffer biggest decline in 18 years...Port of Houston reports creating more than 56,000 jobs since 2000...Consumer confidence erodes over rising gasoline prices...

Sales of previously-owned homes registered their biggest decline in 18 years during March. The National Association of Realtors says re-sales plunged 8.4 percent in March--to an annual rate of 6.12 million houses. At the same time, the NAR revised its February tally downward slightly. The real estate trade group blames poor weather for the sharp March decline. At the same time, the median home price rose to $217,000 from $213,600 the month before.

The Port of Houston has created more than 56,000 jobs since 2000, according to a study by Martin Associates. Another 80,000 indirect jobs and 62,000 jobs with suppliers of services to firms providing port services are also attributed to the port. The port is seeing a 50 million-ton increase in cargo in that time period. The number of containers moving through the port's docks climbed 11 percent during the first quarter of this year. Business activity at the port had a statewide impact of more than $117 billion in 2006. The study was released to the Port of Houston Authority Commission at its Monday meeting.

The nation's technology sector is on a roll. The American Electronics Association says the technology industry added nearly 150,000 jobs last year on top of the more than 87,000 positions added in 2005. That's an increase of about four percent over two years, taking high tech employment in the U.S. to just under six million jobs. And the AEA says, it could have been more except for the lack of American kids enrolling in and graduating from math, science, and engineering programs and a high-skilled visa system that the association says "is broken.'' California led the nation in net job creation, followed by Texas, Florida and Virginia. Texas gained 10,300 technology jobs in 2005—the first year the state has gained tech jobs since 2000.

Consumer confidence is said to have dropped over the past month. The Conference Board says part of the reason is rising gasoline prices. The business research group's Consumer Index is put at 104, down more than four points from March's level. Lynn Franco of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center says ''rising prices at the pump continue to play a key role'' in dampening expectations. The survey finds that the assessment of the present situation posted the first decline in six months.

Toyota is now the world's number one auto seller, at least on a quarterly basis. The company says it sold more vehicles than general motors in the first quarter of 2007 for the first time. Toyota sold more than 2.3 million vehicles worldwide between January and March, while U.S.-based GM sold 2.2 million vehicles in the same period. While the figures represent only quarterly sales results, they foreshadow a tough challenge for GM as it fights to hold onto its title as world's top automaker. That claim is usually staked on annual production figures. Toyota is currently the world's number two automaker. But it has been gaining on number one GM in recent years, and analysts have said it is only a matter of time before it eclipses its Detroit rival.

AT&T said its first-quarter profit doubled to $2.8 billion. The profit comes in the San Antonio-based telecommunications heavyweight's first full quarter since completing its acquisition of Atlanta-based BellSouth. The results reflected growth in wireless revenue, regional business and improved sales to business customers. Revenue rose 81.3 percent to $28.97 billion from a year ago.

The trust funds for social security and Medicare apparently won't run dry as fast as earlier estimated. In their annual report, trustees say the government's two biggest benefit programs will last a year longer--2041 before the social security trust fund to be exhausted and 2019 for Medicare. Major factors in the recalculation include slight reductions in projected benefits and slightly higher tax collections. Still, the trustees warn both programs continue to face serious financial problems with the pending retirement of 78 million baby boomers.

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