Wednesday AM July 18th, 2007
by: Ed Mayberry, July 18, 2007 5:07:00 am
A Florida-based company has won a $518.5 million contract to build armored vehicles ordered by the U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command. Those vehicles are designed to provide better protection for troops from improvised explosive devices. Some of the work on the nearly 1,200 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles will be done at Stewart and Stevenson Tactical Systems in Sealy, about 50 miles west of Houston. It's now a division of Florida-based Armor Holdings. U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn applauded the decision. The company expects to complete the work in February of 2008.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is asking Congress for more money to buy bomb-resistant vehicles. Military officials say the Pentagon would like to shift as much as 1.3 billion from other programs to speed-up the purchase of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles. Gates says getting more of these vehicles to the troops is a top priority. The army would like to reallocate about $800 million and the Marines roughly $500 million. The armored vehicles have been saving lives in roadside bomb attacks in Iraq. Military officials say the shift in funds would not affect the day-to-day war spending or the troops in combat. The Pentagon has been criticized for perceived delays in getting the vehicles to the troops.
The Labor Department's Producer Price Index for June declined two-tenths of one percent. The first drop since January was enabled by falling food and energy costs. At the same time, the wholesale price gauge excluding food and energy rose more than expected. The core surged three-tenths reflecting a jump in car prices. The PPI news comes a day before Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is due to begin two days of Congressional testimony on monetary policy. The Fed has not moved short-term rates over the past year and many analysts believe no change is coming anytime soon.
The Federal Reserve reports Industrial Production surged five-tenths of one percent last month, marking the best showing since February. Gains were seen across the board with manufacturing output up six-tenths, mining output up five-tenths, and utility output up three-tenths. Industry was operating at 81.7 percent of capacity.
It's taking less time for people who are out of work to find jobs. The latest reading on the job market by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas shows that job seekers found work 17 percent faster in the second quarter than in the first three months of the year. That put the median job search time at three months. The news was even better for older workers. Job seekers 50 and above saw the time to re-employment plunge more than 31 percent in the April-to-June quarter--to 3.1 months from 4.5 months in the first quarter. Company CEO John Challenger says people were not sacrificing job quality in order to find positions faster. In fact, nearly 93 percent of those finding new jobs in the second quarter were able to get equivalent or better positions.
The Houston Independent School District is hiring qualified bus drivers, custodians, school crossing guards and other non-instructional employees during a job fair set for Saturday. HISD is hiring about 80 bus drivers, 60 custodians, 20 mechanic helpers, 20 transportation attendants and workers for dozens of other crafts positions. The job fair is set for Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center on West 18th.
Some environmental groups have asked regulators to reconsider their decision to allow TXU to build a coal-fired power plant in central Texas. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality last month approved an air permit for the two-unit plant in Robertson County, about 100 miles northeast of Austin. The environmental groups fear the plant will foul Austin's skies and pump hundreds of pounds of mercury into the air each year. Two administrative law judges in 2006 recommended that the permit be denied, saying Dallas-based TXU failed to prove it could meet emissions limits. TXU says that plant and another proposed near Bryan are needed to meet future energy demand.
A state sales tax holiday for energy-efficient appliances is planned for 2008, according to Texas Comptroller Susan Combs. Beginning in May 2008, energy-efficient appliances will be exempt from sales tax during the three-day Memorial Day weekend. The announcement was made at the same time Combs announced the regular annual sales tax holiday for back-to-school items has been pushed back to the third weekend in August from the first weekend, accommodating school districts that are starting later this year.
Farmers Insurance will revise its plan for an increase in homeowners rates because Texas regulators indicated they would turn down its initial proposal. Farmers withdrew its proposed 6.6 percent statewide increase in homeowners rates, canceling a premium increase set to take effect. Texas Department of Insurance spokesman Ben Gonzales says the agency was prepared to reject the plan because of concerns about rate variations across the state and indications that farmers' current rates are adequate. Farmers spokeswoman Michelle Levy says the company still wants to adjust its rates and is working on a new plan. The department is still reviewing a rate increase proposed by Allstate Insurance, which wants to raise the average cost of its homeowners policies by 6.9 percent.
While most American investors think the U.S. will lose its leading economic role in the world in the next ten years, they still aren't investing overseas. A recent survey conducted on behalf of asset manager Schroders shows just 38 percent of Americans believe the country will be the leading economic power in the next ten years. Forty-five percent think it'll be China, with under five percent of investors believing India, Russia or Germany would become the global economic leader. At the same time, according to the survey conducted on behalf of Schroders, only 13 percent of investors have money in international stocks. And of the 32 percent of investors who own mutual funds, just over half include international investments in their portfolios.
The U.S. technology industry imported more computers, high-tech components and consumer electronics in 2006 than it exported. According to a new report, that resulted in a record $102 billion trade deficit in the sector. Total tech imports hit $322 billion in 2006, up nine percent from the prior year, according to the report from the tech industry's largest trade group, AEA. The U.S. imported more high-tech goods from China than any other nation. But the numbers don't tell the whole picture. Many American companies, design and test their chips in the U.S., but manufacture them in their plants overseas and then import them. AEA says the number of such "intra-company transfers'' can't be discerned from government data.
Even though we aren't even a month into summer, retailers are looking ahead to their back-to-school sales. A new survey released by the National Retail Federation shows families with school-age kids are expected to increase their spending on back-to-school merchandise by nearly seven percent from last year--to more than $563. Total back-to-school spending is expected to top $18 billion this year. The NRF survey says the electronics category will see the biggest increase in sales this year, with families spending 13 percent more than they did last year. Footwear and school supplies are also expected to post sizable gains.