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Wednesday AM March 5th, 2008

Jobfox releases list of 25 most wanted professions…Fed chairman says foreclosure situation calls for vigorous response…Major automakers report February sales declines…

Despite reports of a slower-growing economy, highly-skilled professionals remain in high demand, according to the Jobfox Top 25 Most Wanted U.S. Professions rankings. Barry Lawrence with Jobfox says software developers top the list.

“So these rankings are the jobs or the professions that companies are most often seeking at a given point in time. Currently, we certainly are seeing software design and development as number one, but nursing is right up there at number two, and that’s to meet the demands of the aging population.” Ed: “You mentioned baby boomers. Beyond that, there’s the GenXers would be the next wave of retirements” “They are. The GenXers are next up, in terms of, you know, a population group. The problem is that they’re great candidates, but there’s only 48 million of them, compared to 77 million baby boomers. So you can there’s a lot of seats that we have to fill as these baby boomers exit the market. In addition, we’ve got GenY, which is a very large populationâ€â€even bigger than the baby boomersâ€â€but they’re still on the young side, and not quite ready to fill the ranks that companies need to move their businesses forward.”

Lawrence says changing demographics are helping shape the most wanted professions.

“The jobs on the Top 25 list are the engines that are kind of moving business forward. Software design/development is right up there. These are what the companies are most often seeking in the last 120 days.” Ed: “Okay, any surprises in the list? I mean, you’re in this business and see things day-to-day, and how they change.” “Well, we saw a lot of movement in the intelligence sector, so folks with security clearancesâ€â€I mean, I don’t think that’s a surprise for most of us with 9-11, but that segment is still in need of candidates. In addition to the technology industry continuing to grow, and of course the healthcare industryâ€â€lots of jobs within that industry. Administrative assistants, experts in call centers, customer support people, and certainly sales, sales, sales. I mean, sales drives the engine of lots of businesses, so if you’re good at sales, there is opportunity.”

Jobfox is a Web site that matches and connects job candidates with employers, in much the same way that eHarmony matches dating partners.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says the foreclosure situation “calls for a vigorous response.” Speaking to a banking group in Florida, the central bank chief said additional action is needed to prevent more distressed homeowners from falling into foreclosure. And he warned that even with some relief efforts under way by industry and government, foreclosures and late payments on home mortgages are likely to rise “for a while longer.” Among Bernanke’s suggestions is for mortgage and other financial companies to reduce the amount of the loan to provide relief to a struggling owner. He told the bankers that reductions in principal that restore some equity for the homeowner “may be a relatively more effective means of avoiding delinquency and foreclosure.”

Countrywide Financial Corporation has seen mortgage defaults rise as the housing market went from boom to bust. But the nation’s largest home loan provider says it could have more trouble ahead with a particularly risky slate of loans–pay-option adjustable rate mortgages. Pay-option loans give borrowers the option to make a lower payment but can result in the unpaid portion being added to the principal balance. They also have the potential to provide high yields to investors who purchased the loans from lenders during the housing boom. Countrywide said in a filing late Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission that as of the end of December, the company had nearly $29 billion in pay-option loans, with about $26 billion of the total having grown beyond their original loan amount. The company notes some 81 percent of the loans were made out to borrowers who provided little or no documentation on their income. As of the end of December, 71 percent of borrowers with pay-option loans were electing to make less than full interest payments. The company says that even though borrowers with such loans had the option to just make interest payments, many were increasingly missing payments.

Major automakers reported February sales declines. And sales of the most profitable vehicles–trucks, sport utilities and large sedans–fell sharply. General Motors and Ford Motor announced second-quarter production cuts because of slumping demand. GM reported a sales decline of almost 13 percent for the month while Ford’s sales slumped seven percent, Chrysler’s tumbled eight percent and Toyota’s fell three percent. It was expected to be a difficult month for automakers as consumer confidence continued to slide. Declines in home construction also have significantly weakened truck sales. A GM executive said tightening automotive credit standards may also be hurting sales. By contrast, Honda posted a five percent increase in U.S. sales as booming sales of its small cars and crossovers picked up the slack from its slumping Ridgeline pickup and luxury sedans. The subcompact Honda fit saw sales jump 62 percent. Honda’s sales were up nearly two percent for the first two months of the year.

A federal judge in Detroit has given preliminary approval to a settlement between General Motors and the United Auto Workers that would set up a union-run trust for retiree health care. A judge made his decision after a brief hearing. The judge says the settlement is very impressive and praises the cooperation between gm and the union. GM and the UAW agreed to form the trust as part of contract negotiations last fall, but needed court approval for it to take effect. Workers and retirees will be given details of the settlement by March 28th. The court plans another hearing on the fairness of the settlement on June 3rd.

The U.S. Energy Department will solicit bids sometime this spring for its plan to restructure the Futuregen clean-coal project. Department spokeswoman Julie Ruggiero says no date has been set. More than a dozen power and coal companies had planned to develop the prototype power plant with the Energy Department at Mattoon in eastern Illinois. Two sites in Texas were among the finalists for the project. The department, however, backed away from the project in January. It also took the money it had promised, roughly three-quarters of the $1.8 billion price tag. The power and coal companies still want to build in Mattoon.

Liverpool Football Clubco-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, Jr., have rejected Dubai International Capital’s bid for the Premier League club. The $800 million offer was immediately turned down, a person involved with the negotiations told the Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. DIC on Tuesday gave the Americans 24 hours to accept its offer. Meanwhile, Hicks has made a bid to buy all or part of George Gillett, Jr.’s share of the Premier League club. Hicks and Gillett bought the club last year for $431 million–beating a rival bid from the Dubai consortium. Hicks owns the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Stars.

Digital television may get a test run before it goes prime-time in about a year. Federal Communications Commission board member Michael Copps says in a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin that “broadway shows open on the road to work out the kinks” and the digital transition “deserves no less.” Once the nationwide transition happens next February, viewers who don’t have a digital set and watch shows with an antenna will lose their picture unless they buy a converter box, which the government will help pay for. The FCC has released its plan to educate the public about the switch. The plan requires broadcasters to air public service announcements and “crawls” that run across the bottom of the screen informing consumers of the shift.

Federal inspections will be carried out at hundreds of plants where combustible dust is a workplace hazard. The update came from Georgia as a safety official visited a sugar refinery where dust is suspected of causing a deadly explosion. Ed Foulke, Jr., is head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Foulke announced the inspections while visiting the refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia. The unit is owned by Imperial Sugar of Sugar Land. The February 7th blast led to the deaths of 12 workers and injuries to dozens more. OSHA has not completed its investigation, but is sending letters to 30,000 companies that deal with combustible dust to discuss the dangers. A preliminary investigation determined the explosion was caused by airborne sugar dust in a basement area beneath the refinery’s three storage silos.

Combi USA is voluntarily recalling 67,000 child car seats because federal tests show the seats might separate from their bases in front-end collisions. The company says the recall involves its Centre, Centre ARB and Shuttle seats, as well as the travel systems containing the centre and shuttle seats. The seats were produced between October 2005 and December 2007. Combi says it has received no reports of injuries involving the recalled seats. Consumers are being asked to contact the company to obtain a free retrofit kit on its Web site or by calling 1-800-543-7734.