Tuesday PM November 30th, 2010

CenterPoint cutting purchased gas adjustment on bills…Consumer confidence rises to highest level in five months…Home prices in major cities continue falling; record number of foreclosures expected…

Houston customers could see a reduction in their natural gas bills beginning tomorrow. Centerpoint Energy is cutting the portion that passes through how much it pays to buy natural gas from wholesalers, known as the purchased gas adjustment. The gas portion of the bills has dropped about 35 percent since the beginning of the year.

A monthly survey shows Americans’ confidence in the economy rose in November to the highest level in five months amid more hopeful signs. The reading is an encouraging sign at the beginning of the holiday shopping season. But confidence remains weak as Americans grapple with high unemployment. The Conference Board says its consumer confidence index now stands at 54.1, up from a revised 49.9 in October. Analysts were expecting 52.0. November’s reading marks the highest point since June’s 54.3. Economists watch confidence closely because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity and is critical to a strong rebound. It takes a reading of 90 to indicate a healthy economy.

A new Associated Press-CNBC poll shows that when it comes to easing budget deficits, Americans prefer cutting federal services to raising taxes by nearly 2-to-1–until it’s time to get specific. The AP-CNBC poll finds little agreement on the particulars–and a wariness to change social security and Medicare, which together take up a third of the annual federal budget. When people were given options for helping balance the budget, only four options had the support of more than half of those surveyed. those options were reducing the number of federal workers, trimming federal salaries, cutting overseas military bases, and eliminating the tax deduction on home mortgage interest in exchange for lower income tax rates.

A research firm says major stores took in about the same amount of money Friday, Saturday and Sunday that they did Thanksgiving weekend last year, even though more shoppers came out. ShopperTrak says customer traffic rose 2.8 percent, compared to a 1.1 percent decline in 2009, but shoppers were focused on deals. The firm expects holiday sales overall to rise 3.2 percent. ShopperTrak monitors sales at more than 70,000 stores, but not Walmart, Target and other discounters.

Home prices are falling faster in the nation’s largest cities, and a record number of foreclosures are expected to push prices down further through next year. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index fell 0.6 percent in September from August. Eighteen of the cities recorded monthly price declines. Cleveland recorded the largest decline. Prices there dropped three percent from a month earlier. Prices in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which had been increasing, both fell in August from July. Washington and Las Vegas were the only metro areas to post gains in monthly prices. The 20-city index has risen 5.9 percent from their April 2009 bottom. But it remains nearly 28.6 percent below its July 2006 peak.

Congress’ independent budget agency says the cost to taxpayers of the contentious $700 billion financial rescue has dwindled down to $25 billion. The Congressional Budget Ooffice estimates that as of this month the government will recoup most of the money spent. The $25 billion represents unrecouped money spent to bail out American International Group and automakers Chrysler and GM. CBO says the brighter prospects are the result of repurchases of preferred stock by recipients of bailout funds; a lower estimated cost for assistance to AIG and to the automotive industry and lower participation in mortgage assistance programs.

A new government office established to provide regulators with improved information needed to prevent another financial crisis is asking for advice on how to track complex investment trades. The Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research is seeking comments on how to design a universal standard for identifying the parties to various financial trades such as investments in complex instruments known as derivatives.

The Senate rejected an effort to reduce tax-related paperwork for businesses when lawmakers couldn’t agree on whether they would make up the revenue the new requirement was expected to produce. The filing requirement is part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, but not related to health care itself. It’s expected to help the government collect an estimated $19 billion in taxes on underreported income over the next decade, and that revenue has been slated to help pay for changes in the health care system. Under the new law, nearly 40 million U.S. businesses would start filing tax forms in 2012 for every vendor that sells them more than $600 in goods. Many Democrats who supported the filing requirement now acknowledge that it would create a paperwork nightmare, but whether to make up for the lost revenue has divided senators who agree it should be repealed.

The Senate has passed legislation to make food safer in the wake of deadly e. coli and salmonella outbreaks, potentially giving the government broad new powers to increase inspections of food processing facilities and force companies to recall tainted food. The $1.4 billion bill, which would also place stricter standards on imported foods, passed the Senate 73-25. Supporters say passage is critical after widespread outbreaks in peanuts, eggs and produce. Those outbreaks have exposed a lack of resources and authority at the FDA as the embattled agency struggled to contain and trace the contaminated products. The agency rarely inspects many food facilities and farms, visiting some every decade or so and others not at all.

An Austin businessman on the Texas Emerging Technology Fund’s advisory committee is being asked to quit. The Dallas Morning News reports that Governor Rick Perry’s office has asked William E. Morrow to resign in the wake of a Texas Rangers investigation of a stock deal that included Morrow. The review found no wrongdoing. Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger told the newspaper that Morrow “has been asked to evaluate whether his continued service on the TETF advisory committee is in the best interest of the program.” Morrow declined comment. State Auditor John Keel last week announced his office will review the fund after questions arose over links between contributors to GOP Perry’s campaign and companies that get grants. Perry has said nothing improper occurred.

Level 3 Communications, an internet backbone company that supports Netflix’s increasingly popular movie streaming service, is complaining that Comcast is charging it an unfair fee for the right to send data to its subscribers. Comcast says it’s being swamped by a flood of data and needs to be paid. Level 3 says it agreed to pay under protest, but that the fee violates the principles of an “open internet.” Level 3 says it also goes against the FCC’s proposed rules preventing broadband internet providers from favoring certain types of traffic.

Technology research group Gartner cut its forecast for 2010 worldwide personal computer shipments as the economy tamps down PC demand and more consumers shift to tablets such as Apple’s iPad. Gartner says it expects PC shipments to total 352.4 million units in 2010, a 14 percent increase from a year ago. Previously, Gartner forecast an 18 percent increase. For 2011, Gartner estimated worldwide pc shipments of 409 million, an annual uptick of 16 percent rather than the 18 percent growth it predicted earlier.