Wednesday AM December 6th, 2006

Researchers note Christmas bargain-hunters...Deloitte & Touche conference looks at energy demand, supply and price...Lexicon Genetics ready to test new drug for gastrointestinal disorders...

The Christmas shopping season is bringing out the bargain hunters. America's Research Group head Britt Beemer says this is the biggest bargain-hunting Christmas shopping season he's seen in 20 years. According to research conducted this past weekend, more than 81 percent of shoppers waiting to finish before December 24th say it's because of the deep discounts. They expect to get as much as half off if they wait. As far as shopping is concerned, Wal-Mart continued to lead the pack, with 43 percent of shoppers going to the world's largest retailer. Beemer says gift cards are proving to be the hottest gift item this year. More than 42 percent of consumers have already bought them and another 20 percent plan to before Christmas. He expects the big shopping push will be after December 15th. Nearly 38 percent of consumers say they won't finish their shopping until December 20th, with another 33 percent saying they won't be done until Christmas Eve.

Oil industry executives say federal energy policy will maintain upward pressure on oil prices for at least the next year, according to a survey last month by the consulting firm Deloitte & Touche. They say those policies restrict energy production at a time of rising demand for petroleum products. Nearly four out of five executives and managers said U.S. energy policies aren't headed in the right direction. Two of three said environmental protections and other policies that block access to new energy supplies were the top energy issue facing America today. Deloitte conducted the survey of 100 industry professionals via e-mail and released the results at its annual oil and gas conference in Houston.

Energy demand, supply and price were topics at the 2006 Deloitte Oil & Gas Conference at the Hilton Americas. Deloitte's Richard Woodward notes that the conference invited leaders from Chevron, Petrobras and Statoil to help assess current challenges.

"Some of these companies, like Petrobras and Statoil in particular, are national oil companies, but they behave like corporate-owned, run and operated oil companies, and they have evolved from companies that looked after primarily activities around basins in Brazil and Norway to, they've become very internationally-oriented, and so they're quite active in the Gulf of Mexico and regions in the U.S and regions around the world. And so they're, you know, they partner often with Chevron and other big super majors, and so they are significant players now."

Woodward says the environmental impact of drilling has technologically evolved, and that should be balanced in discussion about opening up new areas for drilling.

"Energy security and energy affordability are tightly linked. Technologies that have evolved over the last ten years are such that, you know, companies can actually access oil in a way that's very, has minimal impact on the environment. People are thinking of, you know, the old, old world, the way it used to be ten to 15 years ago and are lined up against expanded access. But frankly, without that expanded access, we will increasingly grow out dependence on foreign oil and all the geopolitical trappings that that entails."

Woodward says the inability to access reserves, combined with growing global demand, are ultimately responsible for high and rising oil prices.

Lexicon Genetics has submitted an investigational new drug application to the Food and Drug Administration for LX1031, their new compound for gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome. The FDA will review The Woodlands company application for a Phase 1 clinical trial, according to the Houston Business Journal. In preclinical studies, the drug has demonstrated the ability to reduce peripheral serotonin, a neurotransmitter known to play a major role in gastrointestinal function.

The Labor Department says worker productivity surged two-tenths of one percent in the third quarter. That's up from the earlier estimate of unchanged. Analysts were looking for a stronger increase of five-tenths of one percent. Productivity is defined as output per hour of work, seen as key to the nation's standard of living and in keeping a lid on inflation. Unit labor costs rose at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in the summer. The inflation gauge came in below the 3.8 percent rate reported a month ago. While rising wages reflect positive tidings for workers, large increases are seen fueling inflation, particularly if productivity growth is slowing sharply.

A closely watched report involving the nation's services sector finds accelerating growth in November. The Institute for Supply Management says its Non-Manufacturing Index came in at 58.9 percent. Any number above 50 indicates growth. Stronger than expected, the ISM index is up nearly two points from the previous month. Today's report may have been drawing more scrutiny than usual, given that last week's manufacturing index showed modest contraction. Among the industries seeing strongest growth were wholesale grade and information.

The government says orders to U.S. factories fell 4.7 percent in October. That's the third decline in three months and the biggest drop in more than six years. The Commerce Department also says orders for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, dropped 8.2 percent in October. The figure had originally been reported last week as an 8.3 percent decline. The weakness was led by a plunge in demand for commercial aircraft, but orders for a number of other products from autos to computers also fell.

Houston bank holding company Franklin Bank is purchasing First National Bank of Bryan in a $134 million deal. The acquisition of the six-branch bank is expected to close in the second quarter of 2007. Franklin operates 36 bank branches in Texas, as well as eight regional commercial lending offices and 38 retail mortgage offices nationally.

Houston-based Cabett Subsea has been purchased by Cleveland-based Parker Hannifin, a motion and control technologies company. Cabett Subsea is a designer and manufacturer of fluid handling systems and services used in deepwater oil and gas exploration and production. It produces steel tube hydraulic and electro-hydraulic umbilicals at its dock-side plant in Freeport.

Connecticut-based MXenergy has opened a Houston office on the tenth floor of Pennzoil Place. MXenergy is a retail natural gas supplier serving nearly 500,000 customers in 29 utility territories in North America.

After a devastating year losing crops and cattle to drought or wildfires, farmers and ranchers probably won't see federal relief anytime soon. U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison says obtaining federal drought assistance this year would be an "uphill fight'' but promised to keep working for it. Hutchison made the statement to a crowd of more than 1,200 at the Texas Farm Bureau's 73rd annual convention in Arlington. Texas is the nation's number two agriculture state. It's also reeling from the worst-ever drought. It caused an estimated $2.6 billion in crop losses and $1.5 billion in livestock industry losses this year. The House and Senate have decided to send an unfinished budget to next year's Democratic-controlled Congress. This week Congress is expected to approve continued funding for most federal programs at fiscal 2006 levels through mid-February. That's because neither chamber has agreed on any of the new spending bills for the fiscal year that began in October, except those covering defense and homeland security.

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...