Monday AM October 22nd, 2007

Energy company volunteers building 21 homes for Habitat for Humanity...Decline in North American housing starts takes toll on construction material suppliers...Summer computer shipments by Hewlett-Packard and Dell rises at fastest rate in nearly two years...

Volunteers from 40 Houston-area energy companies and related firms have begun a 21-home Houston Habitat for Humanity construction project for low-income families. The Energy Build project volunteers are building homes on Brisbane Street. Twenty-five companies are underwriting the cost of additional "green" features, making them up to 40 percent more energy efficient. The project will be conducted in three phases spanning through the early spring of next year.

After slower-than-expected September sales, the nation's stores are now weighing whether to trim already lean holiday orders. Any major cutbacks could hurt manufacturers but help shoppers who could see discounted holiday leftovers pop up at off-price outlets. Retail consultant Burt Flickinger says that stores will reduce orders by up to five percent in the next few weeks, with the biggest cuts coming for clothing stores. But the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas says local department stores report sales up more than four percent in September. Apparel sellers suffered the most this fall as hot muggy weather and a slowing economy have discouraged consumers from heading to the malls. An executive with the Doneger Group, a New York-based buying office, expects that major department stores are more likely to trim orders than specialty stores.

The decline in North American housing starts is taking its toll on construction material suppliers. Lumber and paper producer Weyerhaeuser says it will indefinitely mothball three plants before the end of 2007 because of weak customer demand for wood products amid a sagging housing market. The facilities include Canadian oriented strand board plants in Drayton Valley, Alberta, and Wawa, Ontario, as well as a laminated strand lumber plant in Deerwood, Minnesota. Weyerhaeuser says about 450 people work at the affected plants and will receive severance pay and job-transition services.

Count President Bush among those who'd like to see a drop in the price of oil. With crude oil prices crossing $90 a barrel, the White House says the president "certainly would like to see the price of oil lower.'' But at the same time, a White House spokesman is playing down the $90 mark, saying "there's no magic'' to the number. A White House spokesman says Bush would also like to see the United States cut its dependence on oil imports. Crude oil prices have hit new record highs each of the last five days. They topped $90 a barrel for the first time last night in after-hours trading in New York.

Retired teachers in Texas may have a bonus pension check coming their way in January. The Teacher Retirement System says an actuary has certified that a supplemental check for an amount equal to their normal monthly pay would be possible for eligible retirees. The 13th monthly check still must be approved by the TRS board at their next meeting--on November 9th. The extra check was stipulated in legislation passed earlier this year, but on the condition that certain financial requirements be met. Board chairman Jarvis Hollingsworth notes the legislature's recent increase to the state contribution rate, and the system's outstanding investment performance for the last fiscal year. About 250,000 retired teaches and school employees will qualify.

The head of the International Monetary Fund says record oil prices are having a limited impact on the global economy. But, he says, the risk of economic disruption remains high. Rodrigo de Rato says increasing demand is driving oil prices up, creating "a very tight market.'' De Rato says another factor in the rising price of oil is geopolitical concerns, such as the Turkish parliament's vote to authorize cross-border military attacks in northern Iraq against Kurdish separatists. He says rapidly rising oil prices could create inflation problems for governments, particularly in countries with fast-growing economies. The IMF holds its annual meeting this weekend in Washington.

Computer shipments by Hewlett-Packard and Dell rose this summer at the fastest rate in nearly two years. In the process, HP pulled farther ahead of Round Rock-based Dell as the world's largest maker of PCs. Research firm IDC says sales drove much of the 15.5 percent increase in global PC shipments from July through September. Research firm Gartner estimates the growth at 14.4 percent. The reports raised expectations for another strong performance in the year's final months.

An Opinion Research Corporation poll for Citizens Lead for Energy Action Now, an effort funded by the Civil Society Institute, indicates Americans are ready to end dependence on fossil fuels. The poll found support for a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, increased investments and tax credits for renewable energy projects, greater emphasis on efficiency in new construction, better fuel efficiency standards and personal conservation.

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