Friday PM August 15th, 2008

Texas unemployment creeps up in Texas…Industrial out put rises slightly in July…Republic Services rebuffs Waste Management's takeover attempt for second time…

Texas unemployment rose slightly to 4.7 percent in July as the state begins to feel the effects of the national economic slowdown. That compares to a Texas jobless rate of 4.4 per cent in June—and 4.3 per cent in July 2007. The Texas Workforce Commission says employers added 17,500 non-farm jobs in July. That’s less than the monthly average so far this year. Nationally, the unemployment rate climbed to 5.7 per cent in July, up from 5.5 per cent in June.

Houston area employers created 57,100 jobs in July, according to the TWC. That’s an over-the-year growth rate of 2.2 per cent. But that’s about half the growth rate of July 2007, when local employers added 112,100 jobs. The local unemployment rate rose slightly from 4.7 per cent to 4.9 per cent in June.

The Federal Reserve says the nation’s industrial output rose slightly in July. The two-tenths-of-a-percent increase was because of increasing manufacturing that offset plunging utility activity. Motor vehicles and parts showed the biggest increase in manufacturing, up for a third straight month. Hotter-than-normal weather was behind a jump in electricity use. The nation’s factories, mines and utilities operated at 79.9 percent of capacity in July, up slightly from June.

Commodities are falling further as the value of the U.S. dollar regains more ground. It’s a sign that the cost of necessities like gasoline and groceries could take less of a toll on Americans’ budgets. The dollar has, at least for now, clawed back from the losses it suffered this year. The U.S. dollar index on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange — which measures the dollar against a group of world currencies — rose to levels not seen since late December 2007. That trend has lessened the allure of using dollar-denominated commodities as a hedge. The greenback’s comeback has hit gold particularly hard. Gold for December delivery dropped to around $785 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange. As recently as March, the price of gold was well over $1,000 an ounce.

Efforts by Waste Management to buy rival trash hauler Republic Services are getting more complicated. Republic has rebuffed the industry’s number one player a second time, this time rejecting a sweetened buyout offer that it said still undervalues the company. Republic said that it sent a letter to Houston-based Waste Management declining to enter into discussions over its unsolicited $6.73 billion bid. Republic says its board unanimously believes the Waste Management proposal “still substantially undervalues Republic.” Waste Management raised its buyout to $37 a share August 11th after number tree trash hauler Republic swiftly rejected an earlier $34-per-share bid. Waste Management says its’ disappointed by Republic’s decision and will evaluate what it will next do.

Mrs. Fields Famous Brands says it plans to file for Chapter 11 protection. The cookie company is reorganizing and working out a prepackaged plan with its creditors, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mrs. Fields, which also owns TCBY, has nearly 390 locations in the U.S. and at least 80 locations abroad. Many restaurant companies have struggled amid waning discretionary spending from consumers and high gas prices.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is giving notice to Merrill Lynch that his office will file suit against the investment bank as part of a broad investigation into the collapse of the auction-rate securities market. Cuomo says he has not been able to reach a “satisfactory agreement” with Merrill Lynch. His office is investigating about 25 financial firms that were involved in selling the securities.

Wachovia has became the fifth bank to settle amid investigations by Cuomo and other regulators into the collapse of the auction-rate securities market. Wachovia agrees to buy back $8.5 billion of the securities from investors. The bank based in Charlotte, North Carolina, will also pay $50 million in fines to be shared among states. The fines will be distributed to states based on the amount of securities sold to investors in each state.

Baker Hughes in Houston reports the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. jumped by 23 this week—to reach 1,990. One year ago the rig count stood at 1,795. Texas is down one rig.


J.C. Penney is reporting second-quarter profit slid 36 percent and predicting earnings in the current quarter will fall short of Wall Street expectations as its customers pull back on buying clothing in a tough economy. The Plano-based department store chain said that net income for the three-month period ended August 2nd was $117 million, compared with $182 million in the year-ago period. Total net sales fell 3.8 per cent to $4.28 billion from $4.39 billion in the year-ago period. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected revenue of $4.28 billion.

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