Friday AM May 4th, 2007

Speed recruiting event for engineers set for Saturday...Fewer Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits; Monster Employment Index says pace of online job recruiting picking up...Oil prices on the rise amid reports of attacks on oil workers in Nigeria...

The international engineering staffing firm EPCglobal is staging another speed recruiting event for the oil and gas industry this weekend, as the company's Richard Sprague explains.

"Tomorrow morning, five engineering companies in oil and gas in Houston are coming together to put on a slightly different kind of job fair. We call it speed interviewing, and the idea is that we put our candidates and the visitors that come to see us face-to-face with active hiring managers who are really looking to fill open jobs on live projects in the Houston area and across the U.S. There will be some people hired on the spot. When we ran this event in December, there were several hires right there on the day, and many more followed afterwards. The five companies are KBR, SNC Lavalin, Foster Wheeler, Gulf Interstate Engineering and Mustang."

The last time EPCglobal staged a speed recruiting event, it exceeded all expectations. Sprague says this type of event works especially well for engineers.

"Engineers speak in plain facts, and its very easy to assess whether you're talking to the right kind of engineer very quickly, from the experience and the things they've done and what they con contribute to your project. And having the range of opportunity on the day is what makes this genuinely different. If you go to an open day, then you go to see one individual client. If you come to speed interviewing, you have the opportunity in the same time frame to meet with all five clients. We'd like people to treat this as if they were going for a job interview. And come dresses small business casual, bring resumes equal, and you'll have an interview, albeit shorter than normal, you'll have an interview with the hiring manager just as you would if you were invited to a job interview."

EPCglobal's speed recruiting event for engineers is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Marriott Westchase on Briarpark Drive.


Fewer Americans were filing first-time claims for jobless benefits last week, a good sign for the job market. The Labor Department says new claims dropped by 21,000 to 305,000. It's the third straight decline in new jobless claims.


The pace of online job recruiting picked up a little last month. The Monster Employment Index rose one point in April as demand for workers eased following two previous months of sharper growth. It was up nine points in March to the highest level since its inception in October of 2003. There were gains in all nine U.S. Census Bureau regions, with New England show particular strength. Hottest job categories included personal care and services, along with food prep and serving. Among areas where things were slower were protective services and military and defense hiring. Monster Worldwide says in addition to posting online ads for the usual occupations, employers were looking for golf ball designers, chocolateers and Zamboni drivers.


The Labor Department says worker productivity was stronger than expected during the first three months of the year. At the same time, wage pressures eased in the first quarter, providing some relief from inflation worries. Productivity rose at an annual rate of 1.7 percent in the quarter. That's down from the pace seen in the fourth quarter of last year. Productivity is defined as output per hour of work and is seen as key for the nation's standard of living. A measure of wage pressures, unit labor costs, rose six-tenths of one percent. That is down sharply from the more than six percent reading seen in the previous quarter.


Growth in the services sector of the U.S. economy last month was more robust than thought. The Institute for Supply Management says its Index of Business Activity in the non-manufacturing sector came in at 56 in April. That's up from 52.4 in March. The index was above forecasts. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion. Measures covering new orders and employment increased, while prices paid by purchasing managers increased. The increase in prices paid was smaller than in March.


No movement this week in long-term mortgage rates. Freddie Mac says the average for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 6.16 percent--the same as last week. The 15-year loan, often used for refinancing, also was unchanged—at 5.87 percent. Both rates were above six percent a year ago. The mortgage giant's vice president and chief economist Frank Nothaft says both consumer spending and price increases in consumer outlays were tame in March, which helped hold mortgage rates steady this week.


Oil prices are on the rise amid reports of attacks on oil workers in Nigeria. Light, sweet crude for June delivery rose 40 cents to $64.08 a barrel in electronic trading in Europe. The Energy Department's weekly inventory report showed a drop in gasoline stocks over the past week, but not quite as large as expected. Crude stocks rose and refineries were operating at a higher level of capacity. AAA says the national average for regular unleaded gasoline stands at $2.99 a gallon. That is up nearly 30 cents from a month ago and above year-ago levels.


Wind farms are seen as a boon to the environment, but scientists are expressing worries the large towers could harm wildlife. Wind farms generate electricity by using the wind to turn giant blades that rotate turbines to make power. In a study requested by Congress, scientists say the threat the spinning blades pose to birds and bats needs further study. The birds at most risk appear to be night-migrating songbirds, bats and some hunting birds. But the risk is not well enough known to draw conclusions. Wind farms now operate in 36 states. Scientists estimate wind farms could generate as much as seven percent of U.S. electricity in 15 years.


Rains fell this past week to the benefit of farmers and ranchers throughout the Lone Star State. While some damage from recent hail, tornados and flooding was reported, crops and livestock grazing generally got a welcome boost from these rains and from warmer weather. Texas received good rainfall recently, but too good in some areas, which has led to flooding, according to Jose Pena, Texas Cooperative Extension economist for the Texas A&M System Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Uvalde. But even with this rain, he says we are still down about 15 percent for the long-term average in this region for this time of the year. But corn, sorghum, cotton, potatoes and spring vegetables are all making good progress in southwestern Texas, even though corn and sorghum seem to be progressing more slowly than usual. Thanks to recent rains, corn, cotton and wheat crops throughout the state are developing well in their respective growing areas, according to extension reports. In addition, cattle are in good condition, due in large measure to pasture and range areas continuing to "green up'' after recent rains. Cool-season grasses and forages are doing well and hay production has increased, but many regions of the state still report a hay shortage. In the Coastal Bend, some areas received up to two inches of rain. Farmers were spraying weeds in cotton fields and cultivating grain sorghum. Wheat is maturing rapidly and cotton is beginning to grow as heat units accumulate. The corn crop looks excellent. Some hay fields are being cut and baled to clean off winter grass and weeds. Pastures remain in good shape, and cattle are in good to excellent condition.


Wild Oats Markets says its first-quarter net income fell 44 percent because of expenses related to the chain's planned sale to Austin-based rival Whole Foods Markets. But excluding the $3.5 million charge, the Boulder, Colorado-based natural foods retailer's results beat Wall Street's expectations. For the quarter ending March 31st, net income totaled $1.6 million. Wild Oats said its net income was $5.1 million. First-quarter revenue rose four percent to $309.9 million. That matched the Wall Street analysts' expectations. Wild Oats has agreed to be acquired by Whole Foods Markets for $565 million in cash. The tender offer is set to expire on May 22nd.


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