Wednesday AM August 1st, 2007

Consumer spending rises at slowest pace in nine months; consumer confidence at highest level in nearly six years...Texas ranks third in foreclosures... Texas Agriculture Department publishes list of gas stations with inaccurate fuel pumps on its Web site...

Under pressure from a housing slump and high gasoline prices, consumers were cooling it last month. The government says personal spending rose just one-tenth of one percent in June, the slowest pace in nine months. At the same time, the Commerce Department says personal incomes rose four-tenths of one percent. An inflation gauge indicates so-called core prices, which exclude food and energy, moderated slightly. They are up 1.9 percent over the previous 12 months.

Consumer confidence rose to the highest level in nearly six years this month. That's the word from the Conference Board. The group's Lynn Franco says improvements in the job market and business conditions helped to lift spirits. She says the rebound in confidence is strong enough that it indicates the economy could gather some momentum in the coming months. The group's index is put at 112.6 up more than seven points from last month and stronger than expected.

Higher pay is appealing to workers, but it can also be seen fanning the risk of inflation. A new report seems to balance those concerns somewhat. The Labor Department says employment costs, including wages, salaries and benefits, rose nine-tenths of one percent in the second quarter. That is up slightly from the pace of the first three months of the year. Economists and central bankers tend to watch labor costs for signs of inflation.

Manufacturing activity in Texas slowed in July, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Their Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey indicates general business activity dropped, and 16.2 percent of firms surveyed report worsening conditions. But more than 50 percent expect production and volume of orders to pick up.

Texas has the third-highest number of home foreclosures in the country, according to RealtyTrac. For the first six months of 2007, California and Florida led the nation in foreclosures. Texas reported 69,471 foreclosure filings in that period—an average of one filing for every 130 homes. The national average is one foreclosure for every 134 homes.

Construction spending fell in June for the first time in five months, due largely to the continuing housing slump. The decline of three-tenths percent took spending down to an annual rate of nearly $1.18 trillion. The May total was revised upward to show a 1.1-percent advance. Last month's drop came as a surprise to analysts, who were calling for an increase of two-tenths percent. New-home construction spending was down seven-tenths percent in June, while spending on non-residential projects inched up one-tenth percent.

Convenience stores made up the fastest-growing retail sector last year, with department stores in hot pursuit. The Stores magazine Hot 100 retailers list says convenience stores sales shot up 21.9 percent in 2006. Sales by department stores rose 21.5 percent. All public companies with more than $100 million in sales are eligible for the list, which provides a ranking of the nation's fastest-growing retailers. The list was redefined this year to include quick serve and casual dining restaurants. Nearly a-quarter of the Hot 100 retailers are restaurant companies. Three of them--Triarc, BJ's Restaurants and Buffalo Wild Wings--are in the top ten.

The Texas Agriculture Department began publishing a list of gas stations with inaccurate fuel pumps on its Web site, showing more than 100 that are short-changing drivers around the state. As gas prices hover around $3 a gallon across Texas, 74 pumps shorted consumers by at least six tablespoons per five gallons, while 31 pumps doubled that shortage amount to 12 tablespoons per five gallons. That's according to a report covering the previous 60 days. The department allows a variation of about six tablespoons per five gallons of gas.

Houston-based Allis-Chalmers Energy has acquired Texas-based Coker Directional and Diggar Tools in a combined $15 million deal, according to the Houston Business Journal. The oilfield services company says the deal adds six directional drillers and 115 downhole motors to its directional drilling operations.

A National Oilwell Varco subsidiary has purchased a majority stake in Sara Services and Engineers Private of India for $26 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. Sara Services fabricates, manufactures and distributes oilfield equipment primarily in India, the Middle East and the Far East.

Houston-based Stage Stores has chosen Jeffersonville, Ohio, as the site for its third distribution center, according to the Houston Business Journal. The center will service some 300 outlets in midwestern and eastern locations. Stage Stores operates 668 stores under the Beall's, Palais Royal, Stage and Peebles names. The company has distribution centers in South Hill, Virginia, and Jacksonville, Texas.

Sirius satellite radio lost money again in the second quarter, but not as much as a year ago, The satellite radio service says the addition of a half million new subscribers and a 50 percent increase in revenue narrowed its loss to nine cents a share from 17 cents a year earlier. Sirius says it continues to expect that its combination with XM satellite radio will be completed by the end of the year even though it faces tough regulatory scrutiny.

Refinery operator Valero Energy reports its second-quarter profit rose more than 18 percent. San Antonio-based Valero beat Wall Street expectations—on strong demand for gasoline and diesel fuel. Net income after paying preferred dividends grew to $2.25 billion. That compares to year-ago earnings of $1.9 billion. Revenue dipped to $24.2 billion. Valero says production has been affected by more complicated refinery operations, and by tightness in markets for skilled labor and equipment. Valero also intends to buy back about $2 billion worth of its stock this year.

American Electric Power says its second-quarter earnings edged up three percent--boosted by increased power usage. Ohio-based AEP reports it earned $180 million for the quarter that ended June 30th. That compares with year-ago net income of $175 million. Revenue rose to $3.1 billion. Second-quarter results benefited from increased power usage, favorable weather, rate changes in some states and new contracts with municipal and cooperative power customers. AEP supplies electricity to about five million customers in 11 states. Among the Texas cities AEP serves are Corpus Christi, Abilene, McAllen, Harlingen, San Angelo, Vernon, Victoria and Laredo.

Waste Management reports its second-quarter profit fell 20 percent from one year ago--when the company had a large tax-audit settlement. Houston-based Waste Management is the nation's largest garbage hauler. The company had net income for the second quarter--ending June 30th--of $338 million. That compares to a year-ago profit of $417 million. Revenue in the April-June period was off slightly.

Independent oil and gas company Anadarko Petroleum says its second-quarter earnings fell 20 percent. The Woodlands-based Anadarko says the decline--in part—is due to hefty interest payments on debt from acquisitions last year. But revenue nearly doubled from one year ago and the results easily beat Wall Street forecasts. Net income for the April-through-June period totaled $652 million. That compares with year-ago earnings of $814 million. Revenue in the period surged on higher sales volumes of natural gas, crude oil and natural gas liquids.

Heavy rain that's swamped parts of Texas has led to the early closure of the Farmers Market in Longview. Authorities say the popular market--for about 35 years--has been open from May through August to sell produce. But the market closed this week because too much rain led to problems with some crops. Farmer Lois Johnson of Camp County says they got a lot of rain this year--and some items didn't grow well. Farmers Market President Mike Page says they have to deal with what Mother Nature provides. Page says staying open any longer would result in produce that's not of the high quality that he likes to offer.

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