Tuesday PM June 9th, 2009

Royal Dutch Shell settles lawsuit over Nigerian executions…Manpower notes little change in anticipated staffing levels…Cooper Industries board approves moving domicile to Ireland from Bermuda…

A civil suit against Royal Dutch Shell over the 1995 executions of protesters in Nigeria will be settled for $15.5 million. The settlement comes as the dispute was due to go to trial in Manhattan. The lawsuit accused Shell of human rights abuses stemming from the hangings of prominent activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others by Nigeria's then-military government. The settlement includes establishment of a $5 million trust fund to benefit local communities. Shell claims it never advocated violence and it lobbied Nigerian officials to grant clemency to Saro-Wiwa.


Employers plan to keep staffing levels relatively stable during the third quarter, according to seasonally-adjusted results of the latest Manpower survey. Employer attitudes about hiring remain essentially unchanged compared to the previous quarter. Fifteen per cent of the more than 28,000 employers surveyed anticipate an increase in staffing levels, while 13 per cent expect a decrease in their payrolls. Sixty-seven per cent expect no change at all.

Hotel Sorella is interviewing through June 19th to fill about 100 positions. The 245-room hotel opens in early August on Town & Country Lane in the Norris Conference Center, which includes office space, residences, retail shops and restaurants at Beltway 8 and Interstate 10. The Italian-styled hotel has 22 luxury penthouse units on the top floors. Two restaurants run by the owner of Brennan's will open.


Wholesalers slashed inventories more than expected in April as businesses struggled to get stockpiles in line with falling sales. The Commerce Department says wholesale inventories fell 1.4 per cent in April, more than the 1.1 percent decline that economists expected. It marked the eighth straight month that inventories dropped. Sales at the wholesale level fell 0.4 per cent in April following a 2.4 per cent drop in March. Sales by wholesalers have fallen in nine of the last ten months.


The steady flow of dollars that immigrants send back to Mexico has taken a serious hit with the U.S. economy struggling through a recession. Mexico's central bank tracks money sent to the country by Mexicans living abroad. The bank announced last month that these "remittances" had dropped by more than 18 per cent in the past year--from $2.19 billion in April 2008 to $1.78 billion this April. It was the biggest such decline on record. Mexico isn't alone in the loss of remittance revenue, but the U.S. neighbor's economy relies heavily on the billions of dollars sent home annually.


The board of Cooper Industries has approved moving its domicile to Ireland from Bermuda, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Houston-based electrical products maker established tax residency in Ireland as of December 2008. Shareholders are being asked to approve the switch.


President Barack Obama is calling for Congress to pay for certain spending increases or tax cuts by coming up with savings somewhere else--a "pay-as-you-go" system that would have the force of law. The House and Senate already have their own "paygo" rules, but Obama is seeking binding legislation. The goal is to avoid increasing a deficit that is already soaring to record levels. Under the plan, new spending or tax reductions must be offset or there would be automatic cuts in certain programs. The new plan calls for a measurement over ten years, which is not as strict as the version used in the 1990s.

The Obama administration says its economic recovery plan remains on track despite rising unemployment. Jared Bernstein and other White House economists predicted four months ago the jobless rate now would be about eight per cent. It's actually nearly a point and a half higher. Critics are calling it fuzzy math. Obama says critics should talk to business owners who decided not to cut jobs because of the stimulus plan. The president's keeping up the optimism, saying the economy is showing progress, just not enough. He's promising to ramp up stimulus spending and create or save 600-thousand jobs by summer's end. Economists say it'll take much longer than that for the stimulus to show any real job creation.


A Senate committee has approved opening the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling within ten miles to the Florida panhandle and within 45 miles off the rest of the state's coastline. The provision was tacked onto a broader energy bill by a vote of 13-10 in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The eastern gulf waters were singled out for protection against drilling by Congress in 2006 as part of a deal that made available 8.3 million acres for drilling in the east-central Gulf. Senator Bill Nelson said that oil and gas development in the eastern Gulf would interfere with military training in the area. And the Florida Democrat vowed to filibuster the energy legislation and block its approval if the provision is not removed.


Independent investigators say a government test of whether 19 major banks could survive a further downturn in the economy may have relied on too rosy a scenario. The Congressional oversight panel for the government's $700 billion financial rescue effort says the test should be repeated. The panel says that while the Federal Reserve used a "`conservative and reasonable" approach to assessing the health of the nation's biggest banks, the Fed's worst-case scenario does not go far enough. For example, the "stress tests" conducted by the Fed were based on the 2009 unemployment rate average of 8.9 per cent. Unemployment in May climbed to 9.4 per cent. Last month, the Fed found that 10 of the 19 banks needed additional capital.

The Treasury Department has approved ten of the nation's largest banks to repay $68 billion in government bailout money. The department says the banks, which were not named, will be allowed to repay the money they received from the $700 billion emergency rescue fund created by Congress last October at the height of the financial crisis. The banks have been eager to get out of the program to escape government restrictions such as caps on executive compensation. Among the banks that passed government "stress tests" last month and likely were approved to repay the bailout funds are: Goldman Sachs Group, JPMorgan Chase, and American Express.

President Barack Obama is complimenting banks that are reimbursing taxpayers to the tune of $68 billion in federal bailout assistance. Appearing at a White House event to call attention to slow the pace of government spending, Obama stressed that the deal to repay this sum "is not a sign that our troubles are over--far from it." But he did call it a "positive sign" and said he is happy that people are beginning to see "an initial return on a few of these investments." The Treasury Department did not identify the banks involved in the repayment. But it did say they had been approved to send back money they got from a $700 billion federal bailout program established by Congress at the height of the financial crisis.


Flights on U.S. airlines were on time more frequently in April than the month before--and improved from one year earlier. That's according to data released by the Transportation Department. Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance, while Delta subsidiary Comair had the worst. Among major carriers, Delta-operated Northwest Airlines was on-time the most, while Houston-based Continental Airlines posted the worst on-time performance. The airlines reporting had a combined average on-time rate of 79.1 per cent, compared with 78.4 per cent in March. Last April the on-time arrival rate was 77.7 per cent. Weather problems were involved in a little less than half of the delays in April--a slight decline from March. Other delays came from congestion, airport operations, maintenance and crew issues.


More than 70 per cent of high schools report in a new survey that more of their graduates are giving up on their "dream" colleges this year than in previous years. The survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that the sour economy had parents less willing to shell out for prestige school unless they offered top-of-the-line assistance. Sixty percent of high schools surveyed said they were seeing more students enroll in public instead of private universities. More than 70 per cent of public universities said applications were up. But more than half of private colleges also saw more applications, indicating students are trying to give themselves more options. Public universities stand to gain as students stay closer to home, but may also lose students to even less expensive community colleges; 37 per cent of high schools reported more students attending two-year schools.


Ballots are due Tuesday on a new contract for actors in Hollywood's biggest movies and TV shows. The vote follows a bitter dispute that has seen Screen Actors Guild members fighting among themselves and left further behind than they started. Ballots must be received by 5 p.m. and will be counted shortly afterward. Hollywood actors seem split on the deal, while those based in New York are largely in favor. The outcome could depend on the vast majority of members who are mostly actors without work. Either result would have little short-term effect, because actors have continued to work under their old, expired contract. But a rejection of the contract risks driving the union into irrelevance, as TV networks turn to a smaller actors union, AFTRA.


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...