Friday PM July 6th, 2007

Gasoline price decline halted by closure of flooded refinery, Nigerian unrest...Huntsman considers rival $6 billion cash offer after last week's bid from Dutch company...Blackstone Group's $26 billion purchase of Hilton has Wall Street taking closer look at hotel sector...

Gas prices rose overnight for the first time in more than a month. The closure of a flooded Kansas refinery sent prices in the center of the country sharply higher. Renewed violence in Nigeria overshadowed a government report surprising traders that fuel inventories grew faster than expected, as refinery use grew at a slower rate than anticipated. AAA says the average national price of a gallon of gas inched up overnight to $2.95. Retail prices, which typically lag futures, had fallen steadily since their late May peak of nearly $3.23 a gallon. Before the bump in prices, Houston's average had fallen 3.8 cents to $2.79 per gallon—the sixth week in a row of falling averages.

Oil prices inched higher today in Asia following renewed violence and kidnappings in Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer. Nigerian kidnappers Thursday snatched a three-year-old British girl as she was being taken to school in the country's troubled southern oil region. Kidnappers in the past have focused mainly on foreign, male workers at international oil companies. Family acquaintances say the child's father works in the oil industry.

Huntsman's board is considering a rival $6 billion cash offer from an affiliate of a private-equity firm superior to the bid that the chemical maker accepted last week from a Dutch company. Apollo Management's Hexion Specialty Chemicals of Ohio said Friday that it had been informed of Huntsman's assessment. Hexion offered $27.25 per share earlier this week. Huntsman had previously accepted a $25.25 a share offer from Basell, a Dutch holding of U.S. industrialist Len Blavatnik's Access Industries. A spokesman with the company's administrative headquarters in The Woodlands in Texas says "our board, through its advisers, continues to be in contact with both sides.'' The company is based in Salt Lake City but operates from the Houston area.

The Labor Department says employers added 132,000 jobs to payrolls last month. The pace of jobs creation was sufficient to keep the jobless rate at 4.5 percent, unchanged from the previous month. New hiring was seen in education, health services, leisure and hospitality and government. Upward revisions were made to April and may payrolls figures. The government also says workers were seeing modest wage gains last month, with average hourly earnings rising three-tenths of one percent from May. Over the past 12 months, wages were rising by 3.9 percent.

Blackstone Group's $26 billion purchase of Hilton has Wall Street taking a close look at the hotel sector. In their first day of trading after agreeing to the buyout, Hilton shares rose three percent. And speculation of further buyouts led the entire hospitality business higher. Marriott jumped seven percent, while Starwood shot up almost eight percent. Hospitality real estate investment trusts also saw gains, with Host Hotels and Resorts up more than nine percent, LaSalle Hotel Properties gaining 6.6 percent and DiamondRock Hospitality rose gaining 5.8 percent.

The Securities and Exchange Commission says it won a ruling freezing the assets of an investment firm it accused of running a scam that targeted senior citizens. The SEC said in a civil lawsuit that Amerifirst Funding of Dallas raised $35 million to $55 million since January 2006 from investors mostly in Texas and Florida. The agency said that it won a temporary restraining order freezing the firm's assets. The SEC claims Managing Director Jeffrey Bruteyn broke securities law and claimed its investments were virtually risk-free when instead the fund invested in risky high-yield bonds, stocks and options. The SEC also accused Bruteyn of spending $4.7 million dollars of investors' money for personal use, including land, cars, travel and child support. In its lawsuit, the SEC also named Amerifirst subsidiaries and the company president, Dennis Bowden. The agency seeks return of money to investors. An attorney for Bruteyn and Bowden said they would vigorously contest the accusations.

Tags: News


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