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Friday AM July 25th, 2008

National unemployment figures up; more older employees staying in work force…Houston called fourth-hottest city to do business…Despite sluggish economy, consumer electronics industry expects continued growth…

The government reports that the number of newly laid off people filing claims for unemployment benefits bolted past 400,000 last week as companies trimmed their work forces to cope with a slowing economy. The Labor Department reports that these new applications rose by 34,000 to 406,000 for the week ending July 19th. That matches the level seen in late March. The last time claims were higher was after the devastation of the Gulf Coast hurricanes in mid-September 2005. Then, they spiked to 425,000.

The number of people 65 and older staying in the work force continues climbing. The U.S Department of Labor says employment in that sector increased 101 percent between 1977 and 2007. The number of working men 65 and older increased 75 percent, but employment of women 65 and older increased by 147 percent. Employment of those 75 and older increased 172 percent.

The online edition of Inc. magazine says the Houston area is the fourth-hottest city to do business—up from #17 last year. Texas cities dominate the list. Austin placed second. The Houston area is singled out for outstanding job growth. Raleigh, North Carolina placed first on the list. enjoyed a strong increase in sales and profit, both topping Wall Street forecasts in the latest quarter. The online retailing giant says its second-quarter profit more than doubled to $158 million. Sales of books, CDs and DVDs rose 31 percent, while electronics and other general merchandise sales rose 58 percent.

The consumer electronics industry is expected to reach $173 billion in sales in 2008 and $183 billion in 2009. Steve Koenig with the Consumer Electronics Association says part of that growth is due to high-tech cell phones.

image of speaker, click here for audio “The growth that we’re seeing in smart phones—the iPhone included—really just speaks to the fact that consumer electronics, especially cell phones, really enrich people’s lives and enhances businesses’ bottom lines, and it’s just such an integral part of our society and that’s one reason that although our overall growth this year is somewhat surprising and may seem bullish on the surface, when you really look at the fundamentals and understand the extent to which CE is omnipresent in our society, it’s not hard to understand why our industry continues to grow, despite the economic climate.”

Koenig says in a tough economy, consumers turn to entertaining in the home and telecommuting, helping the CE industry flourish while growth rates of other industries stall or decline.

image of speaker, click here for audio “One of the tings that we often see in these dark economic times when there is a lot of pressure on household disposable income, people may stay at home. You know, you’ve heard about the ‘stay-cation.’ Instead of people taking a trip somewhere and driving, taking the family, maybe they’re gonna stay closer to home or just stay at home and instead, spend the money on upgrading their TV or buying a games console and sticking around the house and enjoying those products. Or maybe upgrading their handsets and treating themselves in that fashion. So there’s that cocooning effect that tends to take place, and CE is one of those industries that really benefits from that kind of effect.”

The U.S. Consumer Electronics Sales and Forecast shows shipment revenues will grow by 7.3 percent this year.

The U.S. Geological Survey says some 90 billion barrels of oil and nearly a third of the world’s undiscovered natural gas sits untapped under an area north of the Arctic Circle. The area accounts for about a fifth of the world’s undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and natural gas reserves. The oil is considered “technically recoverable” using existing technology. However, the cost of overcoming obstacles to drilling, such as permanent sea ice or deep ocean waters, isn’t taken into consideration in the report. The USGS estimates about 84 percent of the undiscovered oil and gas is offshore, but most of it is still close enough to land to fall under national territorial claims. Much of the oil is off the coast of Alaska or in Russian provinces.

A new study finds that many banks are allowing their online customers to take security risks involving sensitive information, leaving them potentially vulnerable to fraud. As result, researchers fear that even Web-savvy consumers have been conditioned to ignore potential clues about whether the banking Web site they’re visiting is real–or a bogus site. University of Michigan researchers found design flaws in three-quarters of the more than 200 financial institution Web sites studied. The results, to be presented Friday at a security conference, cover top banks and smaller institutions alike. The researchers found that many banks silently redirect users to third-party sites, place “secure login” boxes on insecure Web pages, and use social security numbers or e-mail addresses as default user names. And they say all of those practices put users at risk.

A new round of testing finds that small pickups generally aren’t as safe as cars and SUV’s in side crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety finds that of five small pickups tested, only the Toyota Tacoma earned the highest rating of “good.” The Dodge Dakota, Ford Ranger and Nissan Frontier were given the rating of “marginal.” The Chevrolet Colorado was rated “poor”‘ in the side impact collision testing. The institute’s president Adrian Lund says consumer need to be careful if they’re looking to downsize to small pickups because of high gasoline prices. Small pickups have the highest death rates of all vehicles on the road. Consumers are advised to buy vehicles with airbags providing protection in side crashes.

China is adding to the already tight restrictions on who can get into China in advance of next month’s Beijing Olympics. A government official says Beijing has cut back on the number of business visas it’s issuing. The restriction started the beginning of the month and continues through the middle of September. China’s tightened visa rules are aimed at keeping out foreign activists and foreigners without jobs but regular business people are getting caught in the net. The head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai says it’s clearly having an impact on the U.S. business community but isn’t sure yet how much.

Two satellite radio companies have agreed to pay a total of nearly $20 million to settle rules violations. The move is expected to lead to quick approval of their planned merger. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin tells the Associated Press that the agency reached an agreement where XM Satellite Radio will pay $17.5 million and Sirius Satellite Radio will pay $2.2 million to settle agency rules violations. The agreement, which still requires a full vote of the commission, is expected to lead to approval of Sirius’s $3.9 billion buyout of XM. It has been under regulatory review for more than a year. The violations involve complaints about interference the satellite radios cause with land-based radio stations and violations related to land-based signal repeaters the companies operate to deliver programming. Martin said XM’s penalty was greater because the company’s offense was more egregious.

Nokia and Qualcomm say they’ve agreed to settle a high-stakes licensing dispute and end a bitter legal battle that has lasted nearly three years and spanned three continents. The wireless industry heavyweights say the 15-year licensing deal gives Nokia rights to a wide portfolio of Qualcomm’s patents. Nokia will pay Qualcomm an upfront sum and ongoing royalties, but the companies did not elaborate on the terms. Nokia, the world’s largest handset maker, says the two sides will drop all legal complaints against each other in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Ford has posted the worst quarterly performance in its history, losing nearly $8.7 billion in the second quarter. The automaker said it will retool two more North American truck and sport utility vehicle plants to build small, fuel-efficient vehicles. It also plans to bring six new small vehicles to North America from Europe by the end of 2012. The net loss includes 8.03 billion worth of write-offs because the sharp decline in U.S. truck and SUV sales has reduced the value of Ford’s North American truck plants and the lease portfolio in its credit division. Ford has been successful selling cars in Europe, and the company is banking on the new European models to boost sales and revenue as it deals with a market shift from trucks to cars brought on by high gasoline prices.

Southwest Airlines reports it earned a profit in the second quarter and beat Wall Street expectations. Dallas-based Southwest continues to rely on financial deals that lowered its fuel costs. Revenue increased by 11 percent, as Southwest raised fares. But Southwest, in a nod to high fuel costs and other problems facing the airline industry, says it might not grow at all next year. Southwest earned $321 million in the latest quarter. That’s up 15 percent from one year ago. Southwest posted its 69th straight profitable quarter. CEO Gary Kelly says Southwest must continue to make the necessary adjustments to adapt to higher jet fuel prices and restore profit margins.

Occidental Petroleum reports its second-quarter profit jumped 62 percent amid record crude prices and higher production. The Los Angeles-based company earned a record $2.29 billion in the April-June period. That compared with year-ago net income of $1.41 billion. Revenue rose 61 percent in the latest quarter. Occidental says production grew seven percent for the first six months of the year. The company says it plans to increase spending for drilling wells and other projects primarily in California, Texas and Colorado, as well as Argentina, Colombia and Libya.

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