Tuesday PM April 6th, 2010

Judge grants R. Allen Stanford's request for new attorneys…Labor Department says job openings rising in retail, manufacturing, transportation, restaurants and hotels…Texas Petro Index rises for second consecutive month…

A federal judge has granted a request by jailed Texas financier R. Allen Stanford to have new attorneys represent him on charges he bilked investors out of $7 billion as part of a massive ponzi scheme. But before U.S. District Judge David Hittner approved the request during a Houston court hearing, he and Stanford got into a sometimes heated exchange over whether the financier could later on add more attorneys to the case. Stanford's new attorneys are his fourth set since he and other executives of the now-defunct Houston-based Stanford Financial Group were indicted less than a year ago. Stanford's old attorneys said they left the case because there was tremendous conflict between them and the financier over how the case should be tried.


The Labor Department says job openings rose in several sectors of the economy in February, including retail, manufacturing, restaurants and hotels, and transportation. The report is consistent with other surveys showing hiring is picking up in those areas. It also echoes last week's employment report, which showed broad job gains in March. Layoffs declined sharply in February, falling to 1.8 million from 1.95 million in January. Layoffs have fallen back to pre-recession levels, but job openings and new hirings are recovering more slowly. Total job openings declined in February, a sign that hiring remains sluggish as employers slowly recover from the worst recession in 80 years.


Companies are adding more executives than they are shedding, according to ExecuNet's Executive Job Creation Index. ExecuNet's Mark Anderson says the index reflects a positive trend over the past three months—the executive employment market, much like the broader economy, is in a much better place than it was last year.


New reports showing improvement in the housing and services sectors in the U.S. have combined with Friday's employment data to send oil and gasoline prices to an 18-month high. In Asia, oil prices hovered near 18-month highs above $86 a barrel as traders mulled whether a recovering U.S. economy warranted further gains. Benchmark crude for May delivery was down to $86.38 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The Energy Department says the national average pump price last week was $2.83, up three cents from the previous week and 79 cents higher than a year ago.

Qatar's oil minister says crude's recent rally is driven mainly by speculation, not a shortage of supply. Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah said there was no need for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to hold a special meeting to address the recent run-up in oil prices. The 12-nation group, which supplies about 35 percent of the world's oil, is next scheduled to meet in October. Oil prices have been hovering around $86 per barrel--near an 18-month high--as traders weighed whether recent improvements in the U.S. economy would help stimulate demand for crude. Al-Attiyah said there is "no need" for a special OPEC meeting, arguing that "nothing about (the price increase) is linked to a shortage of supply."


The Texas Petro Index rose for the second consecutive month, following 14 months of consecutive declines. Downward revision of employment data in the drilling and service sector were partially offset by upward revision in crude oil and natural gas production volumes. Petroleum economist Karr Ingham, who created the index for the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, says we're only two months into this recovery cycle, but the momentum suggests the recovery is for real.


American Airlines is transferring 200 Tulsa, Oklahoma-based maintenance operations coordinators to Texas over two years. Airlines officials said the company is consolidating employees of the Maintenance Operations Center, which oversees aircraft maintenance at line or overnight maintenance stations, with the Systems Operations Center in Fort Worth. The SOC dispatches aircraft to airports or line maintenance stations where they are needed. American spokesman Tim Wagner says as part of the company's efforts to improve on-time performance and customer service, officials want to have the SOC and the MOC in the same location. American employs about 7,000 people in Tulsa, including 6,000 mechanics and related work groups at its Tulsa maintenance & engineering center.

At least two airlines are already sending flights back to the gate if they're caught in tarmac delays approaching three hours. That's the cut-off point for new fines that take effect on April 29th. US Airways and Continental Airlines both say that they've started new procedures ahead of the government rules, which require airlines to let passengers off planes after delays of more than three hours. There are exceptions for some issues like safety, but it's not yet clear how often they'll be invoked. The Transportation Department also says it will delay a new rule requiring airlines to put flight delay data on their Web sites beginning April 29th. The airlines, through a trade association, had said that collecting the information and publishing it required extensive work. They now have until June 29th to comply.


Lawyers for dozens of Indiana National Guard soldiers claiming they were exposed to a potentially cancer-causing chemical while in Iraq are continuing their lawsuit against a defense contractor. The suit filed in Houston against KBR comes after a federal judge in Indianapolis dismissed their suit. He ruled February 25th that his court lacked "personal jurisdiction" over KBR and several related companies named in the lawsuit. The suit was re-filed last week in Houston, where KBR is based. KBR has denied wrongdoing. KBR's Mark Lowes says any contamination that the company found was property reported. About 140 Indiana soldiers allege KBR failed to warn them that an Iraqi water pumping plant they helped guard in 2003 was tainted with a substance linked to cancer and other diseases.


Imprisoned former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is in court and expected to testify for the first time since his second trial began more than a year ago. He's charged with embezzling more than $25 billion worth of oil and laundering most of the proceeds, charges his lawyers say are ridiculous. They say the case is punishment for challenging Vladimir Putin, the former president who remains powerful as prime minister. Khodorkovsky's business partner Platon Lebedev, who is on trial with him in Moscow, spoke first Tuesday and said the trial was "rotten." Lebedev demanded the recusal of the judge, who angrily called a short recess. The trial is considered a test of whether President Dmitry Medvedev is serious about reforming Russia's judicial system.


Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Indian leaders are trying to expand economic ties between the two countries. India invited U.S. companies to invest in developing its infrastructure during a two day visit by Geithner and other U.S. officials. India has a fast-growing economy and is a stable ally in a complex region. Relations between the U.S. and India are at a high point, thanks partly to the Bush administration's push to allow U.S. civilian nuclear trade with India. The Obama administration has used that as a foundation for improving ties and hopes of cooperation on Washington's priorities of combating terrorism and climate change.


Federal Reserve officials at their March meeting stressed the importance of making sure record-low interest rates don't feed new speculative bubbles in stocks or other assets. Some officials said the Fed's pledge to keep rates low for an "extended period" doesn't mean a fix period of time. Rather, it depends on the strength of the economy, according to minutes of the meeting. Analysts have taken the pledge to mean rates need to stay at record lows for roughly six months to help underpin the recovery. Those Fed officials argued that the pledge won't stop the Fed from boosting rates if the economy showed signs of picking up substantially or if inflation took off. On the other hand, the pledge "could last for some time" if the economy took a turn for the worse.


The United States and Brazil say they have come to a preliminary agreement in a long-running trade dispute over billions of dollars in subsidies paid to U.S. cotton farmers. The announcement comes one day before Brazil was to raise tariffs on hundreds of millions of dollars in American goods, including autos, pharmaceuticals and electronics. The World Trade Organization says Brazil can take punitive action because the United States has failed to get rid of subsidies the WTO says are illegal. The Brazilian government brought the case to the WTO in 2002, alleging the United States remained the world's second-largest cotton producer by paying out the subsidies. The United States will set up a $147 million annual assistance fund for Brazil as part of the agreement.


AT&T says it will spend $1 billion this year to broaden its network, enhance services for large businesses worldwide and expand its offerings for small businesses in the U.S. This will bring the huge telecommunications company's investment in business-oriented networks, systems and services to more than $4 billion since 2006. The spending is part of AT&T's plan to keep pace with the continued shift from voice communication to data and video. AT&T is based in Dallas.


A financial empowerment literacy forum for people with disabilities is set for tomorrow morning at the Kashmere Multi-Service Center on Lockwood. Participants will hear about budgeting, understanding credit, new credit card laws and the Bank on Houston program. The forum is organized by the Houston Department of Health and Human Services.


Kelsey-Seybold has opened a second location in Pearland, more than doubling its clinical space and expanding its medical staff. The new facility is at Shadow Creek Ranch. The Silverlake Clinic opened in 2000. More than 350 physicians practice at Kelsey-Seybold's 18 locations in the greater Houston area.


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...