Monday PM June 11th, 2007

National average price for gasoline continues dropping...ConocoPhillips expects to raise investment in Asia-Pacific by 30 percent...China's trade surplus soars to third-highest monthly level on record...

The Lundberg Survey says the national average price for gasoline dropped seven cents in the last three weeks. It's the first decline since January. Analyst Trilby Lundberg says the U.S. average for self-serve, regular grade gasoline was $3.11 per gallon as of last Wednesday. That's down from $3.18 in the last national survey May 18th. Lundberg says the modest relief came thanks to a boost in imports of gasoline from foreign producers lured by record-high prices. Lundberg, however, says the latest numbers don't portend any dramatic price drops. Despite the recent sag, prices still are up 93 cents since the start of 2007. Chicago had the nation's highest gasoline prices, at $3.61 per gallon for regular. Jackson, Mississippi, with regular gasoline selling for an average of $2.87 a gallon, had the nation's lowest average.


OPEC apparently has no plans to release more oil into the market ahead of its next policy meeting in September. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Iran's oil minister says that's because there's adequate crude oil in the market and commercial oil inventories are at a high level. But he says Iran is keen to build energy cooperation in Asia, noting that China and India are expected to become two major oil consumers in the next 20 years. The Iranian oil minister says his government is finalizing five joint-venture refinery projects in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Syria. He says they'll have total capacity of 1.1 million barrels a day, with Iran providing the crude.


The third-largest U.S. oil company says it expects to raise its investment in Asia-Pacific by 30 percent this year. ConocoPhillips Chairman and Chief Executive James Mulva has told an Asia oil and gas conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that the company will boost its Asia-Pacific investment to $1.4 billion this year. And Mulva says Houston-based ConocoPhillips expects to increase the 200,000 barrels of oil it produces each day in the region by another 75 percent by 2015. He says the region is expected to lead the world's demand growth, consuming one-third of world oil supply by 2030.


Brazil and India have challenged the United States to offer "real'' cuts in the amount of subsidies paid to American farmers. The countries say without that, the Bush administration risks another setback in the World Trade Organization's long-suffering round of global commerce talks. The U.S. has not budged on farm subsidies since an October 2005 offer to cap the farm subsidies at $22 billion a year. Brazil and India say that figure must be cut in half if the Bush administration want to salvage a new global trade deal by the end of the year. Top officials from over 20 developing countries have been meeting at the WTO's Geneva headquarters.


China's politically sensitive trade surplus has soared to the third-highest monthly level on record. According the Chinese Customs Agency, the surplus hit $22.5 billion, up 73 percent from last May. China has promised to narrow its trade gap under pressure from Washington and other governments, but economists say multibillion-dollar surpluses are likely to continue. The United States is pressuring Beijing to raise the value of its currency, the yuan, which critics say is undervalued, giving Chinese exporters an unfair advantage. Several American lawmakers are calling for punitive tariffs on Chinese goods if Beijing fails to act.


Shares of Affiliated Computer Services edged higher after the Dallas-based technology outsourcing company opened the door to higher bids for a sale. ACS said Sunday that Chairman Darwin Deason and the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management agreed to drop their exclusive negotiating agreement, which had been a barrier to competing bids. Affiliated Computer said a special board committee and its financial adviser, Lazard Freres, can solicit new bids from Saturday through August 9th. Deason will be free to talk with other suitors. As part of the deal, Affiliated Computer agrees to pay Cerberus $7.5 million to cover some bid expenses. It also would pay a $15 million breakup fee if the company accepts another offer. Cerberus and Deason announced in March an offer to pay $59.25 per share for ACS. A month later, they raised the bid to $62 per share--or about $6.2 billion. ACS founder Deason controls 41.6 percent of its voting stock through a special class of shares.


Fresh economic data should provide some guidance for investors this week. On Tuesday the Treasury Department will report on the federal budget for May. On Wednesday, reports from the Commerce Department will shed new light on retail sales for May and on business inventories for April. Also, the Federal Reserve will release its "beige book'' survey of regional economic conditions. Thursday and Friday will bring new data on inflation. On Thursday, the Labor Department reports on the producer price index for May and releases its weekly jobless claims report, while Freddie Mac will issue its weekly report on mortgage rates. And on Friday, the Labor Department will report on the consumer price index for May while the Commerce Department will release its report on the current account for the first quarter and the Federal Reserve will report on industrial production for May.


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