Tuesday PM September 22nd, 2009

Government index finds home prices rising slightly…Governor Perry speaks out against proposed cap and trade legislation…Screen rights bought for UK stage production of "Enron"…

A government index shows U.S. home prices rose slightly in July from the previous month, further evidence the housing market is stabilizing. The Federal Housing Finance Agency says prices rose 0.3 per cent in July from the prior month, but June’s price increase was revised down to 0.1 per cent from 0.5 per cent. The index is still 4.2 per cent below last year’s levels and 10.5 per cent off its peak from April 2007. It is based on loans owned or guaranteed by mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The index has declined less than other housing market measurements because it excludes the most expensive homes and some of the subprime loans that have fallen into foreclosure.

Governor Rick Perry says proposed federal cap and trade legislation would increase the cost of living for Texas families. Governor Perry says the state comptroller estimates a family’s cost of living would increase by an additional $1,200 a year because the energy taxes associated with the Waxman-Markey will make every product that uses energy more expensive.


“These energy taxes will cause every product that uses energy to become more expensive, forcing hard-working Texans to bear substantial new costs, and kicking a hole in our state’s economic strength.”

Speaking at a discussion hosted by the Public Utility Commission, Texas Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in Austin, Governor Perry says the cap and trade bill would cripple the state’s energy sector, and would amount to the single largest tax increase in U.S. history. He says the nation instead needs to pursue innovative energy sources by making alternative energy technologies less expensive and remove barriers to innovation and competition. Perry says the U.S. should be modernizing the national energy grid to support wind and solar transmission, investing in development in carbon capture and sequestration technologies and nuclear generation.

Sony has purchased the film rights to playwright Lucy Prebble’s Enron stage production, according to Reuters. Variety reports the screen rights were bought by Columbia Pictures. Prebble is doing the screen adaptation and Spider-Man producer Laura Ziskin will be producing this film. The play is currently being staged in a sold-out run at Royal Court Theater in London, garnering rave reviews. The play moves to the Noel Coward Theater in January and to Broadway in April. The collapse of Enron was made into a made-for-television movie called The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth about Enron in 2003, with Mike Farrell playing Ken Lay. The documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room by Alex Gibney was released in 2005, based on Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind’s best-selling book. In early 2008, Warner Brothers announced it was working on an Enron movie based on Kurt Eichenwald’s book Conspiracy of Fools, with Leonardo DiCaprio producing and possibly starring.

Environmental officials say BP Exploration (Alaska) will pay more than $1.7 million to settle oil spill containment violations on Alaska’s North Slope. The agreement covers facilities at the Prudhoe Bay, Endicott and Badami fields. BP and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation have signed two compliance orders to correct the problems. By state law, major oil facilities must be within a containment area designed to capture oil if there’s a spill. Inspections in October 2007 revealed that at least three BP secondary containment areas in the Prudhoe Bay field failed to meet size requirements set out by regulation. BP has repaired most of the inadequate facilities.

Houston-based BMC Software is teaming with McAfee, according to the Houston Business Journal, to integrate products that identify, report and remediate security violations. By streamlining and automating configurations, patches can be rolled out much faster.

The House is set to consider an extension of jobless benefits. With the jobless rate at 9.7 per cent and economists acknowledging jobs will be tough to come by even as the economy recovers, the House could make things a little easier for the unemployed. It’s expected to easily approve a 13-week extension of benefits. It would apply to jobless who live in states where the unemployment rate is at least 8.5 per cent and whose benefits run out at the end of the month. The bill’s sponsor says three-quarters of the 400,000 workers who are projected to exhaust their benefits this month live in high-unemployment states. Critics argue that extending the benefits could prompt the jobless to not look for work.

The head of the Census Bureau says he’s worried the poor economy and tensions over immigration will deter people from participating in next year’s high-stakes count. Robert Groves appeared before Congress for the first time since he was confirmed in July. He told a House panel it may be hard to find residents because of growing homelessness, foreclosures and people “doubling up” in single-family homes. Groves said response rates to census surveys have been declining, and that public debate over immigration is creating added uncertainty. The population figures, gathered every ten years, are used to apportion House seats and distribute nearly $450 billion in federal aid.

A broad survey of Americans has provided striking measures of the recession’s effect on life at home and at work–and in health care. Massachusetts, with its universal coverage law, had fewer than one in 20 uninsured residents–the lowest in the nation. The Associated Press reports Texas had the highest share, at one in four, largely because of illegal immigrants excluded from government-sponsored and employer-provided plans. Demographers said the latest figures were significant in highlighting how profoundly the recession affected Americans as it hit home in 2008. Findings come from the annual American Community Survey, a sweeping look at life built on information from three million households. Also, about one in five U.S. residents spoke a language other than English at home, mostly clustered in California, New Mexico and Texas. More people are getting high school diplomas. Only two states, Texas and Mississippi, had at least one in five adults without high school diplomas. This is down from 17 states in 2000 and 37 in 1990.

Years of downsizing in the U.S. auto industry have left behind a pool of engineers and designers looking for work. Some are seeking training in plug-in hybrid electrics and cutting-edge vehicle safety systems, while others are turning to retraining programs to reach beyond the auto industry for a new line of work. The Talascend Global Training Academy in the Detroit area is one of those programs. It’s working to retrain engineers and designers for careers in the oil and gas industry. The academy was started in February by staffing company Talascend. It partnered with Macomb Community College, which has a history of teaching computer-aided design for the auto industry. About 50 people have been trained so far, and the first two recently got jobs.

Airlines are proposing to halve their carbon emissions by 2050 as part of a global effort to reduce greenhouse gases. The International Air Transport Association said the plan would see the aviation industry reduce its carbon emissions to about 320 million tons a year from 640 million tons in 2005. The group’s chief executive Giovanni Bisignani says in order to achieve the cuts governments have to improve air traffic management and encourage the development of sustainable biofuels for aviation. He appeals to governments ahead of December’s Copenhagen summit on climate change to treat the aviation industry as a distinct sector, rather than submit companies to country-by-country regimes that could distort competition between different carriers.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation may borrow billions from big banks to shore up the dwindling fund that insures regular deposit accounts. The New York Times cites industry and government officials familiar with the FDIC board’s thinking as saying it’s considering the move because a string of bank failures this year has left the deposit insurance fund at its lowest point in years. In May, Congress tripled the amount the FDIC could borrow from the Treasury to restore the fund. But FDIC spokesman Andrew Gray says that while borrowing from the banks “is an option, it’s not being given serious consideration.” The board meeting where the plans will be discussed is scheduled for next week. Ninety-four banks have failed so far this year. The FDIC estimates that failures could cost the fund $70 billion through 2013. The fund insures deposit accounts of up to $250,000.

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