Monday AM December 4th, 2006

Continental pilots endorse carrier's proposed China route...House Republicans agree to move compromise offshore drilling bill passed this summer by Senate...University General Hospital Systems signs $1 billion deal to jointly develop physician-owned acute care hospital facilities nationwide...

The pilots union at Houston-based Continental Airlines says it's endorsed the carrier's proposed service between Newark, New Jersey, and Shanghai. Continental is competing against Fort Worth-based American Airlines and two other carriers for new flights to China beginning next spring. Union leader Dave Earnest is a Continental pilot based in Houston. He says winning the new routes to China would help Continental keep growing and justify wage and benefit concessions the pilots made last year. Earnest is chairman of a unit of the Air Line Pilots Association that represents 4,600 Continental pilots. The cooperation at Continental contrasts with tension at American Airlines, where the company and its pilots disagree over conditions for operating the long flights to China. The U.S. Transportation Department is expected to decide in the next few weeks which carrier gets the route.


U.S. House Republicans have agreed to move a compromise offshore drilling bill that the Senate passed this summer. The bill would open new territory in the Gulf Coast area to oil rigs and create a cash cow for nearby states. GOP leaders decided to send the measure to the floor for a vote this week. Time is running out on the party's majority rule, which ends early next month. The bill would allow new oil and natural gas development in more than eight million acres of federally controlled waters in the east-central Gulf of Mexico. The bill also would sharply increase royalty shares for Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas from less than two percent--to 37.5 percent. It's not clear, however, whether Republican leaders would press for its passage or simply offer it up for a vote anticipating failure. The Republicans had previously blocked the bill, hoping for a more ambitious measure that would open coastal waters across the country to drilling unless a state objects. Supporters say it would help ease tight markets, particularly for natural gas. In 2017, the new royalty formula would apply to all oil and gas produced in the Gulf, not just from the newly opened waters.


Houston's University General Hospital Systems has signed a $1 billion deal with North Carolina-based Alliance Development Group to jointly develop ten physician-owned acute care hospital facilities nationwide. University General Hospital Systems is breaking ground on another physician-owned facility in Houston's Chinatown area, with additional markets in Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and other cities.


Alberto-Culver plans to cut 90 jobs and may close a plant in Dallas as part of a restructuring following the spinoff of its beauty supply distribution business. The jobs to be eliminated represent two percent of the work force of 3,800 at the suburban Chicago-based company, which separated from Denton-based Sally Beauty Holdings last month. The moves will result in charges of $13 million in the first quarter and $3 million in the second quarter. The hair care products maker distributes Alberto VO5 and Tresemme hair care products. It plans to combine two marketing units and outsource some unspecified international services. Chief Executive James Marino says the layoff action represents a "right-sizing'' for the company.


Dynegy is selling some of its power plants in its newly-expanded fleet, according to CEO Bruce Williamson, after it completes its $2.3 billion merger with private equity fund LS Power Group in the first quarter of 2007. Williamson told a conference in New York Dynegy will sell plants that have reached their peak value or do not fit geographically or commercially with the rest of the portfolio.


Houston-based Bristow Group has sold its aircraft engine overhaul business, according to the Houston Business Journal. The buyer of Turbo Engines is Arizona-based Timken Alco Aerospace Technologies. Bristow provides helicopter services and production management services to the offshore oilfield industry.


Eastman Chemical Company said it's completed the sale of its polyethylene business to Houston-based Westlake Chemical Corporation. The price was $255 million in cash. The sale includes Eastman's polyethylene and epolene polymer businesses and related assets. Among those are a 200-mile ethylene pipeline from Mont Belvieu, near Houston, and Eastman's three polyethylene facilities in Longview. Westlake executives have said the Eastman facilities would nearly double Westlake's polyethylene capacity to more than 2.5 billion pounds per year. Eastman says the unit generated about $680 million in revenue last year. Polyethylene is a polymer of ethylene and is used in such applications as plastic utensils, shower curtains and wire insulation. About 400 employees work in Eastman's polyethylene and epolene operations. Some 255 workers are expected to remain with Eastman and continue producing polyethylene for Westlake. Eastman Chemical is a worldwide producer and marketer of chemicals, fibers and plastics based in Kingsport, Tennessee.


The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas says mean personal consumption expenditures inflation rate for October was up 2.6 percent. The rate is calculated on prices for individual segments of products. The September PCE inflation rate was 1.6 percent. The rates are calculated by Dallas Fed economists using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.


A new study shows that borrowers who seek a two-week loan and end up trapped in debt pay lenders $4.2 billion in excessive fees each year. The study, released by center for responsible lending, says such payday loans sink borrowers into what it calls "quicksand-like debt,'' requiring interest payments at rates of 400 percent. The average payday borrower pays back $793 for a $325 loan. Payday loans are marketed as short-term cash advances on the borrower's next paycheck. But research has found the industry depends on repeat business or "flipped'' loans. Eleven states ban the practice--holding all lenders to their consumer loan laws, which usually include a double-digit interest rate cap. Consumer groups have called for such laws in every state in the nation.


T.H. Foods is recalling some crackers that may contain undeclared milk and could be harmful to people with certain food allergies. The Illinois-based company says its Crunchmaster sesame rice crackers were distributed to Costco warehouses in Dallas and Sumner, Washington. The crackers were packed in a six-count multi-pack that includes sesame and cheese flavors. The packages are labeled "best before date of jun082007b.'' Consumers with questions should contact T.H. Foods at: 1-800-896-2396.


The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has received a $9.5 million infusion from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in a three-year grant. The money will allow UTMB scientists to help accelerate development of a new kind of flu vaccine to strengthen natural immunity by linking two main mechanisms of immune defense, innate and adaptive immunity.


Carlos Penate went into a Dallas RadioShack store looking for a memory card for his cell phone. He left with a new job. An assistant manager learned that the 18-year-old Penate was looking for some extra holiday cash. The suggestion was made that he advance from shopper to sales associate, and Penate was hired two weeks later. Retail stores have realized that a "help wanted'' sign in the window isn't enough to attract holiday help in a time of low unemployment. It's a lesson that's helping them overcome an expected shortfall of seasonal employees. The unemployment rate is at a five-year low of 4.4 percent. Several experts say that's making store staffing a special challenge this year. Retailers say one of the best ways to find temporary help is to cherry-pick their best customers. Best Buy and Target are among the companies that recruit from the checkout line. It's one way retailers make sure they have enough workers around to handle the crush of Christmas shoppers. Other strategies include loading up on holiday employees early in the season, advertising for openings in unique ways or providing incentives to new hires or for referrals. These tactics are all necessary at a time when employers are having trouble finding people willing to work.

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...