Wednesday PM January 6th, 2009

Retailers encouraged by modest sales gains…Consumer Electronics Show showcasing newest electronic gadgets…Number of workers claiming job discrimination surges to new highs…

Retailers are feeling somewhat encouraged, entering 2010 with fewer clearance racks after the holidays and expecting fourth-quarter profits to improve compared with last year, when many lost money. Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, says "it was a holiday season of modest sales gains but healthy profits." But Niemira questions what kind of momentum there'll be in the next few weeks. He says shoppers really have no incentive to buy. Niemira estimates that his index of sales at stores open at least a year for December will rise 2.5 per cent, following a disappointing 0.2 per cent decline in November. The index is based on sales at stores open at least a year, considered a key indicator of a retailer's health. The index excludes sales results from Walmart, which no longer releases monthly results.


A private trade group says a measure tracking the U.S. service sector returned to growth last month, but the slight expansion wasn't enough to kick-start hiring. The Institute for Supply Management says its service index rose to 50.1 in December from 48.7 in November. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected a reading of 50.5. A level above 50 signals growth. The gauge rose in September for the first time in 13 months, but the comeback has been fitful amid tiny gains in consumers' incomes and tight bank lending to small businesses. The ISM's service-sector gauge is closely watched because service jobs comprise more than 80 per cent of non-farm U.S. employment. ISM says its employment measure shrank in December. It hasn't grown in two years.


The International Consumer Electronics Show gets underway this week in Las Vegas. LG Electronics says it will introduce its first 3D-capable flat panel televisions for the U.S. market in May. Other major TV makers are expected to join the Korean company with announcements of 3D TVs at CES in Las Vegas. The industry is making a major push to get 3D into the home while consumers are still excited by 3D movies in theaters, according to Steve Koenig with the Consumer Electronics Association.

"There are a number of TV manufacturers expected to make announcements. The key piece is the content, because if you have the content, the consumers will come. I think the industry and all the stakeholders have really reached consensus, and the Blue-Ray Disc Association recently announced they have a standard protocol. The industry's gonna, just by virtue of them coming together in this way, will avoid any kind of a format conflict, so I think that it will be relatively smooth rollout. Yes, it does require glasses, but I think what we're gonna start to see as 3D takes hold is we may see entirely new sales channels open up for 3D glasses, like at Pearl Vision, maybe some optometrists would start selling customized 3D glasses, because people are going to want a custom fit."

 

Prices for the new LG sets have not yet been announced. But Tim Alessi, director of product development at LG Electronics USA, said the TVs will likely cost about $200 to $300 more than comparable sets without 3D functions.

 

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer plans to demonstrate a touch-screen, tablet-style computer from Hewlett-Packard tonight. It's the first of several such devices expected to be unveiled this month. People familiar with the matter described the computer, also known as a slate, to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. They were not authorized to reveal details before Ballmer's presentation at CES in Las Vegas. Tablet-style computers that run Windows have been available for a decade. But HP's new machine is bound to draw extra attention given the expectations that Apple will launch a similar device this month. Dell also plans to demonstrate a tablet computer concept Thursday at CES.

AT&T is adding cell phones running Google's Android operating system to its lineup, bringing what could be the iPhone's greatest rival into the fold of the device's sole U.S. carrier. AT&T said it plans to sell five Android phones from Dell, HTC and Motorola during the first half of this year. AT&T also will sell phones running Palm's Webos operating system in the first half. Palm offers two phones with that software, the Pre and the Pixi. Both have been offered in the U.S. only by Sprint Nextel.

Losing your cell phone can be exasperating and expensive. But what if your phone could call out to you, letting you know it was about to be left behind? Zomm believes this would cut down on disappearing handsets. At CES, Zomm is showing off a small device that does just that. The Tulsa, Oklahoma, company's gadget, also called Zomm, connects wirelessly with your phone via Bluetooth and sounds an alarm if you walk away from it. The Zomm also includes a personal alarm that users can activate and a button that can remotely call emergency services from your phone. It has a speakerphone and can alert users to incoming calls. It's expected to be available this summer for $80.


The number of workers claiming job discrimination based on disability, religion and national origin surged to new highs last year. Overall, federal job bias complaints stayed at near-record levels. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says charges of disability discrimination rose by about ten per cent, the largest increase of any category. The increase coincided with changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act last year that made it easier for people with epilepsy, diabetes and other treatable conditions to claim disability. Overall, the EEOC received more than 93,000 discrimination claims during the 2009 fiscal year, a two per cent decrease from the record set in 2008.


A market analysis company says the global trade in carbon emissions credits expanded last year, but falling prices meant roughly the same amount of money changed hands. An analysis of the trade, which is concentrated in Europe, has significance for the United States and several other countries that are considering a cap-and-trade system to control greenhouse gas emissions. Norway-based point carbon said 8.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide were bought and sold in 2009 for a total of €94 billion, or $135 billion. The volume of trade was 68 per cent higher than in 2008, but its value was up just €2 billion. Analyst Endre Tvinnereim said the global financial crisis caused a slowdown in industry and in carbon emissions, resulting in lower market prices.


Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is announcing changes he says will bring more scrutiny and greater public participation in the way oil and gas leases are handled on public lands. Salazar says the changes should ensure stricter environmental standards in oil and gas leasing while bringing more certainty for energy companies that hope to drill on public lands, mostly in western states. Salazar is a former senator from Colorado. The Democrat criticized the Bush administration for what he called a "headlong rush" to lease public lands. Early last year, Salazar suspended 60 of 77 leases in Utah approved in the waning days of that administration. Industry groups have accused Salazar of significantly reducing oil and gas leases on federal lands. He has disputed that.


A Nigerian government official says soldiers outside a Chevron plant shot two workers dead and sparked rioting among others. Delta state government spokesman Linus Chima said the violence began at a Chevron plant in southern Nigeria. Chima says soldiers shot the Nigerian workers after becoming irritated over a traffic jam at the plant's gate. Chima says workers then fought with soldiers over the shooting and torched several buildings. He says the violence was brought under control by Wednesday. Chevron hopes the plant, which is still under construction, will convert natural gas to diesel fuel for cars and trucks in Europe and elsewhere. The San Ramon, California-based company did not return a call seeking comment.


A federal judge has ordered the return of $21.2 million in coins and bullion to gold customers of indicted Texas businessman R. Allen Stanford. Judge David C. Godbey issued his ruling in federal court in Dallas. The ruling affects 220 customers, including 147 who had $20.2 million in coins and bullion individually marked and stored in Stanford vaults. About another $1 million in gold was paid for and marked for delivery to about 70 customers when the Securities and Exchange Commission sued Stanford and froze the assets of his companies. Stanford denies allegations that he led a $7 billion ponzi scheme by promising inflated returns to about 28,000 investors on certificates of deposits at his Antiguan Bank.

The daughter of Stanford could face federal contempt of court charges over a fight to keep her $1.3 million condominium in Houston. Judge David C. Godbey ordered Randi Stanford to appear at a hearing on the issue on January 28th. Randi Stanford is battling a court-appointed receiver's efforts to sell the 2,800-square-foot condo. She argues in court papers that the condo should not be part of the allegedly tainted assets seized by the government. Allen Stanford denies the government's claim that he led a $7 billion ponzi scheme by promising inflated returns to about 28,000 investors on certificates of deposits at his Antiguan bank.


The Securities and Exchange Commission says a former employee of a Perot Systems affiliate has agreed to return more than $8.6 million from a stock sale related to a proposed merger with Dell. The SEC says in a statement that Reza Saleh admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement filed in federal court in Dallas. The agency accused Saleh of insider trading, saying he bought a large number of shares with knowledge of the proposed deal before it was announced in September. The SEC said Saleh profited from the sale of those shares when perot stock soared on news of the deal. Saleh worked for ParkCentral Capital Management, the Plano-based investment firm of former presidential candidate and Perot Systems Chairman Emeritus Ross Perot.


Only seven in ten taxpayers calling the Internal Revenue Service for help this tax season are expected to reach a real person--if the agency reaches its service goal. A report issued by an internal watchdog said the lucky ones who get through can expect to wait on hold for an average of nearly 12 minutes. National taxpayer advocate Nina Olson, who issued the report, said that level of service is unacceptable. It would, however, match the level of service provided last year. The IRS says it is being inundated with an unprecedented number of calls from taxpayers with questions about temporary tax breaks passed by Congress to help stimulate the economy.


Some Federal Reserve policymakers last month were conflicted over whether to expand or cut back a program intended to drive down mortgage rates, bolster the housing market and keep the recovery going. Minutes of the Fed's closed-door meeting on December 15th and 16th says that a "few members" thought that the Fed's $1.25 trillion mortgage-buying program might need to be expanded and extended beyond its current end date of March 31st. However, one member thought the program might need to be scaled back.


American Airlines announced its December traffic fell 1.6 per cent, but planes were fuller as the airline cut capacity by reducing flights. Fort Worth-based American says paying passengers flew 10.16 billion miles last month, down from 10.32 billion miles in December 2008. The average occupancy or load factor on American flights was 80.6 per cent, up from 79.2 per cent a year earlier.


Plastic shopping bags commonly supplied to customers by retailers will be banned in Brownsville in a move to protect the environment. The Brownsville City Commission approved the ban, to take effect in 2011. Commissioners are calling for a voluntary ban of plastic shopping bags through December 2010. As of next year, businesses can only provide recyclable paper bags, reusable bags or biodegradable bags. Neither the voluntary nor the mandatory ban applies to plastic bags for bagging meat, fish and poultry products. The ordinance says Brownsville has a duty to protect the natural environment, the economy and the health of its citizens.


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...