Thursday AM February 14th, 2008

A Cambridge Energy Research Associatesξsenior director said natural gas is poised to become a global commodity in two years because of growing capacity to liquify and transport it. Michael Stoppard says the ability to chill the gas into a liquid for transportation by tanker instead of through pipelines will increase about 30 percent in the next two years. Regasification terminals are now planned or under construction in several states, adding to the five that currently exist. Last year was a record year for LNG imports, which were up 15 percent. Stoppard made the comments at CERAWeek, the annual energy research conference at the Westin Galleria. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan delivers a keynote address to CERA this evening.

A federal judge confirmed the freezing of $300 million held by Venezuela's state-run oil company in a dispute with ExxonMobil. The judge in New York found it's probable that Irving-based ExxonMobil will succeed in its legal battle against Venezuela. ExxonMobil is challenging the nationalization of its Venezuelan oil ventures. U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts confirmed the order of attachment after listening to arguments from lawyers for both sides. Earlier, Venezuela vowed to defeat ExxonMobil in its effort to freeze the country's assets in the U.S. and Europe.

Rescue workers in Georgia have found a seventh body in the wreckage of a burning sugar refinery in Georgia. A Savannah fire official says crews found the body in the second-floor break room. One other person remains missing, six days after an explosion tore through the Imperial Sugar plant. More than a dozen workers have been hospitalized, most in critical condition with severe burns. Parts of the plant continue to burn. Local officials have called in a specialized firefighting team to target the thick masses of molten sugar still bubbling at temperatures as high as 4,000 degrees.

The Commerce Department says retail sales posted a rebound in January, rising three-tents of a percent. Sales had dropped four-tenths of a percent in December as retailers suffered through their worst Christmas shopping season in five years. The gain was led by strong demand for new cars and a big jump in sales at gasoline service stations, which reflected higher pump prices. The January performance came as a surprise to analysts who had been forecasting a three-tenths-percent decline for the month. However, the January rebound may not last, given all the problems facing consumers from the steep slump in housing to job losses and a severe credit squeeze. Consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of total economic activity, is being closely watched for signals of whether the country is falling into a recession. Excluding gasoline, retail sales rose one-tenth of a percent in January, and excluding autos, sales were up three-tenths of a percent. Clothing stores saw an increase of 1.4 percent but general merchandise stores, the category that includes department stores and big chains such as Wal-Mart, saw a tiny increase of one-tenth of a percent. Sales fell at furniture stores, electronics stores, hardware stores and sporting goods sellers.

The Commerce Department says businesses built up their stockpiles of merchandise in December at the fastest pace in 17 months. The gain of six-tenths of a percent is slightly larger than expected. The increase could lead to an upward revision in overall economic growth for the fourth quarter of last year. That was estimated at a weak annual growth rate of six-tenths percent.

The government says crude oil inventories rose last week for the fifth straight period. The Energy Department says crude-oil inventories rose by 1.1 million barrels, a smaller-than-expected increase. The stockpiles were 6.6 percent below year-ago levels. Gasoline inventories rose by 1.7 million barrels, short of the build expected. Demand for gasoline over the previous four weeks was one percent higher than a year earlier. At the same time, U.S. refineries ran at 85.1 percent of total capacity on average, an increase of 0.8 percentage point. Analysts expected no change in refinery capacity. Inventories of distillate fuel, which includes diesel and heating oil, fell by 100,000 barrels. Analysts expected distillate stocks to drop by 1.2 million barrels. At the pump, gas prices rose more than a penny overnight and stayed at a national average of about $2.97 a gallon. They remain well above the year-ago average of $2.23 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. The Energy Information Administration said that gas prices are expected to peak at $3.40 a gallon this spring, down from the high of $3.50 predicted in last month's report.

The Bush administration is planning to defend its new fuel efficiency rules for most sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and vans. The move follows a federal appeals court decision rejecting the plan last year. A Justice Department filing asks the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for a full court rehearing. The petition says the review is needed to resolve a split in the courts over similar cases. California Attorney General Jerry Brown calls the appeal "frivolous.'' He dismisses it as a way to help automakers continue "making unacceptable gas guzzlers'' for a little while longer.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she will appoint a special envoy for energy issues to deal with the use of oil and gas for political means, particularly in central Asia. She made the announcement during a Congressional hearing. And her comments come amid threats from Venezuela to cut off oil exports to the United States as well as several incidents in which Russia has threatened to cut off gas supplies to some of its neighbors, most recently Ukraine. Rice broke the news while responding to a question from Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, who asked her about progress made on establishing such a post that was called for in legislation approved last year.

Detailed weather and ocean measuring instruments will be mounted on seven oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Shell Oil announced the effort will help researchers study hurricanes and deal with coastal resources. The instruments will be part of the Integrated Ocean Observing System. The Feds plan to install high frequency radar transmitters on a platform off Texas. The system will be able to calculate the speed and direction of the surface current--vital information for weather forecasting and analysis. Oil and gas platforms in the northern Gulf already collect and transmit certain weather and ocean data. The new instruments will increase the amount of information available. Shell will buy and install the equipment. NOAA will handle the data. Installation should be completed next year.

The Justice Department will allow two private equity firms to go ahead with a $19.5 billion buyout of Clear Channel Communications, the largest operator of radio stations in the United States. To address competition concerns, the agency is requiring Bain Capital and Thomas Lee Partners to sell radio stations in Cincinnati, Houston, Las Vegas and San Francisco. The Federal Communications Commission's earlier approval of the deal was contingent on San Antonio-based Clear Channel selling radio stations in 42 markets.

An Illinois legislator is looking at ways to offer refunds to communities that spent money wooing an experimental power plant that's now stalled. Representative Chapin rose has asked the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity about using state money to help cover costs incurred by Mattoon and Tuscola. Rose wants to know if any money the state would have spent on FutureGen can be used for reimbursement. Mattoon was selected as the site of FutureGen in December. But since then, the Department of Energy has pulled out of the project. It was selected over nearby Ttuscola and two other sites in Texas.

Dunkin' Donuts is targeting the afternoon and evening crowds with new flatbread sandwiches and personal pizzas heated in convection ovens rather than microwaves. The chain hopes the moves will improve food quality and bolster an expansion plan that's introducing Dunkin's restaurants far beyond its northeastern base. Dunkin' Donuts latest new markets include Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and Austin. The Canton, Massachusetts-based seller of coffee and baked goods has previously experimented with sandwiches. But the 57-year-old chain is billing what it calls its "all-day, oven-toasted menu'' as its biggest change since its launch of espresso drinks in 2003. The goal is to even out sales throughout the 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. day maintained by most of the 5,400-plus U.S. stores. About two-thirds of sales come before noon, with most customers choosing snacks such as baked goods and breakfast sandwiches with coffee.

Yahoo! is said to be discussing a possible partnership with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. That's according to a person familiar with the talks. Yahoo! has told Microsoft that its takeover bid, initially put at $44.6 billion, is too low. The source says specifics of the proposed joint venture haven't been worked out. Both the Wall Street Journal and a prominent blog, Techcrunch, reported that News Corp. is interested in folding its popular online social network,, and other Internet assets into Yahoo!. News Corp. owns the Journal. A Yahoo! spokesman said the company continues to "carefully and thoroughly'' evaluate alternatives that will enrich its shareholders. Murdoch indicated last week that his company had no interest in an outright acquisition of Yahoo!, but he didn't rule out the possibility of a deal involving MySpace.

The headquarters of the proposed joint venture between Molson Coors and Sab Miller won't likely be in either Denver or Milwaukee. Molson Coors is based in suburban Denver and Montreal. Sab Miller is based in London, but its Miller Brewing Company is Milwaukee-based. Molson Coors Vice Chairman Pete Coors tells the Rocky Mountain News that "there's a fairly strong sense a neutral site would be important.'' He says it would be "totally speculative'' to list possible locations, but added the options could include Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri. Miller has a brewery in Fort Worth.

Arizona copper company Asarcohas a new air quality permit for its El Paso smelter. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved the permit request, first filed in 2002, Wednesday in a hearing in Austin. The five year permit, which allows the bankrupt company to restart smelting operations in El Paso, is widely opposed by officials in and around the border city of about 600,000.

Waste Management posted a fourth-quarter profit today that's 26 percent higher than last year's quarter's. The Houston-based garbage hauler credits tax benefits and the sale of some operations, even though higher fuel prices cut into income. The nation's largest trash hauler is posting earnings of $309 million, for the three months ended December 31st. Revenue rose two percent $3.36 billion. Excluding special items, the recent quarter's profit was $276 million. For all of 2007, Waste Management said net income rose slightly less than a percentage point to $1.16 billion. Full-year sales also were roughly flat at $13.3 billion.

Belo Corporation says it swung to a fourth-quarter loss as a result of write-downs, the cost of newspaper spinoffs and weak ad sales. The Dallas-based media company said today it lost $333.4 million in the last three months of 2007. That compares with a profit of $51.3 million a year earlier. Belo posted $367 million in write-downs in the value of some newspaper and television businesses. Newspaper spinoffs also cost the company $6.5 million during the quarter. Belo recently completed a deal to spin off its four newspapers, including the Dallas Morning News. Belo said the advertising environment for newspapers was soft, though television and online advertising improved.


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