Friday November 18th, 2005
by: Ed Mayberry, November 18, 2005 12:11:00 am
It's the final approval needed for the merger. California regulators today approved the purchase of AT&T by San Antonio-based SBC Communications. That clears the final regulatory hurdle for the $16 billion merger. The vote by the California Public Utility Commission came nearly ten months after AT&T agreed to be acquired by its former subsidiary. The endorsement follows approvals by two federal agencies, 36 other states and 14 international bodies. SBC originally predicted the entire regulatory process might take almost a year and a-half. SBC is one of the regional "Baby Bells'' created by the 1984 breakup the national monopoly that AT&T held on local and long-distance phone service. SBC last month announced that it would rename itself AT&T upon completion of the deal.
At the same time, the California Public Utility Commission OK'd the planned purchase by Verizon of MCI for about $7.5 billion. That deal still needs approval in other states.
Texas added 14,700 jobs in October as the statewide unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent. The Texas Workforce Commission says jobs were added in nearly every sector of the economy. The biggest increases came in the business and professional service sectors. Last month, the commission reported September unemployment had been 5.7 percent. Economists had blamed an influx of hurricane refugees from Louisiana filing for unemployment benefits. But today, the commission revised the September rate down to 5.3 percent, meaning that the improvement in October was slight. Still, the hurricane's lingering effects were evident in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area. There, the jobless rate jumped from 7.2 percent in September to 11.3 percent in October.
Texas motorists are on a roll. They're finding the average price of gasoline at the pump lower statewide for the sixth week in a row. The weekly AAA Texas gas price survey finds the statewide average price of self-serve regular gasoline checking in at $2.18 per gallon. That's nine cents less than last week. The costliest gasoline was found in Beaumont, with an average price of $2.28 per gallon. That's still down 11 cents from last week. The cheapest gas was found in Corpus Christi, with an average price of just under $2 a gallon. That's also an 11-cent drop. AAA Texas spokeswoman Rose Rougeau predicts more significant decreases in the pump price over at least the next few weeks. The national average is $2.27 per gallon--down nine cents.
Continental Airlines tells its employees that talks with the International Association of Machinists adjourned in Washington D.C. with no flight attendant agreement being reached. The chairman of the National Mediation Board joined the talks earlier in the week, and issues have been narrowed to a few remaining items. A final bargaining session is set for December 7th and 8th. If no agreement is reached on those dates, the NMB says it will consider a 30-day cooling off period. Then Continental could implement wage and benefit reductions, but flight attendants could then strike.
American Airlines is edging closer to reopening its three gates at Dallas Love Field and competing head-on with Southwest Airlines. But American spokesman Tim Wagner says no decisions were made during today's meeting between representatives of his company and Love Field officials. Fort Worth-based American would consider flying direct from Love Field to St. Louis and Kansas City if Congress changes the 1979 Wright Amendment. The law was established to bolster Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport during its early years. Southwest is based at Love Field and wants the long haul flight-restricting law thrown out. The U.S. House today approved a transportation-spending bill that would add Missouri to the list of states that airlines could serve directly from Love Field. The measure is pending in the Senate.
AMR Corporation says it's priced an offering of 13 million newly issued shares at $17.25 per share. AMR said yesterday it has granted underwriter UBS Investment Bank a 30-day option to buy up to 1.95 million more shares of common stock solely to cover any over-allotments. AMR is the parent company of American Airlines, which is the world's largest carrier. It expects the issuance and delivery of the shares to occur on November 23rd. AMR plans to use the net proceeds of the offering for general corporate purposes. On Wednesday, AMR said it had re-launched its corporate travel Web site. It expects the site to help boost business with corporate accounts. Business travel remains the most profitable segment for most major U.S. carriers.
A U.S. Senator critical of the Pentagon's handling of fraud allegations says he's pleased the government is conducting a criminal investigation into no-bid contracts for Iraq. Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota tells reporters he was notified of the inquiry today by the Inspector General's Office. Dorgan and other lawmakers heard testimony in June from Bunnatine Greenhouse, the top procurement officer for the Army Corps of Engineers. She voiced concerns about no-bid contracts awarded to Halliburton. She has since been reassigned. Dorgan says he's heard many stories of incompetence in Iraq contracts, like 50,000 pounds of nails left in the sands of Iraq because they were the wrong size.
A forum for first-time homebuyers is set for Saturday at the Fifth Ward Multi-Purpose Center on Market Street at 10 a.m. Representative Harold Dutton is hosting the forum, hoping to help increase home ownership in Northeast Houston. First-time buyers will receive information on repairing bad credit, choosing among the best loan options, understanding interest rates, where to get down-payment assistance, insurance, property taxes and what to expect at closing.
Texas charter boat owners are joining their counterparts across the Gulf Coast to lobby Congress for economic relief after Hurricane Katrina. Members of the National Association of Charter Boat Captains gathered today in Pensacola, Florida in the latest in a series of meetings. Charter boat captains are dealing with a steep decline in bookings since Katrina came ashore in late August. Association President Bob Zales said bookings are down 80 percent at his Panama City business. The association is compiling an economic impact survey of charter boat losses resulting from the hurricane. They'll use that to try to convince Congress to approve low-interest loans, grants and other assistance. Although the fish populations are beginning to rebuild as the waters calm, tourism is expected to remain slower than normal.
Gulf Coast residents displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are in for a special treat. Habitat for Humanity has teamed up with Freddie Mac and NBC's Today Show to build new homes for families displaced by the storms. Hundreds of volunteers are building the houses on the National Mall in conjuction with the "America Builds on the National Mall'' project. Habitat for Humanity CEO Jonathan Reckford says 51 houses will be sent down to the Gulf States. The homes represent each state and the District of Columbia. Evacuee Bridgette Barbaur from Coen, Alabama says having her new home built is "truly a fairy tale."
A half-billion dollar pipeline proposal backed by the city of Lubbock won't be offered state funding or permits. But under a plan worked out last night, it will recognized as important to the region. Lubbock had sought to have the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority Two pipeline included in a long-term water plan. Officials with the Llano Estacado Regional Water Planning Group say the city submitted the plan late in the planning process. The state doesn't recognize projects that aren't in the planning documents. Lubbock's proposal calls for the pipeline to pump more than 32 billion gallons of groundwater a year from the northern panhandle to communities farther south. Lubbock would get more than 13 billion gallons a year. Lubbock pushed to keep the pipeline included in the plan because it learned that the Dallas region considered groundwater from that region as a possible source of water.
Baker Hughes in Houston says the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. dropped by one this week--to 1,478. One year ago the rig count was 1,268. Texas lost six rigs this week.
Baker Hughes was recognized as "Houston's Choice" during the second annual Houston's Greatest award ceremony last night at the Intercontinental Hotel. The Greater Houston Partnership also honored Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, Houston Mayor Bill White and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, as well as nine other local businesses. The winners were selected by popular vote conducted on the Partnership Web site.