Monday PM September 24th, 2007

UAW launches strike against GM...NRG Energy to submit first application for new nuclear reactor in U.S. in nearly 30 years...Lundberg Survey says gasoline prices dropped two cents over past two weeks...

Thousands of United Auto Workers are marching in picket lines outside General Motors plants around the country. UAW president Ron Gettelfinger says the union launched the strike after what he describes as "one-sided negotiations.'' He says "it was going to be General Motors' way at the expense of the workers,'' adding that GM approached this morning's strike deadline "like they really didn't care.'' A GM spokesman says the automaker is disappointed in the UAW's decision to call a national strike. At a news conference in Detroit, Gettelfinger said job security is the number-one unresolved issue. He says the union has also been fighting to preserve workers' benefits. The UAW had extended its contract for nine days after it expired on September 14th. The UAW hasn't called a nationwide strike during contract negotiations since 1976, when Ford plants were shut down. There were strikes at two GM plants during contract negotiations in 1996.

The union leader of the General Motors plant in Arlington says the strike is a last resort. J.R. Flores says he has no idea how the walkout will lost after both sides were unable to reach a contract agreement About 2,500 employees at the Texas plant join thousands from other GM plants in the company's first nationwide strike since 1976. Flores says neither side likes the strike and it hurts both sides, but various issues just couldn't be resolved. He says the union is prepared to help employees who walked out--with money from strike funds. The Arlington plant makes SUV's.


NRG Energy is expected to submit the first application for a new nuclear reactor in the U.S. in nearly 30 years. Officials say NRG's application involves two new units at its South Texas project in Bay City. It would be the first complete construction and operating license submission the Feds have received since before the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Scott Burnell says the agency, based on conversations with the company, expects to receive NRG's application Tuesday. Burnell says the government anticipates up to six more applications this year from Duke Energy, Dominion Resources and others. Representatives with New Nersey-based NRG didn't immediately return calls for comment. NRG in June of 2006 filed its letter of intent to construct the two units. Utilities see nuclear plants as an opportunity to affordably meet demand for electricity, which the Energy Information Administration is forecasting will grow by 42 percent by 2030.


Filling up at the pump is apparently costing drivers less. A national survey finds that the average price of gasoline in the U.S. dropped about two cents over the last two weeks. The Lundberg Survey of 7,000 stations found the average price of regular gasoline on Friday was $2.79 a gallon. The nation's lowest average price was in Newark, New Jersey, where a gallon of regular cost $2.51. The highest was in Chicago at $3.16.


Records show that in the two years since Hurricane Rita struck Texas, the state has spent less than one percent of the federal money allotted to fix or replace thousands of ruined homes. East Texas officials, whose counties were among those hit hardest, say the state government has been slow to release funds. But state officials blame strict federal rules and argue that Texas received less money than Louisiana and Mississippi. Rita damaged about 80,000 properties in 22 counties of southeast Texas. Some 15,000 homes were left in need of repairs. Texas was awarded more than a quarter-billion dollars in two separate federal housing assistance installments. So far, the state and the three regional councils of governments it enlisted have disbursed less than $200,000 of the federal housing assistance. And more than $210 million remains untouched while Texas looks for a private contractor to do the repairs or rebuilding.

Hurricane Rita slammed southeast Texas two years ago yesterday. The Category Three storm made landfall near Sabine Pass. Rita also ruined every structure in the southwestern Louisiana towns of Johnson Bayou and Holly Beach. Authorities say overall about 100 people died in Texas, including 23 senior citizens whose bus exploded in fire near Dallas during the evacuations. The storm caused no fatalities in Louisiana, but plenty of property damage in Cameron and Vermilion Parishes. An insurance group says in all, there were $5.8 billion in property insurance claims in Texas and Louisiana. Dozens of Texas school district had to close after Rita. The last Texas school district to reopen was Deweyville--on November 2nd of 2005. Deweyville is about 40 miles north of where Rita came ashore.


Economic data has been pretty mixed lately and investors are wondering what the next data points will look like, given that the Federal Reserve seems undecided whether it will continue to cut rates on down the road. The Fed doesn't meet again until late October. This week, reports are due on consumer confidence, existing home sales and second quarter growth.


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