Friday PM June 8th, 2007

Gasoline prices fall for second week in a row...Consumer confidence slips to ten-month low...Second former in-house Enron attorney asks judge to throw out the case against him...

Texas retail gasoline prices fell this week for a second week in a row. The AAA Texas gas price survey found that retail prices for regular-grade gas averaged $3.01 per gallon in 11 Texas cities. That's down four cents from last week. Nationally, prices fell by six cents to an average of $3.13 per gallon--down about ten cents a gallon from the recent peak. Houston's average is down over three cents to $2.98. The most expensive gas in the survey was found in El Paso, where regular grade fell two cents to $3.25 per gallon. The cheapest was in Corpus Christi, where it fell four cents to $2.93 per gallon.

A new survey says consumer confidence has slipped to a ten-month low. The volatility of gasoline prices and the housing market slump are blamed for chipping away at Americans' sense of financial well-being. The RBC Cash Index shows consumer confidence dropped to 81.4 this month. That's the lowest since last August, when consumers were also concerned about energy prices. The index is based on responses from 1,000 adults surveyed Monday through Wednesday on attitudes regarding personal finance and the economy. Results of the survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

There's better news on the U.S. trade deficit. The Commerce Department says the nation's trade gap narrowed by more than six percent to $58.5 billion in April, as U.S. exports went to the highest on record. Exports reflected strong sales of soybeans and other farm products, commercial aircraft and industrial machinery. Imports declined as foreign oil shipments to the U.S. dropped slightly even though the average price of crude oil increased.

State Comptroller Susan Combs has certified that the state's $152.5 billion two-year budget is balanced. She then handed the budget off to Governor Rick Perry for expected trims. Combs spokesman R.J. DeSilva says the comptroller's ruling came with little fanfare on Tuesday. She finds that the state will collect enough taxes and earn enough on investments to cover the budget's proposed spending. The comptroller confirms there will be slightly more than $80.1 billion in state revenues over the next two years. Federal and other funds are expected to supply another $72.4 billion. Perry has until June 17th to sign or veto bills. The governor can wield a line-item veto over spending. Perry demanded that higher education "special items'' be listed separately so he could decide whether they're necessary. Some were listed separately, but not all, and he's expected to delete some items he deems to be wasteful.

A second former in-house Enron lawyer is asking a judge to throw out the case against him. Lawyers for Jordan Mintz, former general counsel for Enron's finance group, argues that he is wrongly accused of helping engineer obfuscating regulatory filing disclosures because he relied on the advice of others. His filing follows that of Rex Rogers, Enron's former associate general counsel, who argued that the SEC is suing him past the five-year deadline. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt will rule on the dismissal requests.

The Rice Alliance for Technology & Entrepreneurship of Rice University has announced the top ten most promising life science technology companies at the 6th annual Life Science Technology Venture Forum in Houston. Emerging life science companies presented their new ventures for an audience of more than 425 attendees, including investors, venture capitalists, industry representatives, business leaders, advisors and mentors, service providers and entrepreneurs. The winning companies include: Azaya Therapeutics, Frio Pharmaceuticals, Microtransponder, Monebo Technologies, Neurobiotex, OrthoAccel Technologies, Pulmotect, Regenetech, ThromboVision and Visualase.

The 2007 Classic Chassis Vintage Auto Event benefiting United Cerebral Palsy is set for Sunday at Reliant Stadium. Around 125 vintage and classic automobiles, valued at more than $50 million, are being displayed. Many owners view their collectible cars as investments—assets that they can touch and feel, unlike stocks and bonds.

The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the United States dropped by 14 this week to 1,760. Houston-based Baker Hughes reported today that of the rigs running nationwide, 1,465 were exploring for natural gas and 291 for oil. Four were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago, the rig count stood at 1,661. Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, Texas lost three rigs. Baker Hughes has tracked rig counts since 1944. The tally peaked at 4,530 in 1981 at the height of the oil boom. The industry posted several record lows in 1999, bottoming out at 488.

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