Wednesday AM April 30th, 2008

President Bush says Congress has been dragging its feet over proposals that could help the troubled economy. He's accusing lawmakers of blocking his proposals to deal with high gas prices and the housing crunch. He's also pushing a plan to make more student loans available. At a White House news conference, Bush said it's a "tough time for the economy." He said Americans are "understandably anxious." He's urging Congress to take action. Bush adds that he's open to "any ideas," including a proposal to suspend gas and diesel taxes this summer. That plan is backed by both Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton.


President Bush is sending a message to lawmakers working out details on a massive farm bill. At a White House news conference, he called on Congress to reform the current system, including lowering payments to multimillionaire farmers and "non-farmers." During a time of rising food prices, he accused lawmakers of preparing a "bloated farm bill that would do little to solve the problem." Negotiators have reached a tentative agreement on how to pay for the measure, which would cost almost $300 billion over five years. A remaining sticking point is how much money farmers would be paid in a time of record crop prices. Bush has threatened to veto the bill and shows no sign of changing his mind. The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee says lawmakers are considering an eventual limit on payments to high-earning "non-farmers," the term for people who make only a small part of their income from farming. But he said that wouldn't involve income limits on wealthy farmers.

A private commission says agriculture has to move away from large, industrial farms. The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production reports that large farm facilities "often pose unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the animals themselves." The commission's chairman, former Kansas Governor John Carlin, says the panel is not advocating a return to "what is perceived to be the good old days of the small family farm." Carlin's group looked at issues such as the impact of livestock waste on lakes, streams and soil, the human health implications of the use of low-level antimicrobials for animal growth and the impact factory farms have on rural life. Among its recommendations: the panel wants to see the phasing out of the widespread use of antimicrobials, which are thought to contribute to human resistance to antibiotics.


The biggest economic worry for American families right now, according to a new survey, is how to fill up the tank. Paying for gasoline easily tops the list in a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Then comes getting a good-paying job or raise, paying for health care and health insurance and difficulty paying rent or a mortgage. About 44 percent of survey participants said paying for gasoline was a "serious problem" for them. Across all income levels, the cost of gas was the most frequently cited economic concern. As of Monday, the Energy Department said the price of gas nationally averaged $3.60 a gallon. About 2,000 adults were surveyed.


Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says he will head a new task force to tackle the global food crisis. Ban says the first priority for the task force is filling the $755 million shortfall in funding for the World Food Program. The Secretary-General tells reporters in Switzerland that the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization has a $1.7 billion dollar to provide seeds for farmers in the world's poorest countries.


ExecuNet's Recruiter Confidence Index climbed higher for the third consecutive month in April, as companies continued to hire top talent amid economic uncertainty. According to the survey of 132 executive recruiters, 61 percent are confident or very confident the executive employment market will improve during the next six months—up from 52 percent last month.


Medicaid rule changes will cost Texas more than $3.4 billion in federal funds over the next five years, according to a report by Families USA. The report says the lost funds will eliminate an estimated 6,000 jobs and $224.2 million in wages and $635.8 million in lost business activity. The rule changes include restricting funding for Medicaid services, including rehabilitation services, school-based transportation, and Medicaid administrative services such as outreach, enrollment and case management. Many of the proposed changes are under a Congressional moratorium.


Two Senate Democrats say a person convicted of mail fraud could get a lot more prison time than someone found guilty of fatal workplace safety violations. Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and Washington Senator Patty Murray want tougher punishments for workplace fatalities. Under the current law, the sentence for any death caused by the willful violation of a federal safety standard is six months. The top sentence for mail fraud is 30 years. Kennedy and Murray also want the Government Accountability Office to check to see whether companies are reporting all workplace fatalities to the government. In 2006, there were more than 5,800 work related deaths in the United States. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that rate of four per 100,000 workers is the lowest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping such numbers in 1992.


HSBC and Lone Star Funds have agreed to extend by three months the period for completing HABC's proposed purchase of South Korea's sixth-largest bank. Last year, London-based HSBC Holdings announced plans to acquire Lone Star's 51 percent controlling stake in Korea Exchange Bank pending regulatory and government approval. HSBC tells the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that its HSBC Asia subsidiary and Lone Star agreed to extend the acquisition agreement to July 31st. The original contract was to have expired Wednesday. Efforts by Dallas-based Lone Star to sell its stake in KEB have been stymied by various legal and tax disputes. Those problems have been compounded by negative sentiment in South Korea toward foreign investors. The Texas buyout firm has long battled suspicions that it was able to purchase the bank at a bargain price after colluding with government officials to understate the bank's financial health, accusations it has vehemently denied.


Broadcast company Belo Corporation says it swung to a first-quarter loss due to charges related to the spin-off of its four newspapers. The Dallas-based company says it lost $15.4 million in the January-March period, compared with a profit of $15.5 million in the prior year. Excluding spinoff-related charges and other items, Belo earned $10.5 million in the first quarter. Belo, which spun off its four newspapers and related assets in February, reports revenue dipped two percent to $174.8 million from $178.3 million.


Burlington Northern Santa Fe says its first-quarter earnings jumped 30 percent, on rising farm product and coal shipments and increased fuel surcharges. Fort Worth-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe said it earned $455 million, compared with $349 million dollars in the year-ago quarter. Revenue leaped 17 percent to $4.26 billion, from $3.65 billion a year earlier. Agricultural product revenues rose 38 percent to $866 million, on more carloads of wheat, soybeans, corn and ethanol. Coal revenue rose 26 percent. Thomson Financial says analysts forecast revenue of $4.09 billion.


Oil refiner Valero Energy says its first-quarter profit tumbled 77 percent, as higher oil prices cut into its margins. The San Antonio-based company said it earned $261 million, compared with $1.14 billion for the same quarter in 2007. The latest quarter's results include a pretax benefit of $101 million. Valero says refined product margins fell as the cost of crude oil and other feedstocks outpaced prices of gasoline and other products.


Waste Management, the nation's largest garbage hauler and landfill operator, says its first-quarter profit edged up as higher prices offset lower volumes. Houston-based Waste Management says it earned $241 million, compared with 238 million dollars in the year-earlier period. Revenue was $3.27 billion compared with $3.19 billion last year. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial were expecting revenue of $3.2 billion.


 

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