Friday PM September 28th, 2007

Gasoline prices increasing slightly...UAW unanimously approves new GM contract...Dell expands in-store sales of computers...

Retail gasoline prices are on the rise across most of Texas. The weekly AAA Texas Gas Price Survey shows regular self-serve is averaging $2.71 per gallon in 11 Texas cities surveyed. That's three cents higher than last week. Nationally, the average price rose two cents to $2.81 per gallon. And auto club spokesman Paul Flaningan says "rising crude oil prices may be felt at the pump in the very near future.'' Retail gasoline prices had held steady across Texas for the previous three weeks. Amarillo saw the only significant drop in gas price this week with a two-cent drop. But the Panhandle city retains the distinction of having the state's most expensive gas at $2.87 per gallon. Houston continues to have the cheapest gas at $2.62 per gallon, despite a two-cent increase this week.

United Auto Workers officials from factories across the nation have unanimously approved the union's new contract with General Motors. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger says he expects it to pass, although some members have concerns about its terms. Now that local union leaders have been briefed on the deal, they'll take it back to the membership for a vote, which likely will run into next week. Several industry analysts say that if the company's 74,000 UAW members ratify the deal, its provisions likely will save the company about $3 billion a year, which it can pump into the development of new products.

Consumers shrugged off a rash of bad news to spend more than expected in August. And a key measure of inflation eased to the slowest pace in three and a-half years. The Commerce Department says consumer spending rose by six-tenths of a percent in August. It was the best showing in four months and better than the four-tenths-percent increase that had been expected. Incomes rose by three-tenths of a percent, slightly less than had been expected. And a closely watched gauge of inflation was up just 1.8 percent in August, compared to the same period a year ago. That was the smallest increase since a similar rise in February of 2004.

The Commerce Department says construction spending posted a surprising two-tenths-percent gain in August. Strength in non-residential construction offset a continued plunge in home building. Analysts had been forecasting that overall construction spending would fall by two-tenths percent. The Commerce Department said the increase pushed total spending to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.166 trillion and reflected a 2.3 percent rise in spending on office buildings, shopping centers and other non-residential projects, the biggest increase in this category in six months. Spending on home building fell by 1.5 percent, the 18th straight drop in this area, with more weakness expected in coming months as builders scramble to cut back production in the face of slumping sales and a record number of unsold homes.

Rates on 30-year mortgages rose for a second straight week, a sharp rebound after hitting a four-month low. Freddie Mac says that 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 6.42 percent this week, up from 6.34 percent last week. Two weeks ago, the nationwide average for 30-year mortgages had slipped to 6.31 percent, the lowest level since May. Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, a popular choice for refinancing, averaged 6.09 percent this week, up from 5.98 percent last week. While rates on 30-year and 15-year mortgages rose this week, rates on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages and one-year arms declined for a fourth straight week.

Apple has issued a software update that creates problems for iPhones modified to work with a cellular carrier other than AT&T. Apple warned earlier this week that the iPhone update, which adds access to the iTunes Wi-Fi music store and fixes some security flaws, could permanently disable phones running programs that untether the phones from its exclusive partner's network. Several gadget enthusiast Web sites report that depending on which unlocking program was used, certain modified phones no longer worked after they installed Thursday's software update. Some sites also reported that iPhones equipped with unofficial, third-party applications were disabled after the update. Some hackers had characterized Apple's warning as "a scare tactic.'' But company officials insist they are "not proactively'' trying to make hacked iPhones useless.

Dell will start selling personal computers at Wal-Mart stores in Brazil and Mexico. It's the latest move in an ongoing retail expansion at Dell. The Round Rock-based company--until recently--has built its business on selling direct to customers and businesses. Dell used to lead global PC sales with its lower-cost direct sales model. But since being overtaken by Hewlett-Packard, Dell has started to turn to retail sales, including deals with Wal-Mart stores in the U.S., Bic Camera in Japan and Carphone Warehouse in Britain. Dell on Monday announced an agreement to sell computers in China at one of the country's biggest chain of electronics stores.

The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the United States was down this week by 9 to 1,760. Houston-based Baker Hughes reports that of the rigs running nationwide, 1,443 were exploring for natural gas and 311 for oil. Six were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago, the rig count stood at 1,744. Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, Texas lost. Baker Hughes has tracked rig counts since 1944. The tally peaked at 4,530 in 1981, during the height of the oil boom. The industry posted several record lows in 1999, bottoming out at 488.

Tags: News


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