Oil prices keep rising, pass $145 per barrel

Las Vegans are paying a lot more for gasoline this Fourth of July weekend.

The price of a gallon of self-serve regular unleaded gasoline was $4.261 on Thursday, AAA said in its Daily Fuel Gauge report. The price is up 6.9 percent from $3.987 a month ago and up nearly 40 percent from $3.051 a year ago, AAA said.

Gasoline prices continued their upward march as oil prices headed into the busy Fourth of July break by racing past $145 a barrel for the first time Thursday. Light, sweet crude for August delivery settled at a record $145.29 Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up $1.72 from the previous day.

The numbers tell the story:

• Last Independence Day weekend, the national average for gasoline was $2.95 a gallon, about $1.15 less than today.

• Oil prices are up more than 50 percent since the start of the year. Prices rose by a similar amount in 2007 — but it took almost the entire year for them to make that trip.

• Just this week alone, the price of a barrel of oil jumped 3.6 percent. And that was a short week.

European Central Bank raises interest rates

The European Central Bank raised interest rates for the first time in more than a year on Thursday to stem inflation even as economic growth slows.

Lehman Bros. Holdings and ING Bank say that in doing so, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet is adopting former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s strategy of taking out insurance against events that have little chance of occurring, yet pose high risks if they do.

The ECB’s worst-case scenario is that inflation concerns fail to dissipate and become embedded in the 15-nation economy, sparking a wage-price spiral that requires even higher rates later if not quashed now. The cost of ensuring that doesn’t happen may be weaker growth.


Former CEO given 16 years in prison

The former head of Refco, blamed for the collapse of one of the world’s largest commodities brokerages, was sentenced to 16 years in prison Thursday by a judge who decried the “staggeringly arrogant” greed of white collar criminals.

Phillip Bennett, 59, a British citizen living in Gladstone, N.J., had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and other charges for the eight-year fraud.

Bennett said he didn’t mean to hurt anyone. His voice cracked when he apologized to his family for their “unimaginable agony.”

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said the 20 separate crimes Bennett admitted he had committed and the $1.5 billion in losses he had caused were enough to explain her ruling.

But she said Bennett and others like him who break the law in their zeal to be among the world’s richest people are “staggeringly arrogant.”


American workers brace for job cuts

Many more job cuts, likely totaling more than 6,000, are likely at American Airlines as the nation’s biggest airline hunkers down and tries to survive record high fuel costs.

American notified its flight attendants union on Wednesday that it will cut up to 900 jobs starting Aug. 31, but that appears to be the tip of the iceberg.

Although American has not given a total figure, the airline says it expects to shed 8 percent of its work force. With about 85,500 workers, including those at American Eagle, that would represent more than 6,800 jobs.


Hey, air travelers, your cash is no good here

Don’t bother hitting the automated teller machine before boarding your flight — your airline may no longer be accepting cash.

Starting Aug. 5, Alaska Airlines will become the latest carrier to go cashless for in-flight purchases such as headphones, cocktails and snacks.

Others that have gone cashless include Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, AirTran and Virgin American.

The “cashless cabin” is fast becoming the norm as more goods are sold in-flight and the hassles grow for making exact change, said Mike Boyd, a Colorado-based aviation consultant.

Northwest Airlines still accepts cash only for purchases on domestic flights. Delta and American airlines accept cash and credit cards, representatives said.


Treasury prices slide after economic news

Treasury bond prices slid Thursday after reports showed that the economy lost jobs for the sixth straight month and that the services sector contracted in June.

In an abbreviated session because of the Fourth of July holiday, the 10-year note fell 0.19 points to 99.16. Its yield rose to 3.98 percent from 3.96 percent late Wednesday, according to BGCantor Market Data. Yields usually move in the opposite direction from prices.

The 30-year long bond fell 0.63 points to 97.31. Its yield rose to 4.54 percent from 4.50 percent late Wednesday.


U.S. financial markets are closed today for Independence Day.

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