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Monday PM January 11th, 2009

Gasoline prices up another 14 cents, on average…American Airlines resume contract negotiations…Live Nation and Ticketmaster Entertainment say shareholders approve merger…


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The average price of regular gasoline in the United States is up 14 cents over a three-week period to $2.74. That’s according to the Lundberg Survey of fuel prices. Analyst Trilby Lundberg says the average price for a gallon of mid-grade was $2.86. Premium was at $2.97. Cheyenne, Wyoming, had the lowest average price among cities surveyed at $2.36 a gallon for regular. Anchorage was the highest at $3.28. In California, prices were also up 14 cents since December 18th. A gallon of regular cost an average of $3.02. Fresno had the state’s least expensive gas at $2.90 a gallon. San Francisco remained the steepest at $3.06. AAA says gasoline prices in Houston average $2.58 per gallon.

Contract negotiations that began in 2008 between American Airlines and its flight attendants union have resumed. Talks are between the Fort Worth-based carrier and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. The so-called “lockdown” negotiations were scheduled to run for two weeks. American’s parent, AMR Corporation, has lost $3.2 billion in less than two years amid the drop in travel during the recession. American says it will continue to work with APFA to reach an agreement that recognizes the service and dedication of flight attendants, while positioning the company for long-term success. Union President Laura Glading told the Dallas Morning News that she is hopeful, but if no deal is reached the union will seek the guidance of the National Mediation Board.

University students are taking part in PetroChallenge 2010–two days of computer simulation competition at the University of Houston College of Technology. More than 300 high school students participated over the weekend. Each student forms a petroleum exploration company with a $200 million “budget” to find commercially viable volumes of oil and gas. They learn basic geology and form strategic partnerships with other teams to “drill” exploration and production wells. The competition is designed to pique interest in careers in the oil and gas industry.

An Associated Press analysis finds that spending on roads and bridges under the stimulus plan has had no effect on local unemployment. And the boost to the construction industry has been minimal. Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless of how much stimulus money Washington poured out for transportation. In Marshall County, Tennessee, which got a healthy dose of road money, local officials say unemployment continues to rise. Economist Thomas Smith of Emory University says, “as a policy tool for creating jobs, this doesn’t seem to have much bite.” President Barack Obama wants another stimulus bill that relies in part on more road and bridge spending. He says the projects are “at the heart of our effort to accelerate job growth.”

Another Dallas area city may soon be grappling with the issue of immigration. The Dallas Morning News reports the Lewisville City Council next month will discuss requiring city contractors to ensure that their employees are working legally in the country. John Gorena is an opponent of illegal immigration who narrowly won a seat on the council last year. He wants the city to expand its use of e-verify, a federally maintained electronic database system used by the government for large contracts. His proposal is modeled after a program in Mission Viejo, California, which became one of the first in the nation to require contractors to check the immigration status of their workers with the government verification system. The proposal has received a lukewarm reception from other council members. The Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch has been trying to oust illegal immigrants through a series of ordinances and is involved in costly litigation over an ordinance banning illegal immigrants from renting apartments. Lewisville is about 24 miles northwest of Dallas.

Concert promoter Live Nation and ticket-selling company Ticketmaster Entertainment say shareholders have approved the two companies’ merger, although the deal still awaits approval by U.S. antitrust authorities. Live Nation said that more than 99 per cent of its shares were voted in favor of the deal. A Ticketmaster spokesman said separately that its shareholders also approved the deal, with more than 98 per cent of its shares voted in favor. Both companies are awaiting a ruling by the U.S. Justice Department on whether the merger would hurt competition. Last month, the UK’s competition commission gave the merger its blessing, reversing a previous decision.

The Ford Fusion hybrid midsize sedan wins the 2010 North American car of the year, while the Ford Transit connect takes truck of the year at the Detroit Auto Show. Forty-nine auto journalists made the picks. Finalists for the car award included the Buick Lacrosse and Volkswagen Golf GTI. The Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Transit Connect and Subaru Outback were finalists for the truck award. The awards, given annually by journalists who test cars throughout the year, are often used by automakers in advertising. Vehicles are judged on innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value. The awards were presented this morning on the first day of media previews for the show. Last year’s winners were the Hyundai Genesis luxury sedan and the Ford F-150 pickup.

It has been months since Henry Ford’s great-grandson arrived at a shuttered auto plant outside of Detroit to brag about a plan to revive the vast empty space. The plant today is still vacant, just like scores of other cavernous auto factories across the nation. An Associated Press analysis illustrates the scope of the problem: of 128 manufacturing plants in North America closed since 1980 by the Detroit three automakers and their largest suppliers, three of every five now sit idle. Those 128 plants had a payroll of 196,000 workers at the time they closed. Today, only 36,500 people work at those sites that have been redeveloped, and at only three of the revived plants does the number of employees match or exceed the number in their car-making past.

It’s been the usual mix of the interesting and the odd at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Among the more interesting offerings is Qualcomm’s Flo TV, which sends news, sports, and entertainment shows to cellphones. Only a few types of phones can currently receive the signals, but Qualcomm has teamed with Mophie to create an external battery pack that doubles as a Flo TV receiver. No word yet how much it will cost. Several developments on the 3D front. They include a 3D camera from Fujifilm, a filter that can make your regular TV look like 3D, and 3D printing that takes data files and turns them into full-color sculptures. And, a new cleaning robot called Mint that can do its work while you watch the tube.

In the past two years, the livestock industry has seen feed costs skyrocket, pork and dairy prices plummet, and animal rights groups step up efforts to improve living conditions for farm animals. The industry is now hoping to strike back with proactive efforts to ward off unwanted legislation and boost the struggling industry. About 5,000 members of the American Farm Bureau Federation gathered in Seattle for their annual convention on Sunday. The group’s president, Bob Stallman, told members that the time has come for them to face their opponents with a new attitude. He said a line must be drawn between the respectful engagement farmers have with consumers and how farmers must “aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule.”

Investors will be treated this week to reports on retail sales, as well as trade and ,strong>budget deficits. The government tomorrow releases a reading on the November trade balance, followed by Wednesday’s release on the December federal deficit. The Commerce Department releases December retail sales on Thursday. Other releases this week include the Federal Reserve’s beige book, and the consumer price index.

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