Friday PM August 10th, 2007

Gasoline prices continue dropping...Pride International sells Latin American onshore drilling and E&P business in $1 billion deal...World banks come up with cash to ease market jitters...

Texas retail gasoline prices continued their downward trend for a third straight week this week. The weekly AAA Texas Gas Price Survey shows regular grade prices are averaging $2.74 per gallon at self-serve pumps in the 11 cities surveyed. That's a nickel less than last week and about 20 cents less than at this time last year. Nationally, regular grade self serve is averaging $2.87 per gallon--a nickel less than last week but 22 cents less than last year. Houston's average dropped 4.7 cents to $2.68 a gallon. The most expensive regular grade gasoline in Texas again is in Amarillo, where it fell a nickel to $2.88 per gallon. The cheapest again is in Corpus Christi, where it's averaging $2.57 per gallon--down six cents from last week.


Houston-based Pride International is selling its Latin America onshore drilling and exploration and production services business to GP Investments in a $1 billion deal. The Latin American private equity firm gains 73 land drilling rigs, 135 workover rigs and two lake drilling barges. Pride International could earmark proceeds from the sale for the construction of two ultra-deepwater drillships. This moves Pride's drilling operations to almost exclusively offshore. The company's remaining land-based drilling and workover operations include five onshore rigs in Chad and two other rigs in Kazakhstan and Pakistan.


The European Central Bank has come up with another big infusion of cash in hopes of easing global credit market jitters. The German-based Central Bank for the 13-nation Euro zone freed up another ŠäŒ61 billion, which works out to nearly $84 billion. Thursday it kicked in ŠäŒ95 billion in low-rate overnight funds. The Bank of Japan chipped in with an infusion of ?1 trillion, or nearly $8.5 billion. Even so, Japan's economy minister is trying to calm local concerns, describing the fallout from U.S. mortgage woes as "limited.'' The Australian Central Bank is also providing a market boost. It's the first time the central banks have acted together since 9-11.

Like other central banks, the Federal Reserve is moving to calm the turmoil in the financial markets. It's announcing that it will provide liquidity to help bolster U.S. markets. In a short statement, the Fed said it will provide ''reserves as necessary'' to help the markets safely make their way. The central bank isn't giving any details, but says it will do what it can to ''facilitate the orderly functioning of financial markets.'' The move comes a day after the fears about a credit crunch swept through Europe--and the reverberations caused a big sell-off on Wall Street, where the Dow plunged more than 380 points.

The same credit and liquidity concerns that are pushing stocks lower are taking a toll on oil futures. Traders seem to be ignoring a report from an international watchdog agency that predicts tight supplies of oil amid growing demand over the next two years. They're also discounting news of growing Chinese demand and a warning that this year's Atlantic hurricane season will be more active than normal.


The Securities and Exchange Commission is said to be looking at the books of major Wall Street banks to determine their vulnerability to home loan defaults. A person familiar with the investigation says the examination, described as "street-wide,'' is a routine part of the SEC's oversight authority. The Wall Street Journal reported that Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch are among the first companies to be examined. An SEC spokesman, declined to confirm or deny the SEC's activity.


Record revenues have pushed the federal deficit sharply lower so far this budget year. The Treasury Department says the government was just over $157 billion in the red for the budget year that began October 1st. For the first 10 months of the last budget year, the deficit totaled more than $239 billion. The drop comes in record revenues of $2.12 trillion, even as spending rose to an all-time high of $2.27 trillion. The White House predicts this year's deficit will drop to $205 billion.


Data reported in Beijing shows China's trade surplus last month soared to its second-highest monthly level on record. The report comes amid mounting pressure by U.S. lawmakers to sanction Beijing over trade and currency disputes. July's surplus totaled $24.4 billion, according to China's Customs Agency. That's a 67 percent jump from a year ago and beats every previous month except June, which had the all-time high of $26.9 billion. Analysts had expected the surplus to ease in July after exporters rushed to ship goods in earlier months to beat changes in tax policy meant to narrow China's yawning trade gap.


Baker Hughes in Houston says the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the United States rose by 17 this week--to reach 1,798. One year ago the rig count stood at 1,728. Texas gained nine rigs. Baker Hughes has tracked rig counts since 1944.


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