Monday PM February 8th, 2010

Reports indicate Toyota plans Prius hybrid recall…Retail price of gasoline continues drop…Magazine circulation numbers continue falling…

News reports out of Japan say Toyota plans to recall about 300,000 Prius hybrids worldwide over a brake problem. But a spokesman for Toyota says no decision on a Prius recall has been made. The Kyodo news agency says the Prius recall will cover the latest version of the cars that went on sale in May last year. Kyodo also says the automaker is likely to notify both the U.S. and Japanese governments tomorrow. The agency says the recall will cover about 270,000 of the hybrids sold in the two countries–170,000 in Japan and 100,000 in the U.S. the agency didn’t identify its source. A top Toyota executive will appear before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday along with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Chief David Strickland.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the U.S. government “will never” lose its sterling credit rating despite big budget deficits and a newly increased debt limit that now tops $14 trillion. Geithner says that in times of economic crisis, international investors will continue to buy U.S. treasury bonds because the bonds are a safe investment. Moody’s Investors Service recently issued a warning that the government’s credit rating could eventually be in jeopardy if nation’s finances don’t improve. The cost of borrowing would increase significantly if the ratings service lowered the credit rating, also known as a bond rating, for U.S. Treasuries. Geithner told ABC’s This Week that will never happen.

Top international finance officials have renewed their commitments to keep spending to support a global rebound, while playing down differences over new U.S. approaches on bank reform. Finance ministers and central bank presidents of the Group of Seven major industrial economies struck a united front at a Saturday news conference following a two-day meeting in Arctic Canada. They announced an agreement to push the international lending agencies to grant new debt relief for earthquake-ravaged Haiti and expressing broad consensus on the need to continue spending to support a tentative economic rebound.

The average price of regular gasoline in the United States fell 5.76 cents over a two-week period to $2.67. That’s according to the national Lundberg survey of fuel prices released Sunday. Analyst Trilby Lundberg says the average price for a gallon of mid-grade was $2.80. Premium was at $2.91. Cheyenne, Wyoming, had the lowest average price among cities surveyed at $2.38 a gallon for regular. Honolulu was the highest at $3.32. In California, a gallon of regular cost an average of $2.94. Fresno had the state’s least expensive gas at $2.86 a gallon. San Francisco remained the steepest at $2.97.

Circulation for U.S. magazines slipped more than two percent in the second half of 2009. A new report also finds that single-copy sales, which are more lucrative for publishers, dropped more than nine percent. With the weak economy still putting a damper on spending and with plenty of free reading available online, overall magazine circulation in the U.S. fell 2.2 percent in the six months ended in December. The Audit Bureau of Circulations says paid subscriptions fell 1.1 percent and single-copy sales at newsstands and other retailers was down 9.1 percent. The count is based on 472 magazine titles that had comparable figures.

Senate Democrats are looking to push through a jobs bill this week. The push comes just days after Republican Scott Brown was sworn in to the seat from Massachusetts held for decades by Ted Kennedy, costing the Democrats their supermajority. Senator Charles Schumer says the message voters sent with Brown’s upset victory is clear–the focus should be on jobs. The final measure will likely include some tax cuts to win GOP support, including a tax break for businesses that hire unemployed workers. The bill would also extend unemployment benefits for people whose payments have already run out.

Bipartisan Congressional leaders are planning to join President Barack Obama at the White House tomorrow. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says the meeting will be centered on how to create jobs and boost the economy.

North Dakota has the lowest unemployment in the nation and a booming oil industry. But with its good fortune has come an unexpected problem: homelessness, as desperate job seekers flow into the state looking for work. Officials say shelters are full statewide. Some homeless newcomers are living in cars, while others are bunking with acquaintances to avoid freezing. Louis “Mac” McLeod is executive director of the Minot Area Homeless Coalition. He says people come to North Dakota without researching jobs or housing. They find out they aren’t qualified for the jobs available, or if they land work, they can’t find housing, which is scarce. Michael Carbone of the North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People says half of North Dakota’s homeless are employed.

The UN says the number of international patent filings dropped last year for the first time since 1978. The decrease is blamed on companies hard hit by the global economic downturn seeking fewer new protections on their intellectual property. The World Intellectual Property Organization says it received almost 156,000 international patent filings in 2009. That’s down 4.5 percent the previous year. The group says U.S. inventors still registered the highest number of international patents, despite an 11 percent drop. Third-ranked Germany saw its patent filings drop by a similar amount. Japan, South Korea and China all increased the number of patents filed. Japan ranked second in number of filings, South Korea was fourth and China came in fifth.

The Mississippi River city of Quincy’s efforts to build a hydroelectric plant may be getting some competition. Hydro Green Energy of Houston and Mississippi L&D 21 of Rigby, Idaho, both are seeking permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They want to study the prospect of installing hydropower projects at lock and dam 21 in Quincy. The city has the upper hand for now, having gotten much further along in the complicated planning process needed to earn a federal operating license. Quincy already has federal permits giving it exclusive rights for three years to explore hydroelectric possibilities at five Mississippi River locks and dams. But the city is focusing on developing hydro power at just three of the sites.

Think Sunday night’s Super Bowl seemed like it had a lot of ads? You’re right. Commercials took up nearly 48 minutes of the game–the most for any Super Bowl. Research firm Kantar Media says the amount of ads that aired on CBS was nearly three minutes longer than last year’s total, the previous record holder. The game brought an unusual number of shorter, 15-second ads as marketers looked to keep their costs low but still be in the advertising world’s biggest event. Commercials typically come in 30-second blocks–which sold this year for between $2.5 million and more than $3 million. But Kantar says seven of this year’s 66 ads were just 15 seconds long. That’s the most since 2002.

The Commerce Department will release a report on wholesale trade inventories for December and the Labor Department will have a report on job openings and labor turnover tomorrow. Commerce will put out reports on the trade balance, retail sales and business inventories later in the week.

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