Friday October 21st, 2005

Gasoline prices drop in Houston and across state…Texas unemployment rate jumps to 5.7 percent…Hurricanes blamed for decline in Texas Business Leaders Confidence Index… Gas prices are plummeting across the state because of falling demand. That’s the finding of the weekly AAA Texas gasoline price survey released today. It finds that the average retail price of […]

Gasoline prices drop in Houston and across state…Texas unemployment rate jumps to 5.7 percent…Hurricanes blamed for decline in Texas Business Leaders Confidence Index…

Gas prices are plummeting across the state because of falling demand. That’s the finding of the weekly AAA Texas gasoline price survey released today. It finds that the average retail price of regular unleaded self-serve fell almost 14 cents a gallon in the past week to just under $2.68 per gallon. The biggest decrease came in Fort Worth, where prices fell nearly 22 cents a gallon to $2.66. The lowest average price is in Corpus Christi, where it fell 17 cents a gallon to $2.60. The highest average prices are in Galveston and Texas City, falling an average of eight cents to $2.79 a gallon. AAA Texas spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says demand for gasoline is showing its biggest year-to-year decrease in more than a decade. That’s after pump prices topped $3 a gallon last month. She says the falloff in demand is leading to a rapid falloff in retail gas prices. The national average for regular self-serve is down about seven cents a gallon from last week to just under $2.71.

The Texas Business Leaders Confidence Index declined 5.7 points to 56.9 for the fourth quarter of 2005. State business leaders are cautious about the national economy, according to Jim Recer with Compass Bank.

Jim Recer audio 1

Recer says the hurricanes will have a positive effect on the local economy in several areas.

Jim Recer audio 2

Recer says it’s still unclear just how many Louisiana residents will opt to stay in the Houston area.

The influx of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina may have caused the Texas unemployment rate to jump last month to 5.7 percent. The Texas Workforce Commission says that’s the highest rate Texas has seen in seven months and is a jump from 5.1 percent in August. The agency estimates unemployed job seekers jumped nearly 13 percent to 642,100 in September from 569,400 in August. Houston’s rate is up a point to 6.2 from last month’s 5.2 percent. Commission labor market analyst Robert Crawley says some of those newly unemployed could be Katrina evacuees from other states. He says it’ll “probably be a long time” before officials can isolate the impact of the hurricane from other forces affecting the job market. It’s unclear whether Rita or the lingering effects of Katrina could cause the state’s jobless rate for October to rise again.

The feds are releasing more than $14.4 million to reimburse some Texas communities for Hurricane Katrina recovery costs. U. S. Senator John Cornyn says today’s grants are in addition to $72.5 million announced earlier this month. Cornyn also says more money will be coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Katrina slammed New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast in late August. Hundreds of thousands of evacuees from Louisiana and elsewhere headed for Texas. Numerous communities opened their doors–with shelters and other assistance. The reimbursement includes more than $5.7 million to Fort Worth for sheltering evacuees; nearly $2 million to Bell County for sheltering evacuees; more than $2.2 million to San Antonio for sheltering evacuees; more than $2.3 million to San Antonio for providing security for shelter evacuees; and nearly $2.2 million to Plano for sheltering evacuees.

U. S. Senator Mary Landrieu’s office says that immigration agents detained a large number of illegal immigrants working for a Halliburton subcontractor hired to do Hurricane Katrina recovery work. Adam Sharp, a Landrieu spokesman, says that Birmingham, Alabama-based subcontractor BE&K was awarded the work by Houston-based Halliburton, which won contracts after Katrina to repair several military bases in the hard-hit Gulf Coast region. Landrieu’s office says that possibly 100 workers were involved in setting up a tent city at a Navy base just outside New Orleans when they were detained yesterday by Immigration and Customs enforcement agents.

A Texas oilman and two Swiss business executives have been charged today with directing payment of illegal kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime. The case involves the United Nations Oil-for-Food program. Former Coastal Corporation’s Oscar S. Wyatt, Jr., was arrested today at his home in Houston. The U. S. government is seeking extradition of Catalina del Socorro Miguel Fuentes and Mohammed Saidji from Switzerland. The men were named in a superseding indictment unsealed in federal court in New York. An earlier version of the indictment in April had charged two Houston oilmen and a British citizen with participating in the corruption of the Oil-for-Food program. The program broke down after the UN let Saddam choose who could purchase Iraqi oil. Authorities say that by 2000, Saddam had begun insisting that those he dealt with be willing to pay kickbacks. If convicted of conspiracy and other charges, the three men named in the indictment unsealed today could face a maximum 62 years in prison and a fine of $1 million.

Metro has selected Houston-based Transwestern Commercial Services for real estate development along its rail line, according to the Houston Chronicle. The $105 million development could include condominiums, a hotel, office and retail space above the transit center at Fannin and Pressler in the Texas Medical Center. Construction could take three years, and is expected to begin in the second half of 2006. Metro hopes to create a similar projet on land it owns near the light rail station on Wheeler.

American Rice plans a $110 million expansion at Port Freeport that will add olive oil bottling and cookie baking operations. The expansion by the subsidiary of Spain-based Grupo SOS Cuetara will move American Rice’s headquarters from Houston to Freeport. Construction is set to begin in the middle of 2006, with 335 new jobs expected at the port, where the company operates a rice mill with 350 workers. SOS Cuetara bought American Rice in January 2004 for $41 million.

Kingsville officials have new hope that some Virginia-based military jet operations will end up on the Texas Coast. Jacksonville, Florida authorities have ruled out using Cecil Field Naval Air Station, which closed in 1999. The area was considered for Navy fighter squadrons after the Base Closure and Realignment Commission said encroachment might force closure of the site in Oceana, Virginia. Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton yesterday said community feedback was against returning the jets to his area. BRAC has said it would look elsewhere, including sending some operations to Naval Air Station Kingsville, if Jacksonville didn’t meet the requirements. Dick Messbarger with the Greater Kingsville Economic Development Corporation says the area could receive some F/A-18 jets. Congressman Solomon Ortiz of nearby Corpus Christi says Kingsville’s window of opportunity had widened.

Yellowstone Capital Partners has bought Houston-based Chung’s Products for a second time, having purchased it in 1999 before selling it three years later to a New York firm. Chung’s Products was founded almost 20 years ago, making egg rolls for grocery stores, restaurants and Sam’s Clubs stores across the country. Other products include items sold under the Chung’s, China Express, China Garden, China Gourmet, Chung’s Express and Chung’s Authentic Asian Recipes brands.

Lakewood Church is selling its old location to the New Light Christian Center Church for $15 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. Lakewood moved into its new location at the former Compaq Center on the Southwest Freeway this past summer. The former Lakewood complex in Northeast Houston becomes New Light Church’s third Houston location.

Judicial officials say the first legal action has been taken to target a French aviation official in the crash of a Concorde jet five years ago. A former high-ranking official of France’s Aviation Authority has been placed under investigation for manslaughter and involuntary injury. The investigation has found the official didn’t do enough oversight. The former head of the Concorde program and Continental Airlines have also been placed under investigation for alleged manslaughter and involuntary injury. Two past investigations found that the Concorde blew a tire when it hit a titanium strip left on the runway by a Continental DC-10. Debris then pierced the Concorde’s gas tanks. The Air France Concorde crashed shortly after takeoff from Paris in 2000 and killed all 109 people on board and four on the ground.

A federal judge says Indonesian villagers can sue Exxon Mobil on state law claims over allegations the company contributed to human rights abuses by government security forces. The villagers claim Indonesian security forces funded by the Irving-based oil company committed murder, torture and rape where the company operates a government-owned oil and gas field and a pipeline.

It is a good time to be an oil field services company. Schlumberger has posted a 70 percent increase in third-quarter profits. The company benefited from rapid growth in exploration and production worldwide, although its results took a hit from recent hurricanes. Schlumberger said its latest quarter was reduced by $36 million because of the hurricanes disrupting activity in the Gulf of Mexico, with more than 25 days of lost operating time. The company says hurricane damage to production platforms and mobile offshore drilling units will reduce activity throughout the current quarter, but levels are expected to improve. Schlumberger describes itself as the leading oil field services company for customers in the oil and gas industry.

Seven-Eleven Japan today says it’s raised its offer for the remaining 27 percent stake in 7-11 Incorporated by 15 percent. The Japanese company already owns the rest of the shares in the Dallas-based affiliate. Its updated offer would now pay about $1.38 billion for the world’s largest convenience-store chain. The new offer raises the per-share tender offer for outstanding 7-11 stock by five dollars to $37.50 per share. The revised offer expires at midnight on November 8th. Directors of Dallas-based 7-11 last month recommended that shareholders reject the original $32.50 per share as not in their best interests.

RadioShack today reported its third-quarter profit rose 56 percent on a large one-time gain and increased sales. The Fort Worth-based electronics retailer posted quarterly net income of $108.5 million. That includes a 39 cents-per-share gain from the reversal of a tax contingency reserve. Revenue rose eight percent to $1.19 billion as same-store sales grew one percent for the quarter. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial estimated quarterly income of 37 cents per share and $1.15 billion in sales. RadioShack also improved its full-year earnings forecast to a range of $2.14 to $2.24 per share, including the one-time gain from the third quarter.

Muniz Engineering has changed its name to MEI Technologies, according to the Houston Business Journal. The minority-owned engineering and technical services company was founded in 1992 to serve NASA and the Johnson Space Center, and has expanded its services to include system design analysis and development, systems engineering and integration, payload integration and technical services.

If you are a fan of better stock market performance, then cheer for the Houston Astros. That’s said to be the correlation between the market and baseball’s fall classic, for what its worth. The chief investment strategist with Standard and Poor’s says the stock market has performed better in years after National League wins. Sam Stovall says while the NL hasn’t won as often as the AL since 1903, the performance of the market in the year after those victories has been more than twice as favorable. In addition, market declines are less frequent in the year after an NL win. Stovall is quick to point out that investors shouldn’t really base their financial outlook on how the World Series goes.

Baker Hughes in Houston today reports the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U. S. slipped by eight this week–to reach 1,474. One year ago the rig count was 1,250. The Texas rig count is unchanged.

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