Friday PM April 25th, 2008

The U.S. Navy says a Defense Department contractor's ship fired flares and warning shots at two small boats approaching it in the Persian Gulf. Fifth Fleet spokeswoman Commander Lydia Robertson says the Western Venture was in international waters in the central Persian Gulf when it was approached by two small boats of unknown origin. The navy official said Friday the ship fired flares and warning shots with .50-caliber machine guns and M-16s at the boats, causing them to leave the area. Robertson says the Iranian Coast Guard radioed the Western Venture a few minutes later to determine its identity. Oil prices rose sharply on news reports that said the small boats were Iranian.

A militant group called the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which has been behind a string of recent attacks in Nigeria's southern oil region, says it's sabotaged another pipeline. The pipeline belonging to a Royal Dutch Shell joint venture is the fourth to be sabotaged in the past week. Meanwhile, Irving-based ExxonMobil reports white-collar workers in Nigeria have gone on strike urging more pay. An ExxonMobil local joint venture is one of the largest producers in Nigeria with an output of about two million barrels a day in crude oil. Officials had no firm details on the amount of oil production lost but said they were operating at `"partial production."

No city in the weekly AAA Texas Gasoline Price Survey fell short of a record-high pump price this week. That's according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. The survey released shows regular self-serve is averaging a record-high $3.466 per gallon—over 13 cents higher than last week. Nationally, the average price rose almost 14 cents to $3.556 per gallon. Houston's rate is up over 12 cents to an average of $3.458. The reason is the stratospheric price of crude oil, which tops $115 per barrel. The most expensive gasoline in Texas is found in Fort Worth, where the average climbed 13 cents this week to a record $3.49 per gallon. The state's cheapest gas is in San Antonio, where the price climbed 14 cents this week to $3.41 per gallon. Gas prices have been following oil futures higher, but are also rising due to concerns about whether gasoline supplies are adequate to meet peak summer driving demand.

Governor Rick Perry is asking the federal government for a 50 percent waiver from the federal renewable fuel standard mandate for ethanol produced from grain. Perry says the mandate is significantly affecting food costs. Corn prices rose 138 percent globally over the last three years and global food prices increased 83 percent over the same time period. Last year, 25 percent of the domestic corn crop was diverted to product ethanol, according to the Department of Agriculture.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says a sharp rise in food prices has developed into a global crisis. Ban says the U.N. and all members of the international community are very concerned, and immediate action is needed. He spoke to reporters at U.N. offices in Austria. He has been meeting with the nation's top leaders for talks on how the United Nations and European Union can forge closer ties.

Troubles in the economy are taking their toll. A new snapshot of consumer confidence in the U.S. has dropped to the lowest level in 26 years. The University of Michigan survey for April puts sentiment at 62.6. That's down from 69.5 in March. Economists had been looking for a slightly higher reading. It was the lowest since March 1982. The report finds nine of ten respondents believe the economy is in recession. Many said they expect to use government rebate checks to pay down debt or add to savings.

President Bush says the economy is weakening but he hopes tax rebates that start going out Monday will help shore things up. Bush says the rebates also will help people cope with higher gas and food prices. The rebates range from $300 to $1,200 and are the centerpiece of the government's $168 billion economic stimulus package, enacted in February. Roughly 130 million households are expected to get them. The Bush administration is hoping that people will spend the money, helping to bolster the economy. Bush said, "obviously our economy is in a slowdown.'' The IRS says the first direct deposits of rebates will begin Monday, with paper checks to follow starting May 9th.

An Iraqi-American businessman who admitted helping Saddam Hussein's government in the Oil-for-Food scandal has been fined $300,000 and sentenced to probation. A federal judge in Manhattan says Samir A. Vincent provided substantial assistance to the U.S. government after his arrest. The oil trader from Virginia testified at two trials--including one that was interrupted when Texas oilman Oscar Wyatt pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Vincent operated a company called Phoenix International. The United Nations Oil-for-Food program produced an estimated $67 billion for humanitarian needs in Iraq. But a CIA report says it also was used by Saddam to generate kickbacks that totaled another $1.7 billion.

A jury awarded $66 million to a company that accused Clear Channel Communications of misusing patented technology that helps manage advertising revenue. Dallas-based Grantley Patent Holdings sued Clear Channel in 2006 in U.S. District Court in Lufkin, claiming a violation of four patents. The jury reached its verdict Tuesday. The plaintiffs say San Antonio-based Clear Channel wasn't licensed to use a system that helps maximize revenue by managing rapidly changing prices for radio ads. The jury found that Clear Channel's patent infringement was willful. That means U.S. District Judge Ron Clark can increase the award by up to three times. Clear Channel says it plans to appeal.

A discussion about the new Red Snapper policies and the impact they could have on local fishermen and the area economy is set for this evening at the University of Houston Clear Lake Bayou Theatre on Bay Area Boulevard. Representative Nick Lampson is heading the discussion, which will include Dr. Roy Crabtree, Regional Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Southwest Region. Proposed new rules are aimed at environmental conservation, but the Recreational Fishing Alliance in Houston argues that data used in the decision is flawed.

Author Michael Brown speaks on steps businesses can take to design an efficient service strategy at a Saturday afternoon book signing at Border's in The Woodlands. His book Fresh Customer Service: Treat the Employee as #1 and the Customer as #2 and You Will Win Customers for Life is published by Acanthus Publishing.

The Operation Get Employed Youth Job Fair is set for Saturday at the ECHOS Community Center on South Gessner, with employers accepting applications on the spot. The youth job fair, for those aged 16 to 21, is sponsored by the Gulf Coast Community Services Association.

Baker Hughes in Houston says the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. rose by 15 this week--to 1,842. A year ago, the rig count stood at 1,747. Texas was unchanged.


Share Options