Thursday PM October 4th, 2007

Unemployment makes biggest jump in four months...Bids for central Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases reach $2.9 billion...ConocoPhillips CEO endorses surcharge on less fuel-efficient vehicles and rebate for more fuel-efficient models...

It's the biggest jump in four months in the number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits. The government says there were 317,000 applications last week, an increase of 16,000 from the previous week. That's the biggest gain since the week of May 9th. It's a bigger rise than analysts had been expecting. And it could be a further sign that the labor market is slowing, in the wake of the housing slump and the credit crisis. When the September jobless rate comes out, analysts believe it will show an increase of one-tenth of a point to 4.7 percent.

High bids at a sale of federal offshore oil and gas leases in the central Gulf of Mexico this week totaled $2.9 billion--the second-largest such sale for central Gulf tracts. The bids were opened in New Orleans by the U.S. Minerals Management Service. Petroleum developers put up 1,428 bids on 723 offshore tracts that could produce oil and natural gas. Seventy-three companies placed bids. Of the tracts receiving bids, 477 were in ultra-deep water, or in depths of 800 meters or greater. Also drawing continued interest were tracts of 200 meters or less on the shallow Gulf shelf, considered prime ground for the development of natural gas deposits deep in the earth. Those tracts picked up 187 bids.

The Top 10 companies based on the total of high bids submitted in Wednesday's sale of federal offshore leases off the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama: 1. Shell Offshore, 69 bids totaling $554.6 million; 2. Chevron USA, 44 bids totaling $283.4 million; 3. Marathon Oil, 27 bids totaling $221.7 million; 4. Cobalt International Energy, 53 bids totaling $211.3 million; 5. Murphy Exploration and Production, 26 bids totaling $161.1 million; 6. BHP Billiton Petroleum, 14 bids totaling $140.2 million; 7. ConocoPhillips, 6 bids totaling $122.5 million; 8. Nexen Petroleum Offshore USA, 30 bids totaling $113.6 million; 9. Petrobas America, 26 bids totaling $108.1 million; 10. BP Exploration & Production, 83 bids totaling $107.1 million.

ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva told business leaders in Detroit the nation should consider a surcharge on less fuel-efficient vehicles and a rebate on more fuel-efficient models. That's a concept traditionally opposed by the auto industry. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has opposed the idea, calling it an unfair tax.

American Airlines and one of its labor unions has broken off talks on extending a contract covering mechanics and other ground workers. Instead of extending the current contract that expires in May, the company and the Transport Workers Union plan to begin negotiating a new contract. The development was a setback for American's hopes of buying a period of peace with ground workers so it could focus on negotiations with pilots and flight attendants. The Transport Workers Union had been considering a company proposal to link pay raises to company performance. Details were not disclosed. Union President James C. Little had written to company officials that cooperation between the union and the airline was eroding because workers had not been rewarded for American's improved financial performance. American is a unit of Fort Worth-based AMR.

Poultry producer Pilgrim's Pride has agreed to pay $1 million and offer jobs to some applicants to settle federal government allegations of hiring discrimination. The Labor Department says allegations of discrimination against males of certain ethnic groups and women surfaced during evaluations at plants in Texas. Reviews focused on applicants for entry-level productions jobs from January 2005, through December 2006. Pittsburg-based Pilgrim's Pride denies acting unlawfully or unfairly. The company said it agreed to the settlement to avoid litigation costs and time. As part of a consent decree, the country's largest chicken company will pay more than 4,500 applicants rejected by its Dallas facility $775,000 in back pay and interest. Pilgrim's Pride also must hire 361 unskilled laborers from the rejected applicant pool. Another consent decree calls for more than 800 applicants rejected by the company's Nacogdoches facility to receive $225,000 in back pay and interest. Pilgrim's Pride also will have to hire more than 101 unskilled laborers from the group, the Department of Labor said in a statement.

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