Friday March 31st, 2006

Gas prices remain largely unchanged...Former Merrill Lynch executive released from prison pending appeal...Enron defense team readies its case for Monday...

Retail gas prices were mixed this week in Texas. The weekly AAA Texas gas price survey shows Texas gas prices remain largely unchanged from last week at $2.48 per gallon. That's still 41 cents higher than a year ago. Retail gas prices also remained virtually the same nationwide at $2.51 per gallon. The average price of regular self-serve dipped in some cities--including three cents to $2.39 per gallon in Corpus Christi. That's the cheapest average price in Texas this week. But they climbed a fraction of a cent in other cities--including in Dallas, where the average retail price of $2.53 per gallon is the state's highest. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says wholesale gasoline prices dipped sharply on the spot market just over a week ago. But she says a price spike since then erased those decreases, signaling more increases over the next two weeks.


Drivers will soon have the option of using homegrown ethanol-based fuel in Houston and Dallas. Kroger--in a collaboration with General Motors--in May will begin offering the alternative fuel known as E-85 at their supermarket pumps. E-85 is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. It's a high-octane, domestically produced renewable fuel that's typically made with corn. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst yesterday took part in an event in Austin to promote use of alternative fuels. Dewhurst says renewable energy plays an important role in protecting the environment and helping the state meet its future energy needs. The Texas Department of Agriculture, in an effort to increase production of E-85, is helping producers to open two plants in the panhandle--in Levelland and Hereford.


A federal appeals court has ordered former Merrill Lynch executive William Fuhs released from prison pending his appeal of his 2004 conviction in connection with Enron's bogus sale of power barges to the brokerage. Fuhs, of Denver, was one of five people convicted of helping push through Enron's sale of power plants mounted on barges to the brokerage in 1999 to help Enron appear to have met earnings targets. Four of the five were sentenced to more than three years in prison, while the fifth was sentenced to two-and-a-half years behind bars. All but one appealed.


The defense begins calling witnesses on Monday in the fraud and conspiracy trial of ex-CEO Jeff Skilling and Enron founder Ken Lay. Skilling's attorney Daniel Petrocelli said he's spending the weekend getting things lined up.

"I'm going to be working with Mr. Skilling to start getting ready for his testimony and and working to get our case together--lining up the witnesses, arranging the order of the witnesses, making sure they're here, and getting everybody up and ready to go. So it'll be a busy weekend, but we're really relieved to have the first part of the case over, and we're really looking forward to this next part."

But Petrocelli said "preparation" doesn't mean "rehearsal."

"He is who he is. The jury will see him for what he is--all the good and all the bad--and they'll make their own judgments. They'll look him in the eye and they'll judge for themselves. But there's no effort to put out Mr. Skilling to be somebody that he's not."

Lay's attorney Mike Ramsey said Lay and Skilling will both take the stand to refute allegations made by a string of ex-Enron executives who testified against them.

"We are speculating probably Mr. Skilling will start close to the end of the second week, and so that will put Mr. Lay somewhere into the third week, probably."

The prosecution wrapped up its case last week, calling 22 witnesses over nine weeks. Ramsey and Petrocelli expect the defense team will take less time.

Mike Ramsey: "There are a number of other witnesses, but we're going to try to tighten this case up so that they're short, they're direct, and we don't keep the jury sitting here forever. We're going to limit the scope of the testimony from the witnesses, and we've got a good line-up." Daniel Petrocelli: "I think what you'll see from the defense is an effort to get the specifics, get the facts in front of the jury and not burden the proceedings with opinions. We heard a lot of opinions, a lot of impressions, a lot of high-level generalizations. What you will hear in the defense case are facts. You will hear about the actual conversations that took place. You will see the actual documents that were exchanged, and I think the jury will have a very clear picture by the end of the process. We are very pleased about the way this case has progressed so far."

The brother of former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling says he isn't the arrogant and intimidating man he's portrayed to be. Skilling is on trial for fraud and conspiracy. And Tom Skilling says his brother doesn't take himself nearly as seriously as some of the news clips appear to show. Tom Skilling is a weatherman for WGN TV in Chicago. He says the last time he saw his brother was more than a year ago when his younger brother came to Chicago after their father suffered a stroke. But Tom Skilling says he's left his brother messages to express his support. Federal prosecutors in Houston rested their case against Jeff Skilling and Enron founder Ken Lay this week. They allege the two lied about Enron's declining financial condition to boost the company's stock price and rake in millions of dollars


Consumer spending slowed sharply last month. Meanwhile, Americans' incomes grew by the smallest amount in three months. The Commerce Department reports that personal consumption spending rose by a tiny one-tenth percent in February. It was the weakest gain in six months. That followed a huge eight-tenths percent surge in January--which had reflected a mild winter that lured shoppers to the stores to spend their Christmas gift cards. Personal incomes rose by three-tenths percent in February. That was less than half the jump in January. The January increase had been boosted by federal government pay raises and cost-of-living adjustments for millions of social security recipients.


The Park at Voss Apartments is allowing five design students to compete in an interior design contest this weekend. The apartment's LaShaune Tisdale

"They're going to turn over their vision of what is very functional, what's urban, what's trendy, what somebody in that age group--that demographic--is really interested in. And so, of course we're going to take that--some of their ideas--and sort of put our own play onto it."

The Park at Voss Apartments have recently undergone a $5 million renovation.


FMC Technologies says CEO Joseph Netherland realized $3.5 million from exercising stock options. Value realized generally is defined as the market value of the stock on the dates of exercise, minus the applicable exercise price. It doesn't necessarily indicate the stock was sold. The Houston-based energy company also said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that Netherland got an almost $871,000 in salary. He also got a $1.3 million bonus for 2005. FMC provides undersea drilling and production systems to explore and produce oil and natural gas.


Smith International says in a regulatory filing that it paid its top executive a $2 million bonus for 2005. The filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission says that's in addition to a salary of almost $1 million. According to the Houston company's proxy statement, Rock also received restricted stock valued at $8.75 million dollars in 2005. The chief executive also exercised almost 410,000 stock options, realizing a value of $10 million. The Houston-based company provides drilling equipment and services to oil and gas producers. Smith International had 2005 revenue of almost $5.6 billion.


RadioShack says in a regulatory filing that it's set the salary of its acting chief executive at $725,000, effective April 1st. Claire H. Babrowski is the acting chief executive of the Fort Worth-based electronics store chain. She also holds the titles of president and chief operating officer. RadioShack's filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission says she'll also get 18,000 restricted shares and 100,000 stock options. She took on the acting CEO's position in February after David Edmondson was forced out after admitting he exaggerated his educational background on his resume.


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...