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Thursday PM January 20th, 2011

New unemployment claims down…Southwest’s fourth quarter earnings at 131 million…TransCanada pipeline to Gulf Coast will go ahead…Texas Transportation Institute traffic study…


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Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, adding to evidence that hiring will pick up this year. The Labor Department says the number of people seeking benefits fell by 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 404,000 for the week ended January 15th. Applications remain near the two-year lows reached over the winter holidays. Economists say applications must fall consistently to 375,000 or fewer to substantially reduce the unemployment rate.

Southwest Airlines announced fourth quarter earnings for 2010 of $131 million compared with a gain of $116 million in the same period for 2009. The airline says books for January and the rest of the winter look strong. The airline industry is on a rebound after getting hammered by falling demand during the recession. But airline executives are spooked by rising fuel prices that could undercut profit. Southwest’s fuel bill jumped 18 percent in the fourth quarter.

TransCanada Corp. says it has secured enough contracts with U.S. oil shippers to allow capacity on a proposed oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Of Mexico. The Calgary-based company said it secured contracts totaling 65,000 barrels a day from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana. The company had faced political pressure to let U.S. oil companies tap into the Keystone Xl Pipeline that would cross Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The Pipeline needs a permit from the State Department because it would cross the U.S.-Canada border in carrying Canadian oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

An annual study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University found that traffic is better than it had been in a decade during the height of the nationwide recession. But roads snarled once again as people returned to work and shopping. The institute estimated traffic tie-ups cost about $115 billion in 2009. The study cites factors such as wasted fuel, lost work hours and delays in shipping goods. Commuters suffered most in Chicago and Washington, where the study found they lost an average 70 hours to traffic delays for the year.