Wednesday AM January 10th, 2007

Crown Castle International subsidiary launches beta cellphone TV service...Homeland Security to distribute $15.7 million to Houston to help protect ports, rails and other infrastructure...Houston-based Stage Stores plans 70 new stores during 2008 fiscal year...

Crown Castle International subsidiary Modeo has launched a live, commercial-quality mobile TV beta service in New York City for a few hundred test consumers. The beta service for Modeo Mobil TV Smartphones includes live video content from Fox News, Discovery Channel and others, as well as streaming audio content from Music Choice. Modeo President Michael Ramke thinks that Mobile TV will change the way consumers look at media.

"This is basically a personal media consumption device and basically what we see happening with even some of our early trialing efforts is really a shift in behavior where you become much more reliant and more demanding on something that fits in your pocket. And so whether it be traditional programming like a CNN or a Fox News or Made For Mobile or made by individuals like with YouTube we're providing a platform that gives that sort of content an outlet."

Houston-based Crown Castle is a wireless tower operator. Last April Modeo unveiled a new Smartphone that allows users to watch television via a mobile phone. Qualcomm and Verizon Wireless will begin offering CBS, Fox, NBC and MTV programming in major cities starting March 31st.


Transocean said tax filings in Norway are "legal and proper" and it will protest claims by Norwegian authorities, according to the Houston Chronicle. The Houston-based offshore driller said a lower court in Norway ruled against two of Transocean's former subsidiaries in a procedural point related to an ongoing criminal investigation by Norwegian tax authorities. The issue centers around whether Norwegian prosecutors are allowed to release seized documents from the subsidiaries to Norwegian tax authorities as part of an ongoing tax dispute. Over the weekend, Norwegian prosecutors filed preliminary charges against three people—one Transocean employee and two Ernst & Young accountants—in connection with an investigation that Transocean underreported taxable income by $1.6 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Transocean has been awarded a three-year contract for exploration and appraisal drilling offshore southern Africa by a Chevron subsidiary. The contract will begin following the completion of an existing contract off the coast of Angola. Transocean says the deal is worth as much as $493 million.


The federal government will distribute $445 million to cities to help protect ports, subways, rails and other infrastructure. The New Orleans region, devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, will get $17.3 million--followed by $15.7 million for the Houston area. Tens of thousands of Katrina evacuees ended up in Houston. The funding was announced in Washington by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. He says the grants are expected to be awarded in the spring, but recipients will have to submit thorough plans on how they'll use the money to reduce the risk of a terror attack. Nearly half the grant money--$201 million--would be used to secure ports and subway systems, including Amtrak.


More Americans were falling behind on their credit card bills in the third quarter of last year. The American Bankers Association says the percentage of credit card payments 30 or more days past due increased to 4.57 percent in the July-to-September quarter. That's up from 4.41 percent in the second quarter, marking the highest level since the third quarter of 2005. Some consumers may have been feeling the pinch of Federal Reserve interest rate boosts, as well as volatile energy prices. The survey also indicates the delinquency rate on other types of loans, including auto and certain home-equity loans, rose in the third quarter. The quarterly survey is based on information supplied by more than 300 banks nationwide.


Houston-based Stage Stores, which operates under the names Beall's, Palais Royal, Peebles and Stage in 33 states, plans to open 70 new stores during the 2008 fiscal year. The plan also calls for expanding the square footage of many of the company's 656 existing stores.


A general information meeting about the Houston Independent School District's Alternative Certification Program is set for Tuesday evening, January 16th, at Waltrip High School on West 34th. The meeting is for non-certified professionals interested in teaching. You must hold a bachelor's degree.


British oil giant BP said fourth-quarter production isn't likely to change compared with the previous three months. That's after more than a year of declining output for Europe's second-largest oil company by market value. The company expects to report production of 3.8 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in the quarter ended December 31st. That's only slightly higher than in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter last year, production was just over four million barrels of oil equivalent per day. The company has been hit by a series of problems. Those include the temporary closure of operations at the Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska and delays to the opening of the key thunder horse platform in the Gulf of Mexico. BP says production levels had been affected by weather-related delays in Alaska, unusually low seasonal gas demand and a quota cut by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. BP share prices on the London stock exchange have lost about 20 percent of their value since April. That's after a series of problems starting in 2005 with a Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 workers.


Fort Worth-based homebuilder D.R. Horton said its first-quarter sales orders fell 28 percent, dampening sentiment that the housing sector may be getting over its troubles. Horton--which is one of the nation's largest homebuilders--says it got orders for 8,771 homes worth $2.29 billion in the quarter ended December 31st. Housing contracts and sales of new homes have been falling for about a year after the sector enjoyed an unprecedented five-year bull market. Economists and analysts are split about whether the sector has bottomed, with macroeconomic data lending credence to each camp's argument. Horton provides a glimmer of hope. It says its cancellation rate--that is, the number of orders canceled divided by gross sales orders--fell to 33 percent in the first quarter from 40 percent in the fourth quarter. But a Horton statement issued says it continues "to experience higher-than-normal cancellation rates and an increased use of sales incentives'' in many of its markets. D.R. Horton plans to report quarterly earnings January 23rd.


Here's the bottom line from the recent three-month strike against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company: the Akron, Ohio-based tire maker lost more than $30 million a week during the walkout. Top executives said today that Goodyear will feel the financial impact through midyear but still achieved its goal of cutting costs. It's already announced plans to close a private-label tire plant in Tyler, Texas, after 2007. Goodyear says the company hopes to save $610 million over three years with the contract agreement that ended the strike last week.


Opening statements are set for Tuesday morning in Gulfport, Mississippi, in an insurance lawsuit involving Hurricane Katrina. The legal proceedings begin simultaneously with negotiations between the Mississippi attorney general and State Farm Fire and Casualty on a settlement. The case is one of hundreds of insurance lawsuits filed by policyholders. A second eight-person panel was selected Monday for another Katrina-related lawsuit involving State Farm. That case is scheduled for trial later this month. The Associated Press has been told that State Farm lawyers have met with Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood about a possible settlement. The state sued the company for refusing to cover damage from Katrina's storm surge. A lawyer for State Farm policyholders says the insurance giant came up with a new "protocol'' to dodge claims made after Hurricane Katrina. William Walker says the company blamed most damage on storm surge--which isn't covered by homeowners' policies--even though his clients say their homes were destroyed by high winds. A jury heard opening arguments in one of hundreds of lawsuits filed against Katrina insurers, even as Mississippi's attorney general negotiated for an out-of-court settlement to the disputed claims. An attorney for Mississippi's largest home insurer told jurors he's certain the evidence will show that "water was the destructive mechanism.'' A Mississippi settlement would not affect cases filed by state farm policyholders in Louisiana or Alabama.


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...