Friday PM May 18th, 2007

Increase in gasoline inventories not translating into better prices at the pump...Texas unemployment rate falls in April; online recruitment in Houston area growing faster than in any other market...Clear Channel board accepts sweetened offer from private equity firms...

With Memorial Day weekend in just over a week, the 1.7 million-barrel increase in gasoline inventories reported by the government this week is not enough to convince energy traders that supplies are catching up to demand. Retail gasoline prices climbed for a 15th week in a row in Texas this week. The weekly AAA Texas Gas Price Survey shows regular-grade gasoline in the 11 Texas cities polled climbed an average of eight cents to $2.95 per gallon. That's just a penny a gallon from the record of $2.96 reached in the wake of Hurricane Rita. Nationally, the average climbed eight cents to $3.04 per gallon. Houston's average is up almost seven cents to $2.92 per gallon. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says Memorial Day holiday travel is expected to increase by two percent from last year. But she predicts travelers will stay closer to home in cheaper hotels and dine at cheaper restaurants. In recent weeks, the auto club has blamed strong consumer demand, reduced domestic output because of refinery problems and lower gas imports for the climbing prices. The survey shows the state's most expensive retail gas prices are found in Amarillo, where regular-grade averages $3.21 per gallon this week. That's up 13 cents from last week. The cheapest gas is found in San Antonio, where regular-grade rose six cents to an average of $2.86 per gallon.

The Texas unemployment rate fell to 4.2 percent in April. The Texas Workforce Commission says that's as nonagricultural employers added an estimated 23,500 jobs. The rate was down from the March jobless rate of 4.3 percent. A year ago, the Texas jobless rate was five percent. Houston's rate is down from 4.1 percent to 3.8 percent. The commission estimated that Texas added almost 241,000 jobs in the past 12 months. The figures were adjusted for seasonal trends in hiring and firing, which most economists believe gives a better picture of the job market. The job increases were spread among many sectors.

Monster Worldwide says online recruitment in the Houston area grew faster than in any other major online recruitment market in the nation last month. Monster's local employment index says Houston recorded a 21-point increase over the same month a year ago. The index rose five points between March and April. Seventeen of 20 occupational categories showed growth.

A new study links one in six Texas jobs to international trade, according to Business Roundtable. The association of CEOs says the lowering of foreign trade barriers has boosted exports and jobs tied to trade. In Texas, 17.7 percent of jobs are now supported by tradeā€”up from 10.9 percent in 1992. In 2005, Texas companies sold products to more than 215 foreign countries.

The third-biggest shareholder in Clear Channel Communications reportedly will support a sweetened offer from private equity firms trying to buy the radio and billboard company. A source familiar with Highfields Capital Management's position tells the Associated Press that the fund would likely back the bid. The fund owns about five percent of the San Antonio radio and billboard giant's shares. The Clear Channel board has accepted a further sweetened offer from private equity firms trying to buy the radio and billboard company. The $39.20-per-share offer is similar to one rejected by the board initially two weeks ago. The company said at the time of the rejection that it didn't believe the half-percent improvement was enough to persuade opposing shareholders to accept the deal. But last week, the board postponed its scheduled vote on the earlier $39-per-share offer at the urging of some shareholders. The new offer by the equity group led by Thomas H. Lee partners and Bain Capital Partners is now valued at about $19.45 billion. It also calls for assumption of about $8 billion in debt. Shareholders will be able to either take cash payments or shares in the private equity company. At least two-thirds must vote in favor of the deal for it to close. The latest offer, which will be scheduled for a vote after all the regulatory filings are complete, is one in a string since November. Several large shareholders had insisted the company was worth more than earlier offers.

Democrats in Congress have passed an important test with approval of a budget plan totaling $2.9 trillion. House and Senate lawmakers approved the budget blueprint that sets a course to produce a small surplus in five years by assuming that many of President Bush's tax cuts would expire. Putting the budget framework in place also sets up veto confrontations with Bush over increases for domestic programs. The nonbinding measure for the budget year that begins October 1st sets parameters for Congress to follow when writing tax and spending legislation. The plan is viewed as a critical test of Democrats' ability to govern. They're eager to produce a surplus after criticizing Republicans for running steady deficits since 2002.

Ground will be broken on Sunday for AcuityHealthcare's Icon Hospital in Humble. The two-story long-term acute care hospital is scheduled to open in March 2008 on McKay Drive, just east of Bush Intercontinental Airport. The Austin-based hospital company will offer specialized care to patients with serious, medically complex problems. Icon Hospital will have 54 acute hospital beds, including an eight-bed intensive care unit.

Retired Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States must make the most of its talent to retain its global competitiveness. Powell says that includes minorities and newly arrived immigrants. Powell says the government shouldn't allow post-September 11th security policies to discourage foreigners from studying, vacationing or seeking medical help in the United States. Powell was speaking at the Texas Diversity and Leadership Conference and Exposition. He was born to Jamaican immigrants and capped a 35-year military career as the first black man to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell says the United States should defend its borders against illegal immigration. But the country should also form policy that accounts for the estimated 12 million people already here illegally.

Six financial officers from Houston companies and nonprofits were honored as the Best CFOs of the Year at the Wortham Center today, as part of the Houston Business Journal's "Celebrate! Enterprise" festival. Winners include CFOs from Flotek Industries, El Paso Corporation, Innova Extell Acquisition Holdings, Seismic ExchangeMethodist Sugar Land Hospital and Luby's.

A special college financial aid workshop is planned for tomorrow morning at the Cinco Ranch High School in Katy. College financial aid expert Jeff Farmer will talk about methods families can utilize to help send kids to college. Reservations can be made by calling (713) 344-1162.

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...