Monday PM January 25th, 2010

Walmart cutting more than 11,000 Sam's Club jobs…Coast Guard continues clean-up of weekend oil spill near Port Arthur…Texas oilman Robert Mosbacher, Sr., dies at age 82…

Walmart says it's cutting more than 11,000 jobs at Sam's Club, about ten per cent of the warehouse club operator's staff. The world's largest retailer says it's outsourcing its product-sampling department to Shopper Events, a marketing company, and eliminating another unit. It's also cutting its new business membership representative positions, affecting about two staffers per store. In a memo to staffers, Sam's Club CEO Brian Cornell says Shopper Events, based in Rogers, Arkansas, will hire "roughly the same number of people" being cut. Shopper Events currently works with Walmart's namesake stores on in-store demonstrations. Earlier this month, Walmart closed ten Sam's Club stores, resulting in about 1,500 jobs being lost. Sam's Club employs about 110,000 people.


The Coast Guard says about 220,000 gallons of the oil that spilled on Saturday at a major Texas port during a collision between a tanker and a towing vessel has evaporated, dispersed or been recovered from the water. Coast Guard Petty Officer Casey Ranel says about 46,200 gallons--or ten per cent of the total oil spilled—was recovered. About 462,000 gallons of oil spilled when an 800-foot tanker headed for an ExxonMobil refinery in Beaumont collided with a vessel pushing two barges. Nobody was hurt. The Coast Guard says more than two dozen skimming vessels remain on the scene. The spill is mostly contained in a two-mile stretch of the Sabine Neches Waterway near the Port of Port Arthur, about 90 miles east of Houston, but emergency personnel report about nine miles of shoreline have been impacted. A Texas official says crews are working to protect two sensitive wildlife areas after the spill shut down parts of the port. Two oiled birds have been reported--one has been captured and is being cleaned. Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson says plastic walls or booms and oil-sucking skimmer boats are being used to safeguard a lake that is a crucial breeding ground and a wildlife management area that lost its protective gates when Hurricane Ike roared ashore a year and a half ago. Nearly 60,000 feet of boom have been put out since the accident. It's the largest spill in Texas since 1994.


Sales of previously occupied homes took the largest monthly drop in more than 40 years last month, plunging far deeper than expected after lawmakers gave buyers extended time to use a tax credit. The National Association of Realtors says sales fell 16.7 per cent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.45 million in December, from an unchanged pace of 6.54 million in November. Sales had been expected to fall by about ten per cent, according to economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters. Buyers were no longer scrambling to qualify for a tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time homeowners. It had been due to expire on November 30th, but Congress extended the deadline until April 30th. The median sales price was $178,300, up 1.5 per cent from a year earlier and the first yearly gain since August 2007.


A new survey suggests that businesses expect to boost hiring and capital spending in the first half of the year as the U.S. recovery from the recession slowly continues. The latest industry survey from the National Association for Business Economics finds that capital spending plans continue to brighten as credit markets loosen slightly. Thirty-five per cent of those surveyed say credit conditions are hurting their business, down from 42 per cent in the third quarter. Of the 75 NABE members from private sector and industry trade associations interviewed for the survey, all say they're making business decisions with an eye toward positive economic growth in 2010. Sixty-one per cent believe real GDP will expand by more than two per cent in 2010--up from 45 per cent in October.


Robert Mosbacher, Sr., a Houston oil multimillionaire who served as U.S. Commerce Secretary under his close friend, President George H.W. Bush, has died at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He was 82. Family spokesman Jim McGrath says Mosbacher died after a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer.

"He remained an independent energy explorer throughout his 60 years in the energy industry, but he started off very small and mostly was playing in royalties. But eventually he got into drilling his own wells and putting deals together, and that's how Mosbacher Energy grew to become one of the most successful privately-held energy exploring companies in the world."

Mosbacher was a powerful Republican fundraiser who served in the senior Bush's presidential campaigns and most recently served as a general campaign chairman for John McCain. As Commerce Secretary, Mosbacher helped lay the foundation for the North American Free Trade Agreement. "Together we shared a journey that led to the presidency, the mountaintop of American politics, and there we worked together to help America more fully embrace the world around us and compete in the newly emerging global markets that the waning Cold War made accessible," Bush said in a statement.


The average price of regular gasoline in the United States fell 1.42 cents over a two-week period to $2.72. That's according to the national Lundberg survey of fuel prices released Sunday. Analyst Trilby Lundberg says the average price for a gallon of mid-grade is $2.85. Premium is at $2.96. The average retail price in Houston has fallen four cents in the past week, now averaging $2.52 per gallon, according to GasBuddy.com.


Harris County Civil District Judge Brent Gamble has tossed out Houston's attempt to collect millions of dollars in hotel occupancy taxes from online travel sites like Expedia, Priceline.com Travelocity and others, according to the Houston Chronicle. Judge Gamble tossed out the case on arguments from the online services that they aren't hotels and their service fees should not be subject to hotel taxes. Houston hotels charge a 17 per cent tax on rooms, with seven per cent going to the city. City Attorney Arturo Michel is recommending the city ask for a new trial.


President Barack Obama's chief political adviser says the president will focus on job-creating plans in his State of the Union address Wednesday night. Strategist David Axelrod says the White House takes only "cold comfort" from the fact that the president's stimulus program saved about two million jobs--given the millions lost in the deepest economic downturn in decades. Axelrod says that the administration continues to share the public's "consternation" with the financial sector, which was bailed out with public money and has returned to massive profits and huge bonus pay-outs. Axelrod spoke Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."


Iraq has signed a final deal with U.S. and European oil giants Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell to develop a major oil field in the south. Under the 20-year deal, the consortium will develop the 8.6 billion barrel West Qurna Stage 1 field for $1.9 for every barrel produced. The deal could be extended for another five years. The deal was signed in Baghdad. The field was among five oil and two gas fields left over from Iraq's first postwar bidding round held in June. The consortium initially asked for $4 per barrel produced, but later accepted Iraq's lower offer. Last week, Iraq signed a deal with a consortium led by Italy's ENI to develop another major oil field in the south.


A Texas-based wind energy company has chosen Clovis for its venture into wind farm operation and turbine manufacturing. Officials at a subsidiary of Plano-based Abundant Energy say they expect the New Mexico plant to produce 60 jobs by 2013. The subsidiary has reached a preliminary agreement with Clovis officials to purchase six acres south of the city's landfill, with an option for an additional 34 acres later, for a five-megawatt wind farm and manufacturing plant. Clovis Industrial Development Corporation Executive Director Chase Gentry says the company will bring six local jobs to Clovis in its first year. Gentry says the company picked Clovis because of high wind patterns and easy access to rail lines.


The Agriculture Department is handing out nearly $310 million in stimulus money to bring high-speed Internet connections to 14 rural communities around the country. Monday's awards are the latest--and largest--round of government funding for broadband to be announced since Congress included $7.2 billion for high-speed networks and adoption programs in last year's stimulus bill. The money is intended to bring jobs and economic opportunities to rural communities, poor neighborhoods and other parts of the country that are falling behind in the information age. It is also intended to pay for the network infrastructure needed to deliver telemedicine services, offer online classes and provide other applications that require a lot of bandwidth.


A busy week for economic reports begins tomorrow, the Conference Board releases January consumer confidence. And new home sales is due from the government Wednesday. The Federal Reserve holds a two-day policy-setting session with no change in rates expected.


Earnings

Halliburton says its fourth-quarter profit tumbled 48 per cent to end a volatile year and oilfield service company says it expects 2010 to be a transitional year for the industry. Oil prices have been falling recently though the amount of rigs in the U.S. are on the rise, which means potential business for companies like Halliburton. The Houston company reports net income of $243 million for the fourth quarter. That compares with income of $468 million for the final three months of 2008. Revenue fell 25 percent. For the full year, Halliburton posted net income of $1.15 billion.

Texas Instruments says its fourth-quarter profit soared on a rebound for its chips that run a wide range of consumer gadgets and industrial products. The Dallas-based semiconductor maker reports a profit of $655 million. That compares with a profit of $107 million during the same period of 2008. Revenue rose 21 percent to $3.01 billion from $2.49 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters have expected Texas Instruments revenue of $2.98 billion during the latest period.


Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...