SW Power Pool to hire 200 at new LR headquarters

Southwest Power Pool Inc. announced Friday that it will build a $62 million headquarters in Little Rock and add 200 workers to its local operations — the kind of highly skilled positions that state officials have been trying to attract.

The nonprofit company, which manages an electric grid across eight states, already has 440 people in Little Rock. Gov. Mike Beebe said the city was in danger of seeing Southwest move its headquarters to someplace like Dallas or Oklahoma City, along with the jobs that pay an average of $85,500.

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“There’s a board (at Southwest Power Pool) with a whole lot of influence and membership from other states, and they have to make legitimate business decisions in the best interest of the company,” Beebe said. “Sometimes there are factors that cause folks to move.”

Southwest is one of seven regional power pools across the nation mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. [Read the full article]

The U.S. economy is now likely expanding at just half the brisk 5.9 percent pace at which the government on Friday estimated it grew last quarter. Business spending will make up for some of a slowdown in consumer spending — but not likely enough to reduce the jobless rate much.

All that adds up to a long slog ahead for an economy trying to get back on firm footing after the worst recession since the 1930s. The economy continues to grow. But it won’t feel like much of a recovery this year amid high unemployment, record-high home foreclosures and tight credit.

Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group, called the year-end growth spurt “a one-hit wonder.”

In a fresh reading on the nation’s economic standing, the Commerce Department bumped up its growth estimate for the final quarter of 2009, from a 5.7 percent growth rate estimated a month ago. [Read the full article]

The government now says that China did not lose its place in December as the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury debt.

The Treasury Department said that under annual benchmark revisions released Friday, China’s holdings of U.S. Treasury securities stood at $894.8 billion at the end of December, keeping it in first place ahead of Japan.

On Feb. 16, the government reported data that showed China had been surpassed by Japan. However, the government said in the new report that those figures did not account for purchases by Chinese investors in such places as Britain.

When those purchases are taken into account, the government said that China’s holdings in December grew by $139.4 billion above what was reported on Feb. 16.

That increase put China back into first place as the top foreign holder of U.S. Treasury securities at $894.8 billion followed by Japan, now back in second place, at $768.8 billion. [Read the full article]

Interest rates fell in the bond market Friday after another surprisingly weak economic reading.

The National Association of Realtors said sales of existing homes fell for the second straight month. Analysts expected the trade group to report that sales rose.

The report is the second downbeat assessment of the housing market in three days, and added to concerns about the economy. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that new home sales fell last month.

But bad economic news is bullish for bonds. Investors expect that continuing weakness in the economy will put greater pressure on the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates at their current lows. And Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has already told Congress this week that he anticipates rates will stay low for some time. The Fed’s moves affect interest rates across the economy, including the Treasury bond market. [Read the full article]

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