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Wednesday PM November 11th, 2009

Dallas Fed chief says Texas better off than other states, but warns of looming economic problems…Legislators consider increasing state fuel tax to pay for highways…Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth lead nation in Energy Star-qualified homes…


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Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher says Texas’ economy is hurting, but not as much as other states. Fisher, speaking in Austin last night, said nationally it will be “some time” before job growth occurs. He noted that Texas’ unemployment rate is about two percentage points below the national jobless rate of 10.2 per cent. But he also said that at current rates, about 400,000 jobs will be lost in Texas this year. Fisher said Texas’ economic cut is less deep, in part because the state didn’t have overpriced housing stock like other states. So, he said, there wasn’t the same degree of home equity loan exposure in Texas. He says as the top exporting state, Texas’ economy will be affected heavily by global market trends.

October saw 15 per cent fewer chief executive officers leaving their posts than the previous month, and 29 per cent lower than departures in October of last year. That’s according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. October makes the eighth time this year that CEO turnover was lower than the same month a year ago. So far this year, there have been 18 per cent fewer than departures tracked by this point a year ago.

New reports from government and private industry indicate that job openings are at rock-bottom levels. And that could keep the unemployment rate high even as layoffs slow. Small businesses are reluctant to add workers as they struggle to obtain credit. Many are pushing their current employees to produce more. Economists say small businesses account for about 60 per cent of new jobs. Still, there are some pockets of hiring as demand for information technology and sales professionals grows. And there are signs that companies are adding more human resources personnel, which could signal more hiring down the road. The Labor Department says there are about 6.1 unemployed workers, on average, competing for each job opening. It’s a sharp increase from only 1.7 workers per opening when the recession began in December 2007.

Flight attendants are a step closer to qualifying for benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Senate late last night approved a measure to clarify the intent of the landmark law so that airline flight crews are covered. The 1993 law grants eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family emergencies or after the birth of children. It generally covers employers with 50 or more workers. Flight crews were considered excluded under the original law because they don’t work traditional 40 hour weeks. The House has already passed virtually identical legislation. House members are expected to pass the Senate’s version of the bill before the end of the year. Union officials hope it will be ready for President Barack Obama’s signature by year’s end.

A new poll shows southerners are fretting about job loss and the economy and don’t think the federal government is doing enough to help. The Winthrop University poll found four in ten respondents say the economy is a top concern. Nearly that many are worried about losing jobs. Winthrop political science professor Scott Huffmon says the worries mean people may spend less, hindering an economic recovery. The poll of 866 people in 11 states found nearly three quarters of people wanted new government programs to create jobs and nearly two thirds thought states in serious financial trouble should get federal aid. The telephone poll conducted between October 24th and November 7th has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.3 per cent.

OPEC says demand for crude oil will slip in the industrialized nations next year if oil prices climb and are sustained above their current level. The warning came as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, supplier of about 35 per cent of the world’s crude, revised its 2010 global crude demand up to 85.07 million barrels per day–75,000 barrels per day higher than its assessment last month. OPEC said in its November report that if prices climb and are sustained at higher levels, it would result in a one per cent decline in demand in industrialized nations. The 12-nation bloc is scheduled to meet December 22nd in Angola to discuss production levels.

Some legislators concerned about how to pay for new highways in Texas suggested looking at increasing the 20 cents a gallon state fuel tax. Members of the Texas Senate Transportation Committee, who convened in El Paso, said money is lacking to build new roads. The chairman, Senator John Carona of Dallas, said that Texas is growing but having no money to build more roads and “no more debt that we can issue.” Carona said the state fuel tax has been the same since 1991. Texas charges 20 cents for each gallon of gasoline pumped. Motorists also pay about 18 cents a gallon in federal taxes. Representative Joe Pickett of El Paso says it’s too early to offer precise figures on how much the state fuel tax might need to be raised.

Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth lead the nation in Energy Star-qualified homes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A million homes have been constructed in the U.S. since the program began labeling new homes. The EPA says Americans have saved $1.2 billion on their energy bills and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 22 billion pounds. This year, Energy Star-qualified homes will save more than $270 million on their utility bills, avoiding greenhouse gases equivalent to that from about 370,000 vehicles.

A new survey finds that just one in 20 Americans say they plan to buy a home within the next year. They are most likely to be 34 years old or younger and living in the south or west. Roughly a quarter of potential buyers said the top reason they would buy now is because prices appear to have bottomed out. That reason topped bargain-priced foreclosures, worries about rising interest rates and a wide selection of homes. The survey, conducted for reveals how Americans are responding to a nascent and fragile housing recovery after three years of staggering price declines. The percentage of buyers thinking of jumping into the market was down slightly from a March survey, but up about one point from a poll in June.

Maersk Line conducts the first-ever “fuel switch” demonstration on a container ship in the Gulf of Mexico, in partnership with the Port of Houston Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency. Switching from high-sulfur to low-sulfur fuel can decrease the impact of shipping emissions of particulate matter, with more than a 95 per cent reduction in sulfur dioxide and an 85 per cent reduction in fine particulate matter, according to the EPA. A low-sulfur distillate marine diesel fuel will be used within 24 nautical miles of the United States and Mexican coasts as the ship approaches each port.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released new estimates that may put to rest fears about a wet harvest season hurting wheat, corn and soybean crops. Late-season rains had delayed harvest of small grains in many areas, raising concerns about whether farmers’ record crops might die in the fields. But U.S. Department of Agriculture crop estimates show little change over the past month. Analysts now expect little–if any–changes in prices for either farmers or consumers. Total production of all types of wheat, as well as oats and barley are almost unchanged from September estimates. And the new figures for corn and soybeans vary only slightly from the Agriculture Department’s October 9th report.

Over the years, Web-based e-mail services have gotten much better, sporting many features once available only with the e-mail programs that reside on the computer desktop. Now, those desktop programs are borrowing from their Web-based counterparts, such as Google ‘s gmail. The new version of Mozilla’s Thunderbird lets you keep your inbox clutter-free with a gmail-like “archive” button for permanently storing older messages, while removing them from day-to-day sight. Thunderbird 3 also introduces tabbed e-mail–akin to tabbed browsing available on most Web browsers. The software is due out in the next few weeks.

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