Wednesday AM April 9th, 2008

Two of the world's largest oil companies announced plans Tuesday to jointly develop a multibillion dollar natural gas pipeline to move North Slope natural gas to market. BP and Houston-based ConocoPhillips said in a joint statement that they plan to spend $600 million to reach the first major project milestone, an open season, commencing before the end of 2010. The two companies have assigned staff on the project, expected to be the largest construction project ever in North America. Governor Sarah Palin had earlier rejected the proposal by ConocoPhillips to build a natural gas pipeline linking the state's energy rich North Slope to midwestern states, opting to stick with a plan by pipeline company Transcanada. That company's plan for a pipeline remains under review.


Fear among Federal Reserve policymakers about a deep recession drove last month's vote to again cut a key interest rate. According to minutes of a March Fed meeting made public Tuesday, some members thought a "prolonged and severe economic downturn'' could not be ruled out in view of tight credit and the slumping housing market. To limit damage to the economy, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and most of his colleagues agreed to slash the interest rate by three-fourths of a percentage point--to two and a quarter percent--capping its most aggressive two months of action in a quarter-century.


Critics say a bill designed to help ease the foreclosure crisis and boost demand for housing may actually encourage foreclosures and drive down house values. At issue is a Senate proposal to award a $7,000 tax credit to people who buy foreclosed homes or homes on which foreclosure has been filed. The $7,000 credit is aimed at helping get foreclosed homes off the market, thereby stabilizing home prices and keeping blighted houses from dragging down neighborhoods. However, economists say that making it easier to buy foreclosed homes makes it easier to sell them. At the same time, economists say, the $7,000 credit could distort the market by making foreclosed homes owned by lenders more attractive to buy than other homes.


Chairman Henry Waxman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has questions about the Federal Reserve's unilateral decision to let New York-based financial firm Blackrock manage $30 billion in assets as part of the rescue of Bear Stearns. The California Democrat has sent a letter to the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York questioning what he termed, "the award of this potentially lucrative position to Blackrock without competition.'' He wants a response by April 18th. Last month, the Fed last agreed to take $30 billion in securities off the books of Bear Stearns to facilitate the acquisition of the firm by JPMorgan Chase for $10 a share. The Fed hired Blackrock to manage the portfolio of securities, mostly backed by residential mortgages. A spokesman for the New York Fed declined to comment on Monday. A Blackrock spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.


The nation's economic slowdown may be dragging down brick-and-mortar stores, but it's full speed ahead for businesses that sell online. Internet spending is expected to rise 17 percent this year, according to an annual survey being released Tuesday. The online arm of the National Retail Federation forecasts $204 billion in Internet sales, mostly from clothing, computers and even automobiles. The projection is below the 21 percent increase seen the year before, but industry officials think that's because the online retail industry is maturing. It's a different story for many traditional retailers. Higher gasoline and food costs, along with job losses and the housing slump, have dampened shoppers' spending. Thursday, the nation's retailers are expected to report no better than flat sales growth for March.


A grocer has filed suit against Arctic Glacier Wisconsin accusing it of conspiring to freeze out competition. The lawsuit filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court follows a federal lawsuit filed last month in Minnesota by Ridge Plaza of Milwaukee Company. That suit alleges federal antitrust violations by Arctic Glacier and two other ice companies. The suit filed in Milwaukee accuses Arctic of dividing the U.S. packaged ice business with Dallas-based Reddy Ice Holdings andCincinnati-based Home City Ice. Similar federal and state lawsuits have been filed in Minnesota, Ohio, Florida and Texas. Arctic Glacier CEO Keith McMahon says the company plans to comply with the Justice Department subpoena. Attorney John Cabaniss with Brookfield, Wisconsin, grocer V. Richards, said he will ask for the case to be certified as a class action.


You will be able to use a cell phone in the skies over Europe later this year. That's because of new rules that will allow air travelers to stay in touch. It also raises the prospect of sitting next to a constantly talking person at 30,000 feet. But don't expect to use your phone on a U.S. flight anytime soon. The decision Monday by the European Union makes the 27-nation bloc the first region in the world to scrap bans on the use of cell phones in the sky. The EU insists the change will not compromise safety. In the U.S., cell phone use on flights is banned by two regulatory agencies. Both say they have no plans to change the rules.


A new report on Internet security threats says fierce competition among identity thieves has driven the prices for stolen data down to bargain basement levels. And it says that has forced crooks to adopt mainstream business tactics to lure customers. According to the latest twice-yearly Internet Security ThreatReport from Symantec Corporation, credit card numbers were selling for as little as 40 cents each and access to a bank account was going for $10 in the second half of 2007. Symantec detected 711,912 new threats last year, 468 percent more than in 2006, when it found 125,243--and almost two-thirds of all 1,122,311 Symantec has cataloged since 2002. The data is usually sold through instant message groups or Web forums that exist for only a few days or even hours, according to Symantec, and the hacking community exacts harsh consequences when members try to pass along fraudulent information. Researchers said they found more evidence during the last six months of the year that Internet fraudsters are adopting mainstream tactics, including hiring teams of hackers to create new viruses and offering volume discounts on stolen data to encourage larger orders.


Private Selection Light Churned Mint ChocolateChip Ice Cream is being recalled. Officials say the treat, which was sold at Kroger groceries stores in Texas and elsewhere, may contain egg, soy and wheat products not listed in the ingredient statement. People who have an allergy to eggs run the risk of serious or life-threatening reaction if they consume this product. No illnesses have been reported. The ice cream was distributed to Kroger stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The recalled products come in 1.75-quart containers with a "sell by" date of December 3rd, 2008, and carry the code dec0308 8070 or dec0308 8080. Customers can return the product to a Kroger store for a refund. For more information, consumers may call Inter-American Products at 1-800-697-2448.

 

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