Friday AM November 10th, 2006

Out-of-court settlement reached between BP and woman whose parents died in March 2005 Texas City refinery explosion...New claims for unemployment benefits fall...National Retail Federation urges caution when shopping online for Christmas gifts...

Financial terms will remain confidential in the settlement between BP and a woman whose parents died in last year's deadly explosion at the BP Texas City refinery. But plaintiff Eva Rowe's attorney stresses "money did not solve all of the problems.'' Brent Coon says efforts to settle the case always included stipulations that BP make the refinery and other facilities safer. He says part of the settlement will be used to create endowments and trusts at universities.

"It's $12.5 million UTMB, $12.5 million to the Process Safety Center at A&M, that's $25 million, $5 million to the College of the Mainland, that's $30 million. One million to the school, that's $31 million, $1 million to St. Jude's that's $32 million. In addition, Bp has created a matching fund program, whereby for each of the three main foundations, if anybody else donates to them, they will match that amount up to $2 million for each one of those entities. That creates a potential total of going from $32 million to $38 million."

Rowe says she received a letter from BP apologizing for the death of her father, but it seemed to be a form letter addressed to her mother, who was also killed in the blast.

"To me, those are my parents, you know, that was mom and my dad, that wasn't just some Mr. Rowe and Ms. Rowe that, you know, no one even knew about or cared about from their corporation. And so, yeah, it was hurtful to my feelings because I knew that it wasn't even to me, it was to my mother who was dead, too, and they hadn't even apologized for killing her."

Rowe had said she hoped her case would focus attention to prevent repeats of the blast that killed her parents, James and Linda Rowe of Hornbeck, Louisiana, who were among the 15 people killed in the March 2005 explosion.


New claims for unemployment benefits fell by some 20,000 last week, providing fresh indications that the job market is firm. The Labor Department says new claims were at a seasonally adjusted 308,000. That's a larger-than-expected improvement. The four-week moving average, which is less volatile, was little changed at more than 311,000. Last week, the government said the unemployment rate fell to 4.4 percent for October.


Think you've waited too long to get a retail job for the Christmas shopping season? According to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, it's never too late this year. So far, retailers have added an extra 126,000 jobs. But Challenger says if they add the same number of workers to payrolls as they did last year, the best is yet to come. It means as many as 580,000 jobs could be added this month and next. But, what goes up must come down. CEO John Challenger notes that after rising by nearly 693,000 jobs last year, retail employment fell by 884,000 at the beginning of this year.


With the Internet expected to play a larger role than ever in Christmas shopping this year, you can't be too careful when it comes to protecting your identity. The National Retail Federation predicts that shoppers will do nearly 29 percent of their shopping online, increasing the risks consumers will face this season as they click through the Internet and fill their virtual shopping carts. E-commerce expert Marwan Forzley says there are a variety of ways of protecting yourself: among them, using alternative payment methods. He also advises making sure your transaction is secure by ensuring the lock icon is visible on the Website. It's also important to monitor your credit card statements for accuracy.


The incoming chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee denies asking regulators to delay a vote on AT&T's acquisition of BellSouth. John Dingell previously said it would in the best interest of the Federal Communications Commission to wait until after the first of the year to make a decision. The FCC already has delayed a vote on the merger three times. In an interview, he backpedaled. Dingell is now saying the proposed deal should be "looked at and looked into carefully.'' Dingell spokeswoman Jodi Seth says he "believes the FCC should take the time it needs to thoroughly examine the matter even if it takes until next year.'' She also says Dingell does not intend to hold a hearing on the deal.


Mortgage rates are up slightly this week following the release of the latest employment figures. Freddie Mac says the rate on the 30-year fixed-rate loan averaged 6.33, compared with 6.31 percent last week. A year ago it stood at 6.36 percent. Rates for 15-year mortgages were averaging 6.04 percent--up a couple of ticks from last week. Freddie Mac Vice President and Chief Economist Frank Nothaft says news of large upward revisions in employment figures for the last three months was a major factor.


With oil prices falling, the nation's September trade deficit narrowed by the largest amount in more than five years. The Commerce Department reports the overall deficit declined 6.8 percent to more than $64 billion. That is down from a record high of $69 billion in August, and lower than expected. At the same time, the politically sensitive deficit with China rose to a new record of $23 billion. It was fueled by a flood of Chinese-made televisions, cell phones and toys being imported to stock American store shelves for Christmas. Even with the recent improvement, the deficit is on track to set a record for a fifth straight year.


Dallas-based TXU Corporation posted a sharply higher third-quarter profit. The state's biggest electricity producer says its profit was buoyed partly by lower operating expenses and increased revenue. Net income was $1 billion for July through September. That's up 77 percent from last year's quarter. Revenue rose six percent to $3.5 billion. Operating earnings, excluding results from discontinued operations and charges, rose 70 percent to $977 million.


Entergy's Arkansas president says selling the utility is among possible options for the future. Entergy Corporation Chief Executive J. Wayne Leonard said at a Las Vegas trade conference that Entergy could sell its operations in Arkansas and Texas and that the company could also sell its nuclear division. Entergy Arkansas President Hugh McDonald is trying to downplay Leonard's comments. McDonald says a financial assessment prepared for analysts took in many different aspects of the business. They include the bankruptcy of Entergy New Orleans, the system agreement among Entergy divisions and other issues. McDonald says one extreme option is to "consider that there may be a better owner for the Arkansas utility.'' He says the utility is not looking for a suitor and says that if a sale would become an option, that would be years away. Entergy provides electricity to 667,000 customers in Arkansas, where it also owns the nuclear plant at Russellville, Arkansas. Entergy also serves parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.


Colorado Springs-based Westmoreland Coal Company says it's now resolved all of its listing deficiencies with the American Stock Exchange, and now complies fully with Amex listing standards. The firm has operations in Texas, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota and Virginia. The company said earlier this week that it had filed an amended annual report for 2005 and the delayed reports for the first and second quarters of 2006. Westmoreland amended its annual report to restate financial results for 2001 through 2005 to include corrections to net-deferred tax assets. The errors resulted in an overstatement of income tax benefit, and understatements of net losses. Westmoreland calls itself the country's oldest independent coal company.


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...