Thursday PM November 29th, 2007

Deadly Enbridge pipeline fire in Minnesota briefly affects crude oil prices...Judge allows victims of BP Texas City explosion to pursue plea agreement complaints...Figures show continued stress in new home sales; foreclosure filings nearly doubled in October from same month last year...

Oil prices were briefly affected by a pipeline fire in northern Minnesota, owned by Houston-based Enbridge. The fire Wednesday afternoon killed two workers who were making repairs, causing the temporary shutdown of lines used to carry crude oil from Saskatchewan to Chicago. Enbridge says the workers who died were cutting out a section of pipe when oil leaked and ignited. The workers had been repairing a section of the pipeline that had a pinhole leak about two weeks ago. The fire had burned out today. An Enbridge spokesman says it's not clear what ignited the oil. The pipelines supply refineries in Indiana and plants along the Texas Gulf coast. Oil prices briefly rose more than $4 a barrel after the oil shipments were cut, but have since retreated. Enbridge pipelines supply about 14 percent of U.S. crude imports, or about 7.3 percent of overall domestic oil consumption. Four pipelines were initially closed, but two now have reopened. Enbridge says at least one or two lines will be down for quite some time. The company says it will not proceed with a planned public offering due to the explosion and fire.

A judge in Houston has agreed to let victims of BP's deadly plant explosion pursue complaints about a plea deal in a federal investigation. Attorneys for the victims have argued that a $50 million fine--brokered between the London-based company and the Justice Department--is insufficient. They want to reject the plea deal that came out of a federal probe of the fiery explosion. U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal said she's going to allow victim attorneys to submit additional information about the history of fines, whether BP is being granted some form of immunity and whether the fine should be increased. It will be up to Rosenthal to accept or reject the plea agreement. The March 2005 accident at BP's Texas City unit killed 15 people and left more than 170 hurt.

New figures from the government on sales of new homes show the market remains stressed. The Commerce Department says October new-home sales rose 1.8 percent, but that was up from a September number revised sharply lower. That left sales at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 728,000. Even with the slight bounce, sales have plunged 23.5 percent over the last 12 months. In September alone, sales dropped to a pace of 716,000, the lowest since 1996.

U.S. foreclosure filings nearly doubled in October from the same month last year, according to Irving-based mortgage research firm RealtyTrac. The U.S. had one foreclosure filing for every 555 households in October, including default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions. Nevada reports one foreclosure filing for every 154 households. Some two million loans are due to reset at higher interest rates in the next eight months, which could lead to more foreclosures.

The economy grew at its best pace in four years this summer. The Commerce Department says the nation's Gross Domestic Product grew 4.9 percent from July through September. That's better than the government's initial estimate of a 3.9 percent growth rate for the period. The main reasons for the jump: stronger U.S. exports and more inventory investment. Still, that strong performance isn't expected to last through the current quarter. Instead, the economy is predicted to lose steam through the remainder of this year and grow just 1.5 percent, mostly because of the housing slump and credit crunch.

Ford has agreed to settle class-action lawsuits covering plaintiffs in Texas and three other states who claimed its Explorers were prone to rollovers. Attorney Kevin Roddy says the settlement applies to about one million people in California, Connecticut, Illinois and Texas. He said the settlement will be filed in California—in Sacramento County, California, Superior Court. It will allow vehicle owners to apply for $500 vouchers to buy new Explorers or $300 vouchers to buy other Ford or Lincoln Mercury products. The settlements apply to Explorers in model years 1991 through 2001. Consumers will be able to apply for the vouchers through a Web site starting Monday--if a Sacramento judge gives preliminary approval to the settlement. Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley confirmed a settlement—but declined further comment.

Broadway tickets that normally sell for more than $100 are going for less than $30 today, as the Great White Way celebrates the end of a 19-day stagehands strike. Theatergoers have been lining up and Broadway has been tuning up. As one producer put it, "you can imagine the adrenaline.'' Details of the five-year contract deal--reached late last night--have not been disclosed. It must still be approved by union members. But now, after nearly three weeks, most plays and musicals shut down during the walkout are expected to be up and running this evening. The strike couldn't have happened at a worse time, coming during the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday week. And it wasn't just producers and stagehands who were affected. The walkout took a big financial bite out of New York, with businesses like restaurants, stores, hotels--even hot dog vendors--losing a total of about $2 million a day.

Tags: News


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