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Thursday PM December 31st, 2009

Unemployment claims drop…Retail gasoline prices rise…U.S. Attorney’s Office will not prosecute Pilgrim’s Pride for immigration violations…


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The number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits dropped unexpectedly last week. That’s a fresh sign of healing in the job market. New jobless claims have dropped steadily since September. That’s raising hopes that the economy may soon begin creating jobs, prompting a decline in the unemployment rate. The Labor Department says that new claims fell by 22,000 to 432,000. It’s the lowest since July 2008. The government releases the monthly unemployment rate on January 8th. Some economists think it could show that the economy actually began to add jobs this month.

Regular self-serve gasoline costs an average of four cents more per gallon across Texas than last week. The weekly AAA Texas survey shows regular selling for an average of $2.47 per gallon across the state. Nationally, regular is averaging $2.62 per gallon, three cents more than last week. Houston and Galveston have the cheapest gas in Texas at $2.43 per gallon, up five cents from last week. Prices dropped by two cents in El Paso, but it again had the costliest gas in the state at $2.55. AAA says prices as 2009 comes to a close are about $1 higher than at the end of 2008.

The Treasury Department says it has pumped $29.3 million into ten banks, which will be the last to receive investments as part of the taxpayer-funded program to shore up the financial system. The aid comes from a $700 billion financial bailout program created last year during the height of the financial crisis. The investments in the ten banks are the last under Treasury’s so-called Capital Purchase Program, Treasury officials said. Although the government anticipated winding down support for banks, Treasury Secretary Geithner recently extended the publicly derided bailout program, saying it will focus on helping homeowners avoid foreclosures and small businesses get loans.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says it will not prosecute Pilgrim’s Pride for immigration violations and has dropped an investigation into workers at the chicken producer’s plants. It says the Pittsburg, Texas-based company has in turn agreed to pay the Department of the Treasury $4.5 million and improve processes to screen prospective employees to ensure they are allowed to work in the United States. In a statement, the Attorney’s Office says it has closed all immigration investigations into the company and its current or former employees. In 2008, federal agents arrested 338 Pilgrim’s Pride workers, of whom 38 were convicted of misuse of a social security number. Some were deported or faced other immigration proceedings.

The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. rose by 11 this week to 1,189. Houston-based Baker Hughes said 759 rigs are exploring for natural gas and 418 for oil. Twelve are listed as miscellaneous. A year ago this week, the rig count stood at 1,623. Texas increased by seven. The rig count tally peaked at 4,530 in 1981, during the height of the oil boom. The industry posted a record low of 488 in 1999.

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