Friday PM March 21st, 2008

Gasoline price average up another two cents in Houston…Houston Organization of Public Employees union ratifies contract with city of Houston…AT&T paying initial $1.3 billion to FCC for portion of wireless spectrum…

The price of gasoline in Texas rose slightly to average $3.17 per gallon this week. AAA Texas reports the penny increase. Houston prices increased two cents to $3.18 per gallon. Nationally, the average price for gasoline held steady at about $3.27. AAA Texas says El Paso has the lowest average in the state survey, at $3.12 per gallon. Gasoline in Galveston listed the highest average price at $3.19 per gallon. AAA Texas spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says it’s unclear whether the slight price declines in the last couple of days signal that we’ve reached a peak–or just a plateau.

City employees voted to ratify the contract between their union and the city of Houston. Houston Organization of Public Employees members voted 3,237 to seven in favor of the three-year agreement. The agreement now goes before the Houston City Council for final approval. The contract establishes a minimum wage of $10 an hour by September 2009, and immediately creates a $9.50 an hour minimum.

Diesel cars are trying for a comeback in the U.S. market. Two major car companies are touting them this week at the New York International Auto Show. Almost all manufacturers are showing off fuel-efficient models including hybrids, all-electrics and fuel-cell cars. But for two German manufacturers, fuel efficiency comes through a return to diesel. Mercedes spokesman Dan Barile says diesel’s problems with smell and performance have been cleaned up and fuel efficiency is a selling point. Volkswagen is showing off 40-mile-a-gallon diesel cars that meet emission standards in all 50 states.

About 60 workers from India have called for a Mississippi oil rig construction company to stop what they claim is exploitation of guest workers. The rally at the capitol in Jackson also included a call for fair wages and benefits by Signal International. The workers also claim that they were promised residency status in the United States in exchange for labor. A federal lawsuit filed March 7th accuses Signal International of subjecting immigrant workers to forced labor and poor living conditions at sites in Pascagoula and Orange, Texas. Signal International issued a statement saying the company intends to sue GLobal Resources and its officers for fraudulent acts in recruiting workers from India. Signal President and CEO Richard Marler claims Global and its officers deceived Signal and the workers during their recruitment process in India.

AT&T will pay an initial down payment of $1.3 billion to the Federal Communications Commission for its portion of wireless spectrum licenses it won. San Antonio-based AT&T says it will make the down payment, of which $500 million was paid prior to the start of the auction, within the next ten business days. The remaining balance of $5.3 billion will be paid on or before April 17th. AT&T says it will use funds from operations and either short-term or long-term debt to fund the purchase price. The FCC this week announced winners of a record-setting auction. The spectrum was made available thanks to the transition to digital broadcasting.

Wall Street looks ahead to next week’s economic data, which includes looks inside the consumer’s mind and at the housing market. On Monday, the National Association of Realtors reports on sales of previously-owned homes for February. Analysts are looking for a decline. Tuesday, the Conference Board reports on consumer confidence and the Commerce Department has new home sales on Wednesday. Rounding out the week, reports are due on fourth quarter economic growth as well as personal income and spending.

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