Thursday June 8th, 2006
by: Ed Mayberry, June 8, 2006 12:06:00 am
Oil prices dropped for the third straight trading day, following the death of al-Qaida's leader in Iraq and word from Nigerian militants that they would release foreign hostages. Concerns of a slowdown in global economic growth and the European Central Bank's decision to raise its key interest rate are also credited for the falling oil prices. U.S. government data shows higher crude oil and gas inventories and some easing of tensions over Iran's nuclear program.
The British oil company BP confirmed today that it's received a subpoena from a U.S. grand jury investigating a massive oil leak in Alaska. The March spill at the Prudhoe Bay field was the largest ever on Alaska's North Slope. BP blamed the spill on a small hole caused by corrosion in a pipeline. BP says it's "fully cooperating with the investigation'' and conducting its own, but it says it believes its actions "were at all times proper.'' Up to 267,000 gallons were believed to have spilled onto the frozen ground from a 34-inch diameter pipeline in the tundra about 250 miles above the Arctic Circle. BP already faces a probe and victims' lawsuits over a March 2005 explosion at its plant in Texas City that killed 15 people. The company was fined $21.3 million by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 300 violations. OSHA said earlier this year the investigation had been referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution.
A suburban Houston YMCA will no longer bear the name of embattled Enron founder Ken Lay. Lay was convicted last month of fraud and conspiracy. Lay, who's a volunteer chairman of the Greater Houston YMCA, asked that his name be removed from the facility. It will now be called the Katy Family YMCA. Lay six years ago bought the naming rights for at least $1 million. Officials declined to be more specific. The YMCA was considering removing Lay's name after he was convicted May 25th of fraud and conspiracy, along with former Enron chief executive Jeff Skilling. A YMCA official says the decision to switch the name was prompted by Lay's letter seeking the change.
Students at Davis High School will hear first-hand from one of the jurors on the Enron trial about the American court system. HISD Principal Freddy Delgado will be the guest lecturer tomorrow afternoon at the school on Quitman, discussing the trial with seniors enrolled in a government course. Delgado is principal of HISD's Golfcrest Elementary School.
The Service Employees International Union conducted a study into consumer and healthcare provider complaints against Texas health insurers that shows Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas leads the market in consumer complaints. SEIU says consumers and doctors last year filed two and a half times more complaints per policyholder against Blue Cross of Texas--the state's largest insurer with a 28 percent market share. SEIU represents some 14,000 workers in Texas, including janitors and public employees.
Houston region business leaders travel to India next week, exploring business development opportunities and tourism and trade relations. The delegation will be in New Delhi June 12th through the 14th and in Mumbai June 15th and 16th. The group includes Port of Houston Authority Commissioner Jim Fonteno, Houston Airport System Marketing Director Genaro Pena and Greater Houston Partnership Business Development division senior vice president Miguel R. San Juan. Other members of the Houston delegation include representatives from the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, Halliburton, Continental Airlines and the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau. Nearly 700 Houston-area companies trade goods and services with South Asian countries and about 30 Houston firms have subsidiaries there. Houston's Asian Indian population is estimated at more than 68,000.
The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital in China have agreed to expand collaborations in clinical and educational cancer research. Representatives of both institutions participated in a signing ceremony at M.D. Anderson at the second annual Sister Institution Conference this week that brought together 187 researchers from 32 cancer institutions in 16 countries.
Thomas Properties Group, in a joint venture with the California State Teachers' Retirement System, has agreed to buy the BMC Software campus in a $295 million deal. The purchase covers the four-building, 1.5-million-square-foot campus and 24 acres of adjacent developable land. BMC Software will maintain its corporate headquarters at the campus by entering into a 15-year lease.
Clay Development & Construction has broken ground on two buildings for lease at the new 30-acre 288 Business Park on the south side of Beltway 8, just east of Highway 288, according to the Houston Business Journal. The firm says this is the first speculative industrial park for the far south submarket. Two build-to-suit facilities are also being constructed.
First Surgical Partners has opened First Surgical Memorial Village, the company's third outpatient surgery center in the Houston area. Other centers are located in Bellaire and in Conroe. First Surgical purchased the physician-owned Memorial Village medical facility in February and made renovations. Outpatient surgery accounts for more than 80 percent of all surgeries in the U.S.
Plano-based Electronic Data Systems said today it's acquired a majority stake in Indian outsourcing company Mphasis for $380 million in cash. In March, EDS made an open offer to buy 83 million shares in Mphasis, or 52 percent, for $4.50 per share. Mphasis provides software development and other information technology outsourcing. Indian outsourcing companies have thrived due to cheap labor, offering stiff competition to traditional outsourcing giants like EDS. With the addition of Mphasis and current expansion plans, EDS' total India work force is projected to exceed 20,000 employees by year end. Currently, EDS employs about 3,000 people in India. Mphasis Chief Executive Jerry Rao will retain his job after the acquisition, which is expected to be completed by the end of the month.
Houston-based INOVA Homes has developed a line of houses that can withstand a Category Four hurricane, according to the Houston Business Journal. One of the pre-built, 70,000-pound homes will be set on 15-foot elevated piers in Galveston this week. The custom-built homes are 95 percent complete when placed on the storm-surge protecting piers, and are typically completed and ready for occupancy in two to three months.
The latest snapshot of the job market from the Labor Department suggests some strengthening has been seen. However, the decline in reported jobless claims took place during a holiday-shortened week, so the numbers might not give an accurate picture. The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell by 35,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted total of 302,000. That's the biggest decline in eight months. Analysts had expected a smaller drop. Last week, the government reported that businesses created 75,000 new jobs in May, far fewer than expected. Also in today's report, the less volatile four-week moving average edged down slightly to nearly 328,000, the lowest in a month.
Aztec Party and Tents has agreed to pay $198,774 in back overtime wages after an investigation by the U.S Department of labor's Wage and Hour Division found 145 former and current workers engaged in the setup and takedown of party tens and sales employees had not been properly paid. Aztec employs about 137 workers in the Houston area.
Wendy's is looking to improve its "nutritional profile.'' The country's third-largest burger chain says it's switching to a non-hydrogenated blend of corn and soy oil that has zero grams of artery-clogging trans fat per serving. It will cut trans fat in French fries and breaded chicken items by 95 percent. Research shows trans fat raises bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol. And eating just five grams a day raises the risk of heart disease by 25 percent. The changeover is expected to take place in August. McDonald's pledged to switch to healthier oil four years ago, but management says the company's still testing the oil and can't say when it'll make the change.