Thursday November 3rd, 2005

Online job recruitment activity improves after brief, hurricane-inspired dip...Non-manufacturing business activity increases, according to the nation's purchasing and supply executives...Former El Paso employees plead not guilty to charges over alleged price manipulation...

A check of employment prospects by the parent of the leading online jobs site finds an improved showing last month following a brief, hurricane-inspired dip in September. The measure coming from Monster Worldwide looks at both online job demand and recruitment activity. The employment index from the parent of rose three points in October to 143 despite the early negative impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That's the highest level since the index's inception and a large increase from a year ago. All nine U.S. regions and most industries and occupational categories tracked by the index saw an increase in online job availability during the past month. Analysts say that reflects the underlying strength of the U.S. economy, which grew at a better-than-expected annual rate of 3.8 percent in the third quarter. Release of the report comes ahead of tomorrow's October employment report by the Labor Department.

Business activity in the non-manufacturing sector increased in October, according to the nation's purchasing and supply executives. The latest Non-Manufacturing ISM Report on Business from the Institute for Supply Management indicates this is the 31st consecutive month of improvement. Backlogs and new orders also increased at faster rates, but employment increased at a slower rate. Eleven of 17 non-manufacturing industry sectors report increased activity in October compared to eight that reported increased activity in September.

A lawsuit filed in a Houston federal court accuses Halliburton and its KBR subsidiary of not paying millions of dollars in overtime to workers in Iraq and Kuwait. The workers contend Halliburton and its subsidiaries failed to pay overtime to 20,000 to 40,000 truck drivers, cooks, mechanics and other workers. The workers attorney, Ramo Rossi Lopez, says employees were required to work 80 to 100 hours a week because that's cheaper than having more workers. Halliburton spokeswoman Cathy Mann says it's investigating the situation but has no further comment.

The former head of natural gas trading and a trader with El Paso Corporation pleaded not guilty to charges filed this week over alleged price manipulation. Former Gas Trading Managing Director Jim Brooks and former trader Wesley Walton were released on bonds by Judge Nancy Atlas. They face 19 counts of false reporting and wire fraud and one count of conspiracy.

A plan to drill for oil in an Arctic Wildlife Refuge has survived a challenge in the Senate. The Senate voted 51-to-48 against stripping the proposal from a huge budget bill. Drilling in the Arctic is a top energy priority for the Bush administration. Supporters of drilling argued that with the recent spike in oil prices, drilling in Alaska is needed to help reduce the country's reliance on oil imports. Opponents say the drilling proposal will have little impact on oil or gasoline prices, or U.S. energy security. They also warn it will destroy the wildlife refuge. The Senate also approved an amendment that would require any oil produced in the refuge to remain in the U.S. Democrat Ron Wyden warned that without that requirement, the oil would go to the ''highest bidder in the far east.''

Leaders of the American Airlines pilots union say they'll consider concessions to help the nation's largest carrier survive the long slump gripping the U.S. airline industry. The union leaders voted to open preliminary talks aimed at easing work rules to raise productivity at the Fort Worth-based airline. For example, pilots could be asked to fly longer hours each month. Allied Pilots Association directors voted 12-to-6 to authorize talks with company management. Union President Ralph Hunter ruled out negotiations on pay cuts, benefit reductions or layoffs. But he says the union should begin preliminary talks soon--waiting could only lead to more drastic cuts if American's financial situation worsens. Hunter said the union's 13,000 pilots would have final say on any contract changes.

Aetna says it will pay doctors more to screen and treat depression, in a program to be tested in areas like Texas where the company has already trained doctors for it. The program could be introduced nationally after an independent evaluation. Aetna will pay primary care doctors higher fees to ask patients questions that may reveal depression. The National Institutes of Health says about one in ten adults in the U>S> has a depressive disorder.

Coal property owner and manager Natural Resource Partners is reporting an 11 percent increase in third-quarter earnings despite ongoing coal production problems. NRP earned $21.5 million in the quarter ending September 30th. That's up from $19.4 million in the same year-ago period. The company is based in Houston and has its operational headquarters in Huntington, West Virginia. It says it expects to reach the upper end of its previously announced revenue guidance of $143 to $150 million for the year, with net income of between $75 and $85 million. Nick Carter is NRP's chief operating officer. He says production problems due to labor, permitting and transportation issues were offset by increases in coal royalties. NRP is a master limited partnership originally formed by properties owned by Arch Coal and the privately held WPP Group.

Houston-based oilfield services firm Smith International has acquired Nunez Oil Field Pipe, primarily serving the Permian Basin and East Texas markets. Odessa-based Nunez rents and repairs drill pipe, tubing, drill collars and blow-out preventers used in the drilling and completion of oil and natural gas wells.

Los Angeles-based SCI Real Estate Investments is buying the Price Plaza Shopping Center in Katy from San Diego-based USA Properties in a $37.6 million deal, according to the Houston Business Journal. The center on the northwest corner of I-10 and Fry Road will then be sold to tenant-in-common investors in deals that allow investors to re-invest proceeds from the sale into other properties as tax benefits.

Ted's Montana Grill is leasing space in the Sugar Land Town Center for a new restaurant. The chain, owned by billionaire Ted Turner, specializes in bison meat dishes, with 45 restaurants nationwide.

A Houston billionaire has announced that he will donate $35 million to Texas A&M University to help build two physics facilities. George Mitchell said he hopes his donation will help boost the College Station campus's reputation in the sciences. Mitchell made his money in oil, gas and land development. The donation will go toward building the George P. And Cynthia W. Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Phases and Astronomy, and the George P. Mitchell '40 Physics Building.

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...