Friday PM April 27th, 2007

Gasoline prices up about a penny across Texas...Gross Domestic Product rose at annual rate of 1.3 percent in first three months of 2007...Pennsylvania senator proposes tax on oil company profits to help poor pay for gasoline...

Retail gasoline price trends were mixed across Texas this week after 11 straight weeks of increases. The weekly AAA Texas survey showed the average price of regular grade gasoline remained essentially unchanged this week at $2.78 per gallon. The average increased a penny a gallon nationwide to $2.88. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says only time will tell if the gas price climb has maxed out or is just pausing. She says gasoline markets remain volatile because of refinery problems and continued strong demand. Regular grade gas prices are highest in El Paso, where they rose two cents per gallon to $2.87. Corpus Christi still has the cheapest gas after a penny a gallon increase to an average of $2.69 per gallon.


Slowing growth and rising price pressure. That is the negative combination seen in a new report from the government. The Commerce Department says Gross Domestic Product rose at an annual rate of just 1.3 percent in the first three months of the year. It is the weakest performance in four years and below expectations. The main culprit for the slowdown is the housing slump. GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced within the U.S., considered the best barometer of the country's economic fitness. An inflation gauge tied to GDP, measuring core prices, rose 2.2 percent in the first quarter. Core prices exclude volatile food and energy. Another measure tracking all prices was up 3.4 percent in the quarter.


Consumer sentiment as measured by the University of Michigan dipped this month, but not as much as analysts had expected. The university says its Consumer Sentiment Index came in at 87.1 following a reading of 88.4 at the end of March. Analysts had forecast a reading of 85. There was a modest drop in both the current index and expectations component and one-year inflation expectations rose to 3.3 percent from three percent last month.


A Pennsylvania senator is proposing a tax on what are termed "excess'' profits by oil companies to help poor people pay for gasoline. The move by freshman Democrat Robert Casey comes as ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, reports a ten percent increase in its first quarter earnings. Casey's proposal would put a 50 percent tax on major oil company profits' from crude oil priced at more than $50 a barrel. It would also eliminate oil industry tax breaks and raise the royalties companies pay to the government for offshore drilling leases. The American Petroleum Institute points out that oil and gas industry's earnings are similar--as a portion of overall revenue--to those of other industries. The industry trade group says new taxes would be "counterproductive.''


High gasoline profits and the sale of a refinery in the Netherlands sent Chevron's first-quarter net up 18 percent. Earnings for the first three months of the year came to $4.7 billion. Chevron, like its industry peers, benefited from gas prices that soared above $3 a gallon in some places. It's the biggest seller of gas in California, where prices have been among the highest in the country.


Waste Management's first-quarter profit rose 19 percent from a year ago. The nation's largest garbage hauler says its bottom line was helped in part by revenue growth at its commercial collection and landfill businesses. The Houston-based hauler's profit rose to $222 million, even as revenue fell by one percent to $3.19 billion. The company said it incurred an after-tax charge of $6 million, related to restructuring in the most recent quarter.


Toyota has named a 20-year company veteran and former plant general manager in Japan as president of Toyota Manufacturing Texas Incorporated. Kenji Fukuta will oversee Toyota's San Antonio manufacturing plant--a 2.2 million-square foot facility that opened in November and produces Tundra full-size pickup trucks. He will start May 1st. Fukuta replaces Hidehiko T.J.'' Tajima, who led Toyota's Texas operations during the construction and opening of the plant. Local officials say Tajima was a popular figure as the public face of Toyota in San Antonio. Mayor Phil Hardberger says the city will welcome Fukuta to the community. San Antonio celebrates the arrival of Toyota as a catalyst for the city becoming a target for major manufacturing businesses.


Edward Whitacre said he'll retire as AT&T's chairman and chief executive on June 3rd. Whitacre led the growth of the former SBC Communications into the nation's largest telecommunications company. The 65-year-old executive says the San Antonio-based company's board has elected 47-year-old Chief Operating Officer Randall Stephenson to succeed him. Whitacre has worked for SBC and AT&T for 44 years. He presided over SBC's acquisition of AT&T and its growth from a regional phone company to the nation's largest provider of wireless, broadband and traditional phone service.


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