Friday PM March 30th, 2007

Texas House tentatively approves state budget; after final approval, Senate will vote...ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco and Chinese oil company announce two joint ventures...Gasoline pump prices increase for eighth week in a row in Texas...

The Texas House tentatively approved a two-year state budget early this morning. Lawmakers spent 17 hours yesterday and last night bickering over how billions of tax dollars should be divvied up on state services. Eventually, they approved the measure by a 132-to-16 vote. The 16 dissenters were Democrats. The $150 billion spending plan is a slight increase over the current budget. The spending plan makes two major concessions to teachers. More Democrats in the Republican-controlled House this year flexed their legislative muscle in a couple of surprise moves. They joined dissenting Republicans in voting 90-to-56 to divert millions of dollars away from a new teacher incentive pay program. Instead, it went to an $800 pay raise for all teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses. Soon after, the House voted 129-to-8 to prohibit any state education dollars from being spent on school vouchers. Both issues have been Republican policy staples in recent years. Once the House makes its final vote to approve the proposal, the Senate will have its say. Any differences between the two chambers would have to be resolved by a conference committee.

ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco and China's number-two oil company have announced two joint ventures worth a total of $5 billion. The ventures will expand a Chinese petrochemical refinery and operate a chain of 750 filling stations. The announcement comes as foreign oil companies step up investment in China's petrochemical industry to supply plastics and other chemicals to export-driven manufacturers. The ventures will expand the foothold for Irving-based ExxonMobil and the Saudi state-owned oil company in China's state-dominated oil industry. The third partner is government-owned China Petroleum and Chemical--better known as Sinopec. It follows lengthy, off-and-on negotiations between Sinopec and its partners--12 years for ExxonMobil and ten for Saudi Aramco. The reported scale and cost have changed several times.

Gasoline pump prices increased for an eighth week in a row in Texas. The weekly AAA Texas Gas Price Survey shows the average price of regular-grade gasoline in 11 Texas cities rose six cents to $2.49 per gallon. Nationally, the average increase was a nickel to $2.62 per gallon. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says the upward trend is fueled by low gas inventories associated with the usual spring refinery switchovers from winter to summer gasoline grades. But she says the trend is aggravated by a series of problems at some refineries around the country. That's helped fuel fears among energy speculators that's kept crude oil above $60 a barrel. The highest average price on the Texas list is in Amarillo, where regular grade averages $2.61 per gallon. That's a nickel higher than last week. The cheapest gas is in Corpus Christi, where the retail price average rose three cents to $2.38 per gallon.

Round Rock-based Dell Computer's internal audit committee says it's found a number of accounting errors and evidence of misconduct in its months-long review of previous earnings statements. It's Dell's most serious admission yet of the extent of the financial woes. The company says it's working with management and independent auditors to determine whether the errors would require the restatement of previous earnings reports. Dell also says it will miss an April 18th deadline to file its annual 10-k financial report to the Securities and Exchange Commission until the internal review is completed.

Halliburton has pushed the deadline for stockholders to decide on share swaps of KBR after a drop in the former subsidiary's market price eroded the discount investors will get in exchange. Stockholders now have until the end of Monday to decide on trading shares of Halliburton for shares of KBR at a ratio of 1 to 1.5905—a 2.8 percent discount on the price of KBR shares.

The U.S. Department of Labor and partners host the fourth annual YouthRules! Rally and Job Fair Saturday at the George R. Brown Convention Center. They'll provide teens and their parents key information regarding child labor protections. Local experts will distribute information and answer questions about how to search for a job and what types of jobs teens can and cannot do. Houston area employers will provide applications for available summer jobs, and on-site interviews will be conducted.

Baker Hughes in Houston says the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. increased by four this week--to reach 1,749. One year ago the rig count stood at 1,576. Texas gained six rigs.

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...