Monday PM April 21st, 2008

Gasoline average tops $3.50 per gallon…Earth Day survey says employees look favorably on companies with "green" attitudes…Voters name economy as most important issue on their minds…

The national average for regular unleaded gasoline has topped $3.50 a gallon according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. The latest Lundberg Survey finds the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline has risen 16 cents in the past two weeks. And there’s more pressure to come. Crude oil prices keep setting records too, spiking to a record above $117 a barrel after a Japanese oil tanker was attacked in the Middle East. The attack on the 150,000-ton tanker Takayama came about 270 miles off the Yemen coast in the Gulf of Aden while it was heading for Saudi Arabia, according to its Japanese operator. The company says none of the ship’s crew members was injured, but several hundreds of gallons of fuel leaked before a one-inch hole in the tanker’s stern was repaired.

A survey released to coincided with Earth Day says going green increases an organization’s competitive advantage in hiring and retaining employees. Research conducted by the Kenexa Research Institute says recycling, energy conservation and vendor selection have a significant influence on employees’ engagement levels and views of senior management. The report by the software, services and process outsourcer is based on an annual survey conducted in 13 countries, with more than 54 percent pleased with their company’s participation in “green” activities.

When voters are asked to name the most important issues on their minds, the economy is the most common answer in a new poll by the Associated Press and Yahoo! Two-thirds say it’s an extremely important issue. That’s up from 46 percent in November. Gas prices run second, at 59 percent. Just under half named the Iraq war as being extremely important. Yet those who’ve become extremely concerned about the economy since the fall show no significant difference from everyone else in backing a presidential candidate. Both groups divide about evenly between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, and between McCain and the other Democrat, Hillary Clinton.

Wal-Mart reigns supreme despite weak consumer spending. The world’s largest retailer remains atop the new Fortune 500 list, edging ExxonMobil for the second straight year. It’s the magazine’s annual ranking of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies. Fortune compiled its list based on companies’ 2007 revenues. Wal-Mart had more than $378 billion in revenue last year. It has topped the list six times in the last seven years, having been unseated only by ExxonMobil. ChevronTexaco moved up one place to number three, followed by GM and ConocoPhillips.

Business economists have turned more negative about what lies ahead. A new report from the National Association for Business Economics finds about a-third of those surveyed look for the economy to contract in the first half of this year. Another 50 percent look for growth between zero and one percent. And 70 percent say they are more pessimistic about the outlook for the full year than they were in January. Is the worst over for housing? Some 45 percent of the business economists expect a further substantial slowdown in housing over the next six months, down a bit from earlier this year. Nearly half expect a further mild slowdown in housing.

The housing market is fodder for a pair of economic reports due this week. On Tuesday, the National Association of Realtors reports on sales of previously-owned homes. Analysts look for further decline in March. Thursday, the Commerce Department releases figures on new home sales, a smaller slice of the housing market. That number is seen down slightly as well. Also that day, the government reports on orders for durable goods. A slight gain of 0.1 percent is expected in March.

This is Administrative Professionals Week—formerly Secretary’s Day. And the Houston Galveston Area Council recognizes April as “Fair Housing Month” in observance of the 30th anniversary of the passage of the national Fair Housing Act.