Friday PM September 3rd, 2010

Unemployment rate rises to 9.6 percent…BP raising blowout preventer from site of blown deepwater well…Coast Guard reports no sign of leaks at oil platform fire offshore Louisiana…

The unemployment rate rose in August for the first time in four months as weak hiring by private employers wasn’t enough to keep pace with a large increase in the number of people looking for work. The Labor Department says companies added a net total 67,000 new jobs last month, down from July’s upwardly revised total of 107,000. Wall Street analysts expected a smaller gain, according to Thomson Reuters. Overall, the economy lost 54,000 jobs as 114,000 temporary census positions came to an end. State and local governments shed 10,000 positions. The jobless rate rose to 9.6 percent from 9.5 percent in July. More than a half-million Americans resumed their job searches in August, which drove up the jobless rate. When the unemployed stop looking for work, they are no longer counted in the jobless rate.

President Barack Obama says that a new jobs report showing private sector growth in August is positive but more needs to be done for the economy. He renewed his call for the Senate to pass a bill that would increase lending and reduce taxes for small businesses. Obama said GOP opposition was needlessly delaying the aid. But he said there was “no silver bullet” to solve the country’s economic woes. Obama spoke alongside his economic team in the Rose Garden after the Labor Department reported that private employers added 67,000 new jobs last month, and both July and June’s private-sector job figures were revised upward. Those numbers were better than expected and pushed stock prices up. But the jobless rate rose slightly to 9.6 percent.

A trade group says the U.S. service sector, which provides most of jobs in the country, expanded for the eighth straight month in August, but the pace of growth slowed. The Institute for Supply Management says its service-sector index fell to 51.5 last month from 54.3 in July. Economists had expected a higher reading of 53.5. Levels above 50 signal growth. The index shows service companies have been expanding every month this year, but not as fast as the much smaller manufacturing sector. Companies that supply services, which range from hospitals to shops and banks, depend more on spending by consumers in the U.S. The survey’s gauge of future business, new orders, slowed to the weakest pace this year.

A vessel has latched onto a key piece of evidence in the oil spill investigation so crews can raise the 300-ton device to the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. BP says the Helix Q4000 latched onto the blowout preventer a mile beneath the sea this morning. The plan is to replace the failed blowout preventer first to deal with any pressure that is caused when a relief well BP has been drilling intersects the blown-out well. Once that intersection occurs, BP is expected to use mud and cement to plug the blown-out well for good from the bottom. On Thursday, a temporary cap that stopped oil from gushing into the Gulf in mid-July was removed. No more oil is expected to leak into the sea. An April 20th rig explosion killed 11 workers and led to 206 million gallons of oil spewing from BP’s well.

BP says more than 28,000 people and 4,000 vessels are still engaged in responding to the Gulf oil spill. The oil company says the price tag so far, including $399 million in claims, is $8 billion.

The Coast Guard says a cutter that’s been patrolling the area around Thursday’s oil platform fire in the Gulf of Mexico is not reporting any signs of leaks. A helicopter will survey the site later in the day. The Coast Guard initially reported a sheen a mile long, but hours later it said crews were unable to find any spill. The 13 workers who were on the platform were rescued. The owner of the rig, Mariner Energy of Houston, says it doesn’t know what caused the fire. The workers who were pulled from the water afterward said there had been an explosion on board, but the company says it considers what happened a fire, not an explosion.

The agency that oversees offshore drilling will investigate the fire on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. The fire came less than five months after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon. This time no one was killed and the Coast Guard said no crude was leaking. Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, says his agency will work with the Coast Guard to investigate the fire.

Fantasy football means real business for restaurants, and some big chains have launched promotional drives to score with dedicated players of the growing pastime. Free appetizers, draft kits, discounts and gift cards are among lures to draw “draft parties” to restaurants. At the parties, attendees select rosters of NFL players whose talents on the field equal imaginary glory for their fantasy coaches. Dave & Buster’s amenities include a free room, ten percent off food, and a $20 card to play video and other games. Buffalo wild wings throws in $100 in gift cards. Even as Americans cut back on restaurant spending during the recession, fantasy football has been increasing as a source of customers. The NFL season starts next Thursday.

The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. decreased by three this week to 1,653. Houston-based drilling systems provider Baker Hughes said 977 rigs were exploring for natural gas and 665 for oil. Eleven were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago this week, the rig count stood at 1,009. Texas lost six rigs. The rig tally peaked at 4,530 in 1981, during the height of the oil boom. The industry posted a record low of 488 in 1999.