Friday PM January 7th, 2011

Unemployment rates drops to 9.4 percent…Texas Comptroller to issue Biennial Revenue Estimate the day before the 82nd Legislature convenes…Baytown to hold free weekend workshop for homebuyers…


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The nation’s unemployment rate dropped to 9.4 percent last month, its lowest level in 19 months. That was because more people found jobs, but also because some people gave up on their job searches. The Labor Department says employers added 103,000 jobs in December, an improvement from November’s revised total of 71,000 but far below most analysts’ expectations. Once unemployed workers stop looking for work, the government no longer counts them as unemployed. Through all of 2010, the nation added 1.1 million jobs, or an average of 94,000 jobs a month.

A judge has delayed the trial of former Texas billionaire and financier R. Allen Stanford, who is accused of bilking investors out of $7 billion in a ponzi scheme. U.S. District Judge David Hittner determined that Stanford is not mentally competent to go forward with his case. The financier’s trial had been set to begin January 24th. The judge agreed to delay the start of the trial until Stanford can be treated for medical problems affecting his competency. The judge did not say how long the delay could last. Hittner ruled after a daylong hearing during which three psychiatrists testified that Stanford is not competent because of medical issues including a brain injury he suffered during a jail fight in September 2009.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs will issue her Biennial Revenue Estimate on Monday, the day before the 82nd Legislature convenes in Austin. The estimate represents the amount of revenue available for lawmakers to spend in the 2012-13 state budget.

Baytown’s Community Development Office is holding a free workshop for homebuyers tomorrow at the Baytown Community Center on Market Street. The workshop is covering budgeting, understanding fair housing laws, obtaining a mortgage, closing costs and procedures, and truth-in-lending laws. The workshop is mandatory to homebuyers wishing to participate in the city’s Homebuyers’ Assistance Program.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke tells Congress there’s increasing evidence that a “self-sustaining” economic recovery is taking hold, but he says the Fed’s $600 billion Treasury bond-buying program is still needed because it will take years for unemployment to drop to more normal levels. In prepared testimony to the Senate Banking Committee, Bernanke offered a more optimistic outlook, saying the economy should grow more strongly this year as consumers and businesses boost their spending. However, he said that it could take four to five years for unemployment, to drop to a historically normal rate of around six percent. The bond purchases are designed to bolster the economy by lowering interest rates and lifting stock prices.

Houston-based craft brewer Saint Arnold Brewing Company reports record shipments of nearly 31,500 barrels of beer in 2010, with all ten of their varieties seeing increased sales. The 22 percent increase in overall production of 6,000 is roughly equivalent to what the brewery produced in all of 2002. Production moved to new brewhouse facilities on March 1st, and Louisiana was added to its distribution. Houston remains the top market for Saint Arnold’s. The nation’s craft brewing industry reports growth of nine percent by volume in the first six months of last year, even as overall U.S. beer sales were down an estimated 2.7 percent in that same time period.

The Houston International Boat, Sport & Travel Show kicked off today at Reliant Center, and runs through the 16th. More than 1,000 powerboats, luxury cruisers, fishing boats and personal watercraft are on display, as well as campers, travel trailers and RV accessories. The 16 acres of displays includes golf carts, patio furniture, fishing guides and gear, skiing and wakeboarding accessories, fashions and art. This is the 55th year for the show.

The first gadgets with built-in access to Verizon Wireless’ new, high-speed 4G wireless data network are a smart phone and a tablet from Motorola Mobility. They are designed to take advantage of the network’s speed for videoconferencing. Verizon’s “4G” network went live for laptop modems in last month. The devices are expected to be announced today by the CEO of Verizon Communications Inc. at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The new wireless network is the fastest in the country. Verizon is hoping to cash in on that advantage by selling tablets and smart phones that devour data. There are unconfirmed reports that Verizon will also get to sell a version of the iPhone, breaking AT&T Inc.’s exclusive hold, but analysts don’t expect Verizon to reveal one at the show.

More American farmers are expected to plant cotton this year as prices remain high because of a short supply worldwide and strong demand from the growing middle class in China and India. Texas is America’s largest cotton-producing state. It’s expected to expand production by ten percent this year.

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