Friday PM August 13th, 2010

Dynegy to be acquired by Blackstone Group in $4.7 billion deal…Retail sales increase modestly; Consumer prices and business inventories rise…Retail gasoline prices up by three cents over past week…

Dynegy says it plans to be acquired by the Blackstone Group for $542.7 million. Including the assumption of debt, the companies value the deal at $4.7 billion. Dynegy says its shareholders would receive $4.50 per share in cash for the nearly 120.6 million shares outstanding, representing a 62 percent premium from the closing price on Thursday. Dynegy, based in Houston, separately agreed to sell four gas-fired power plants to NRG Energy for $1.36 billion in cash.

Alabama’s attorney general is suing BP and others over the Gulf oil spill because he says the company has broken too many promises about accepting responsibility. Attorney General Troy King filed two lawsuits in federal court in Montgomery late Thursday afternoon. They seek unspecified money damages plus punitive damages against BP, as well as Transocean, Halliburton and other companies associated with the oil rig. The rig exploded on April 20th, leading to some 200 million gallons of oil to spew into the Gulf of Mexico. A spokesman for BP says the company does not comment on ongoing litigation. King filed the lawsuit against the wishes of Governor Bob Riley, who says the state should pursue an out-of-court settlement first.

Retail sales managed a modest increase in July after two consecutive declines, but the strength was concentrated in higher sales of autos and gasoline. Most other retailers saw their sales fall. The Commerce Department says sales rose 0.4 percent last month while sales excluding autos were up 0.2 percent. Both figures were slightly below expectations. The report on retail sales was further evidence that the economy has slowed significantly in recent months. That’s raising fears that the recovery could falter unless job growth begins to pick up, providing consumers with more income to spend.

Consumer prices rose in July by the most since last August as energy costs increased for the first time in five months. The Labor Department says the consumer price index, the government’s most closely watched inflation measure, increased by 0.3 percent in July, after three months of declines. Wall Street economists expected a smaller increase. Over the past year, consumer prices rose by 1.2 percent, the department said. That’s up slightly from last month’s 1.1 percent pace but still a mild increase. The weak economy is keeping prices in check. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, the so-called “core” index increased by 0.1 percent in July, as the cost of housing, clothes, and used cars and trucks all rose. Core prices moved up by 0.9 percent in the past year for the fourth month in a row.

Inventories held by businesses rose for a sixth straight month in June. The Commerce Department says inventories increased 0.3 percent in June. Weakness in sales raises concerns about whether companies will continue boosting inventories. Inventory rebuilding had been an important source of strength driving the economic rebound.

Retail gasoline prices rose across Texas and the nation this week, despite a crude oil price drop from more than $80 per barrel to around $76 per barrel. The weekly AAA Texas gasoline price survey shows the average price of a gallon of unleaded regular-grade rose three cents to $2.63 this week across Texas and two cents to $2.78 nationwide. The auto club statement says gasoline supplies are stable with no interruptions resulting from events such as hurricanes. The cheapest gasoline in the survey is found in San Antonio, where the average price rose three cents to $2.58 per gallon. The most expensive is in El Paso, where the average price climbed three cents to $2.78.

A Texas-based company planning to install fiber-optic networks in some Mississippi counties, including Adams, says it’s still waiting on federal funding for rural area projects. The Adams County Board of Supervisors had passed a motion a year ago to support the efforts of BSI Cable. BSI Cable chief executive Gerry Locke says his company is in its second round of applications with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to receive approximately $20 million to bring broadband to rural areas.

U.S. corn and soybean farmers are on track to produce the largest crops in history. The Department of Agriculture is forecasting corn production of 13.4 billion bushels in 2010, with soybean production of 3.43 billion bushels. Both estimates would be a two percent increase over 2009 crop figures — the current highest annual production on record. USDA says Texas soybean producers are expected to see the biggest gain in crop yields. Cotton production is forecast to rise 52 percent from 2009, reaching a level of 18.5 million 480-pound bales. Texas producers are expected to have a record high production. South plains cotton farmer Doug Hlavaty says his fields in Lubbock and Lamb Counties could rival what he harvested in the state’s top-two years — 2005 and 2007. Texas produced 8.1 million bales in 2007; in 2005 growers harvested 8.5 million bales. Heavy rains across the South Plains region — the world’s largest contiguous growing patch — in early July came on the heels of ideal planting conditions.

Producers of raw almonds are poised for a federal court battle that they hope will ultimately allow them to resume production of the nut without using chemical pesticides or steam. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has required most farmers to use either of those pasteurization methods after salmonella outbreaks in raw almonds in 2001 and 2004. But raw food enthusiasts and some public health experts say the rules unfairly penalize small organic farmers that produce above-average, safe nuts without imposing similar requirements on foreign almond producers. A decision from a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., last week will allow nine farmers and three retailers to challenge the government’s right to impose the regulations.

Goya Foods of Secaucus, New Jersey, is recalling 14-ounce packages of frozen mamey pulp, because it could be contaminated with salmonella, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children and others with weakened immune systems. At least seven cases of typhoid fever have been linked to the product by the centers for disease control and prevention. The recalled mamey pulp was available at stores in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington. Details by phone at 800.275.4692.


Movie rental chain Blockbuster, which has been trying to avoid filing for bankruptcy protection amid tough competition from rivals like Netflix, says its second-quarter net loss widened. The Dallas company also says it agreed to a new forbearance agreement with debt holders that will give it more time as it seeks to recapitalize. Quarterly net loss widened to $69 million from $37 million last year. Revenue slipped to $788 million from $982 million. Blockbuster has tried to revamp its offerings due to tough competition in the movie-rental sector. In August it launched a service with Comcast to offer DVDs by mail. It also offers video games by mail. Blockbuster says its forbearance agreement is effective until September 30th.

J.C. Penney says its turned a second-quarter profit as the department store chain benefited from tight inventory control and exclusive brands. But the company offered a downbeat profit guidance that was well below Wall Street projections amid an uncertain economy. J.C. Penney says that it earned $14 million in the three months ended July 31st. That compares with a loss of $1 million, or break-even per share, in the same quarter last year. Revenue was $3.94 billion, virtually unchanged from last year’s second quarter. Analysts expected revenue of $4.0 billion. J.C. Penney is based in Plano.

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