Thursday, July 28th, 2005

CAFTA goes to president for signature...Judge gives preliminary approval to Enron employee retirement settlement...Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil report profits based on higher oil and natural gas prices...

President Bush says the Central American Free Trade Agreement "helps ensure that free trade is fair trade.'' Bush says the agreement that the House narrowly approved early Thursday will help American workers, farmers and small businesses. The House approved CAFTA 217-to-215 hours after Bush traveled to Capitol Hill to appeal to wavering Republicans. The deal adds six Latin American countries to the growing list of nations with free trade agreements with the U. S. In the end, 27 Republicans voted against CAFTA, while 15 Democrats supported it. The United States signed the accord a year ago with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, and the Senate approved it last month. It now goes to the president for his signature.


U. S. District Judge Melinda Harmon has given preliminary approval to a settlement that could see Enron employees who lost retirement funds split $97 million, minus attorney's fees. Final approval from Judge Harmon and a bankruptcy court in New York is set for September 12th.


Royal Dutch Shell today credits high oil prices for a 34 percent increase in second-quarter profit to almost $5.25 billion. It's the first time the Anglo-Dutch oil giant reported earnings as a single company after unifying its twin parents Shell Transport and Trading and Royal Dutch Petroleum last week. The company earned $3.9 billion in the same period a year ago. The quarterly earnings were hurt by a net charge of $545 million--compared to $573 million in the second quarter of 2004. The charge stems mostly from the fluctuating value of unrealized gas contracts in Britain and net tax charges. Repeated restatements of its oil reserves last year cost Shell almost $150 million in fines imposed by U. S. and British regulators. The previous misstatements of oil reserves led to the dismissal of three senior executives.


ConocoPhillips announced a record profit, crediting high oil and natural gas prices and recent deals in Russia and Asia, as well as big refining margins. The company's refineries ran at 97 percent of capacity in the second quarter. ConocoPhillips is the largest refiner in the U. S. and has the ability to process a lot of heavier crude oils. The Houston-based company earned $3.1 billion on revenue of $46.6 billion in the second quarter. After the merger of Conoco and Phillips Petroleum, the combined company's profit totaled $1.5 billion for all of 2002. With today's numbers, the company earned twice that amount in just one quarter.


Irving-based Exxon Mobil said today its second-quarter profit surged as producers across the globe continue to reap benefits from soaring oil prices. The world's largest publicly traded oil company says net income rose 32 percent to $7.64 billion. Excluding one-time items, earnings totaled $7.84 billion. Revenue gained 25 percent to $88.57 billion. On an oil-equivalent basis, energy production dropped 4.3 percent from last year's quarter. Exxon says that reflects both lower liquids and natural gas volumes.


Field service employees of Continental Airlines have rejected representation sought by the Transport Workers Union of America. The TWU filed an application with the National Mediation Board in April for an election. Field service employees include ramp, operations and cargo agents.

Continental Airlines has ordered two additional Boeing 777-200ER extended range widebody airplanes, as it continues its international route expansion. Seven Continental employees signed the order in a ceremony at George Bush Intercontinental Airport "because of the sacrifices (employees) made with their pay and benefit reductions." The aircraft are slated for delivery in the first quarter of 2007.


The Macy's name will soon be getting more exposure as some other department store brands disappear. Federated Department Stores says some 330 stores being acquired in its pending takeover of rival May Department Stores will be converted to Macy's. Houston-based Foley's is part of the name conversion. A Federated spokesman says other nameplates that will be gone by late 2006 are Famous-Barr, Filene's, Hecht's and Kaufmann's. The conversions will bring the total number of Macy's stores nationwide to 730. Federated says it is still studying the fate of the Marshall Field's name, which represents 60 stores. The company also says it will keep the Lord and Taylor name, currently on 58 stores. In addition, Federated has announced plans to sell 68 stores next year--27 of them currently Federated locations. That includes the Macy's outlet in the Galleria. The Foley's at the Galleria will be converted into a Macy's.


The high-rise and loft segment of the Houston real estate market sees an industry dip in sales and prices in the second quarter, but Multiple Listing Service market experts caution against basing solid conclusions upon a short period of time. The Houston Association of Realtors says this does not necessarily mean values of existing high-rise condos are falling but rather, there were more high rises considered affordable being sold and available for sale. HAR begain releasing a quarterly market comparison last quarter for this real estate segment. Due to the relatively low number of sales compared to single-family homes, there will be more volatility in the high-rise and loft property segment, and the group says month-over-month comparisons should not be made. The average number of sales of high-rise and lofts is about 44 per month, with the peaks usually being in the summer months.


Cinemark USA and MetroNational are building a 20-screen, all-stadium seated movie theater at Memorial City Mall, to open by late summer 2006. Construction begins later this year. This will be Cinemark's 14th theater in the Houston area, with 188 screens. The outlet will feature online ticketing, digital sound and wall-to-wall screens.


The City of Houston has awarded Cingular Wireless a five-year, $8 million contract to provide voice and data services. Cingular is the largest wireless carrier in the United States, serving 51.6 million customers.

Cingular Wireless plans to spend $245 million this year to install about 150 new cell sites throughout south Texas. Cell sites will be built in the Houston area, as well as Austin and San Antonio.


Houston-based Stewart Title Insurance Company is buying Rochester, New York-based Monroe Title Insurance Corporation in a $26 million deal. Monroe serves western, central and upstate New York with title insurance and abstract services through 23 offices staffed by 200 employees.


JMR Records of Houston has entered into an agreement with Cleveland-based AuGRID to distribute its products over the Internet. Entire CDs can be downloaded, with customers buying and burning JMR music directly. AuGRID relocated its headquarters to Houston December 2003, but moved the company back to Cleveland in March 2005.


The nation's biggest trash hauler today posted a second-quarter profit more than double its comparable quarter last year. Houston-based Waste Management credits one-time gains for the increase, but warns that earnings for the full year may fall at the low end of guidance. It also says it'll shed underperforming or non-strategic operations, primarily including collection businesses and transfer stations. To date, operations identified for sale represent more than $400 million in annual revenue. Net income rose to $527 million. Results included gains from tax expense reductions on audit settlements and the sale of operations. Excluding items, the company reported net income of $219 million. Higher prices drove revenue up by five percent to $3.29 billion.


American Airlines has sent executives into small communities urging them to oppose the proposed repeal of the Wright Amendment. The law limits long-haul flights out of Dallas Love Field. Officials from American Eagle, the airlines' subsidiary regional carrier, stopped in Waco yesterday, telling city officials that they may lose air service if the amendment is repealed. American says if it has to split its 800 flights at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport with Love Field, the smaller hubs will suffer. American spokesman Tim Wagner says the airline is trying to explain the effects on small cities if the amendment is repealed. Southwest's Ed Stewart says that if American threatens to abandon all the cities they've talked about leaving, they might as well liquidate the airline. He referred to American's efforts as scare tactics.


Five Star Valet has agreed to pay 53 current and former valets $45,505 in back wages for unpaid overtime and minimum wages. The Labor Department found that the Houston-based company failed to pay its workers the federal minimum wage and time and a half for overtime.


A doctor has testified that a north Texas man's death from an irregular heartbeat was probably brought on by a heart attack. Dr. Maria Araneta is a pathologist whose autopsy in the 2001 death of Robert Ernst is central to the nation's first trial of a Vioxx-related lawsuit. Her testimony came in a deposition--a transcript of which was obtained today by the Associated Press. At the time of Ernst's death, Araneta was assistant coroner with the Johnson County Medical Examiner's Office in Cleburne, near Fort Worth. The lawsuit brought by Ernst's widow, Carol Ernst, is on trial in a Brazoria County State District Court in Angleton, near Houston. The legal team for Vioxx maker Merck has relied heavily on Araneta's autopsy report, which attributed Ernst's death to arrhythmia. Merck pulled the popular painkiller from the market last year when a study showed it doubled risk of heart attack or stroke. But Merck contends no studies link Vioxx to arrhythmia, and therefore the drug couldn't have caused Ernst's death. In the deposition, Araneta testified that arrhythmia, the clinical term for an irregular heartbeat, "does not spontaneously occur.'' She testified that "something must trigger it.''


A north Texas-based homebuilder has agreed to pay the owners of a Superior, Colorado condominium complex $39.5 million. The payment by Fort Worth-based D. R. Horton is to settle claims of construction defects at the 246-unit Summit at Rock Creek complex. Horton attorneys declined to comment on the deal, but it's sued more than 30 subcontractors who worked on the complex--and some of those have sued others. Summit owners filed the lawsuit in 2003, alleging the 43-building complex has cracks in its foundations and walls and poor land drainage. The homeowners hired building inspectors, who found gaps in window siding that allowed extensive water leaks. Colorado law allows property owners to recover the value of their property, the cost of replacement or the cost of repair, whichever is less.

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...