Friday PM October 5th, 2007

President Bush praises job creation figures...Retail gasoline prices fall about two cents across Texas...12th annual American Solar Energy Society National Solar Tour gets underway in Houston on Saturday...

President Bush says the latest numbers show the economy remains "vibrant and strong.'' The new job market snapshot shows employers boosted payrolls by 110,000, the most in one month since last May. The Labor Department also found the economy actually added 89,000 jobs in August. That marked an improvement from the net loss of 4,000 that the government first estimated. Bush says the report shows 49 consecutive months of job creation, which he says is the longest streak of uninterrupted job growth "on record for our country.'' The president says he understands Americans' ongoing financial concerns, including mortgage payments or affording college tuition. He says Congress can help by keeping taxes low.

New Labor Department numbers show job creation picked up last month, but not enough to stop the unemployment rate from rising to 4.7 percent. The bump up in the unemployment rate from 4.6 percent in August came as hundreds of thousands of people streamed back into the labor market. The new rate of 4.7 percent was the highest since the summer of 2006. Wages, meanwhile, rose solidly.


The Federal Reserve says consumers have boosted their borrowing at the fastest pace in three months. Consumer credit rose at an annual rate of 5.9 percent in August. The increase was led by a jump in revolving credit. That's the category that includes credit card loans. Consumers have been relying more on credit cards to finance purchases now that home equity lines of credit are becoming harder to get. Non-revolving credit, which includes auto loans, also rose at a faster pace in August.


Consumer confidence is rebounding. Credit goes to the decision by the Federal Reserve to lower a key interest rate and to less turmoil on Wall Street. The RBC Cash Index, based on polling by IPSOS, shows a nine-point jump in consumer confidence, from 71.1 early last month, to 80.6 this month. Consumers think the credit crunch is easing a bit and stabilizing gasoline prices are also helping confidence. But at least one analyst cautions that consumers are only cautiously optimistic. For one thing, some two million overstretched homeowners could be in trouble this year and next as adjustable-rate mortgages head higher.


Retail gasoline prices fell across Texas this week. The weekly AAA Texas gas price survey released shows regular self-serve is averaging $2.69 per gallon in the 11 Texas cities surveyed. That's down two cents from last week. Nationally, the average price fell three cents this week to $2.78. Houston's average is down just under two cents to $2.60 per gallon. Amarillo still has the most expensive gas in Texas at $2.78 per gallon, despite an eight-cent drop this week. Houston still has the state's cheapest gas at $2.61 per gallon after a two-cent drop. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says prices are now about 40 cents per gallon less than the record high reached last May, when prices averaged $3.09 at Texas pumps. But she says it's unclear how pump prices will respond in the future to crude oil prices near $80 per barrel.


The 12th annual American Solar Energy Society National Solar Tour gets underway in Houston and around the nation on Saturday. Solar-powered homes and buildings are open for public tours around the Houston area and in 46 states. Tour locations are available at the group's Web site. The series of open houses and tours is to point out renewable energy options, energy-efficient design, real-world costs and current available rebates. According to recent EPA figures, residential and commercial buildings generate about 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions—a higher percentage than either transportation or manufacturing.


The House has approved legislation to help financially strapped homeowners, passing a bill that would give financial relief for homeowners facing foreclosure or in bankruptcy. One bill which passed by a 386-to-27 vote would give a tax break to homeowners who have mortgage debt forgiven as part of a foreclosure or a reworking of a loan. Another measure that was approved would allow judges to order mortgage lenders to ease terms for homeowners in bankruptcy proceedings. The House votes are the latest Congressional reaction to a mortgage crisis touched off this spring by a blowup in high-priced home loans for risky borrowers. An estimated two million to 2.5 million adjustable-rate mortgages will jump from low initial "teaser'' rates to higher rates this year and next. Steep pre-payment penalties have made it difficult for some to get out of their mortgages, and some overstretched homeowners can't afford to refinance or sell their homes.


Dallas-based Southwest Airlines says it plans to apologize to a Florida passenger. That's after a Southwest employee told him to change out of a sexually suggestive T-shirt or risk getting thrown off the plane. The incident happened Sunday in Columbus, Ohio. Largo, Florida, resident Joe Winiecki says he was sitting in the last row of a Columbus-to-Tampa flight when a Southwest employee told him he had to ditch his T-shirt, turn it inside out or leave. The shirt, bought in the Virgin Islands, uses sexual double entendre to promote a fictional fishing tackle shop. Winiecki says he argued that the airline was infringing his free speech right, but he changed rather than risk getting bumped flight and missing a day of work. Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz says the employee made a mistake. The incident comes after Southwest created a public uproar by telling a woman on a flight in July that her outfit was too revealing for her to fly.


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