Friday PM December 14th, 2007

Senate passes mortgage payment relief bill...Texas gasoline prices decline for second straight week...Union says about 250 furloughed flight attendants will be recalled by American Airlines...

The Senate has passed a bill that could provide some relief to families facing steep increases in their mortgage payments. The measure, approved by a 93-1 vote, would allow the Federal Housing Administration to back refinanced loans for homeowners facing foreclosure because of the ballooning interest rates on their subprime mortgages. Up to 2.5 million adjustable-rate mortgages are scheduled to "reset'' this year or next. The bill raises the maximum mortgage the FHA can insure up to $417,000, the same levels backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer says the legislation clears the way for the FHA to "be a source of salvation for those families who were tricked into unaffordable loans.'' A similar bill was passed in September by the House. The two chambers have to come to an agreement before sending the final bill to the White House for approval.


Congressional negotiators are working on a $500 billion plus compromise budget that would basically comply with the strict limits President Bush wants on domestic spending. Given inflation and population growth, those limits would require most agencies to cut back services. Lawmakers are working on a plan that would fund the 14 cabinet departments whose budgets have yet to pass. They bought more time last night by sending the White House a short-term spending bill to keep the government up and running through next Friday. In an exception to the president's guidelines, democrats are pushing for a $3.7 billion boost in health-care funding for veterans. But it's expected Democrats will go along with another $70 billion in war funding, without attaching any deadlines for troop withdrawal. The White House is waiting for details before endorsing the plan, but a spokesman says "we're hopeful and encouraged by the movement.''


Gasoline prices across Texas declined for the second straight week, but are still up as much as 70 cents per gallon from one year ago. AAA Texas says the retail statewide average for regular, self-serve slipped by a nickel, to settle at $2.85. The national average saw a similar slide, reaching $2.98 per gallon. Houston's average fell a little over four cents a gallon to $2.82. AAA Texas spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says gas prices have dropped as crude oil prices backed down from record high levels. The lowest average Texas gas price this week was Fort Worth, at $2.81 per gallon. Austin-San Marcos was the highest, at $2.92.


A flight attendants union says about 250 furloughed flight attendants will be recalled to work by American Airlines. American will send recall notices to the 247 most senior furloughed flight attendants beginning December. Those notified will have until January 4th to accept. The president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants says flight attendants who accept the recall will go back to work beginning March 25th. Tommie Hutto-Blake also says that's great news for members who have been on furlough for over four years. American Airlines did not immediately respond to a message left by the Associated Press. According to the union, this is the seventh round of recalls since 2003. In August, American announced it would rehire 460 flight attendants who were laid off after the 2001 terror attacks. Those flight attendants worked for TWA, which American parent AMR bought out of bankruptcy in early 2001. In July, American rehired 200 flight attendants, more than half of them former TWA employees.


A group of day laborers claims Brownsville is violating their rights by pushing them out of an area where they congregate to seek work. The federal lawsuit names the city, Brownsville police and Police Chief Carlos Garcia. The eight workers call themselves the "Committee of 14th and Adams Street Workers.'' They allege that police have harassed them, accused them of criminal activity and arrested them without probable cause. An attorney representing the defendants could not be reached for comment. But officials say the city is enforcing a law against standing in the roadway to "solicit a ride, contribution, employment, or business from an occupant of a vehicle.'' A hearing in the case is scheduled for next week.


A Dallas-based company is dropping plans to build a 100 million gallon ethanol plant near Wallace, Nebraska. Panda Ethanol spokesman Bill Pentak says the decision not to build is a matter of economics and market changes. Pentak says corn prices have soared while ethanol prices have dropped, making now a bad time to find financing to build corn-based ethanol plants. Plans for the plant were announced in October. A North Platte, Nebraska, development official previously said the plant would have created nearly 50 skilled jobs and 133 support jobs for the area.


That Wall Street Journal you are reading has a new parent company. Rupert Murdoch completed his more than $5 billion deal to take ownership of Dow Jones, adding the financial newspaper to his global media conglomerate News Corporation, ending a century of control by the Bancroft family. The changeover is sure to bring significant changes to the Journal, starting with a new management team that was announced late last week. Murdoch and two members of his team addressed several hundred Wall Street Journal reporters in the paper's main newsroom. Murdoch, holding a microphone and standing on top of several boxes of copier paper, told the assembled crowd that he had high hopes for the Journal's future. Murdoch has said he sees major potential in Dow Jones with the booming demand worldwide for business news and information. He also intends to beef up the paper's online operations and Washington coverage, and is looking at changes for the Journal's Web site to further open it up to non-paying subscribers.


Baker Hughes in Houston reports the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. fell by four this week--to 1,824. One year ago the rig count stood at 1,716. Texas gained 13 rigs this week.

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