Friday AM January 12th, 2007

SplashTown water park to be sold to Florida-based firm...Purchasing managers note slower expansion of Houston economy...Maryland real estate investment trust firm which owns Katy Mills Mall may seek bankruptcy protection...

Theme park operator Six Flags has found a buyer for seven of its properties. Less than a year after selling AstroWorld, the theme-park operator said it will sell its SplashTown water park in Houston and six other amusement parks to Jacksonville, Florida-based PARC 7F Operations in a $312 million deal. Shares of Six Flags rose on the news. The seven parks include Splashtown in Houston; Six Flags Darien Lake near Buffalo, New York; Six Flags Elitch Gardens in Denver; Frontier City and the White Water Bay Water Park in Oklahoma City; Waterworld USA in Concord, California; and Wild Waves and Enchanted Village in Seattle. PARC will sell the parks to real estate investment trust CNL Income Properties and will lease them back. Six Flags says its Six Flags Magic Mountain and adjacent Hurricane Harbor Water Park in Valencia, California are not included in the deal. Plans call for them to be fully operational and open for business in 2007 and beyond. The deal is seen closing in March.


The National Association of Purchasing Management notes a slower expansion of the Houston economy in December. The Purchasing Managers Index dropped to 55.4, noting a slower increase in sales from the previous month and the leveling of employment. The lower index may also be due to the holiday season. There was a 39 percent increase in production levels, with 46 percent of the respondents reporting increased sales over November. The PMI is based on a monthly survey of purchasing executives in oil and gas exploration and production, manufacturing, engineering and construction, chemicals, distribution, business and financial services and healthcare. Components of the PMI include sales, production, employment, purchases, prices paid and inventory levels.


Dallas-based Texas Instruments is at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, promoting its Digital Light Processing technology better known as DLP. DLP technology was invented by TI in 1987 and the company is the sole manufacturer of DLP's core components. The technology shows up in rear projection televisions and home cinema projectors from manufacturers such as Mitsubishi, Samsung and NEC. Doug Darrow, TI's Branding and Marketing Manager for DLP, says that there are several factors which differentiate DLP screens from LCD and plasma displays.

"First and foremost its about image quality. DLP puts ups a fantastic picture no matter what type of product it's in. We're also the best price per square inch. If you look at any of the technologies in general and you say which gives me the most HDTV for the money, you'll find that DLP does that."

And DLP technology is also changing the movie-going experience.

"A DLP cinema projector in a movie theater creates an all digital presentation of a movie. What that means is every time you go to the movie theater you get a perfect presentation. There is no degradation of film. It doesn't get dirty. It doesn't get scratched. It doesn't fade. It's a perfect, sharp, crystal clear, colorful picture every single time."

Currently, there are about 2000 screens which feature DLP projected movies in the United States. And three movie theaters in the Houston area are employing the technology.


It is a positive sign regarding the job market. The Labor Department says the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits dropped sharply last week to the lowest level in six months. The number of claims fell by 26,000 to 299,000. Analysts were expecting a more modest decline. Even though the economy has been moderating in recent months, the job market appears to be holding up. The less volatile four-week moving average edged down to just under 315,000 claims. That's the lowest level since early November. The government reported last week that employers added 167,000 new jobs in December with the unemployment rate steady at 4.5 percent.


A strong employment report and easing concerns about the economy helped push long-term mortgage rates higher this week. According to Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.21 percent--up three basis points from last week. A year ago, the 30-year loan averaged 6.15 percent. The rate for 15-year mortgages climbed to 5.96 percent from last week's 5.94 percent. Freddie Mac Vice President and Chief Economist Frank Nothaft says a December jobs report that came in stronger than expected helped ease fears about the state of the economy. But he adds the same report put upward pressure on inflation, which translates into higher interest rates.


Texas is running dangerously short of electricity, according to a report released by the Clean Coal Technology Foundation of Texas. The group says current projections show that by 2009 existing Texas power plants will be unable to meet demand. The report is based on data, comments and projections from the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, North American Electric Reliability Council and the U.S. Department of Energy.


Maryland real estate investment trust firm Mills Corporation, which owns Katy Mills Mall, says it may be forced to seek bankruptcy protection. According to the Houston Business Journal, the company disclosed in a January 9th filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that an internal audit had found errors caused by possible misconduct by former accounting and asset management personnel. Mills owns all or part of 38 malls across the country.


Houston-based NCI Building Systems is buying Washington-based Garco Building Systems in a $16.5 million deal. NCI is an integrated manufacturer of metal products for the non-residential building industry. It operates 44 manufacturing and distribution facilities in 17 states, Mexico and Canada.


Comerica Bank has opened a new banking center at City West and Briar Forest, the third center added on the city's west side since last month, according to the Houston Business Journal. A branch at Eldridge Parkway at Olive Hill and on the Katy Freeway at Brogden were opened recently. The new Briar Forest branch is the 25th center opened in the Houston area. There are plans to open as many as eight new locations in Harris, Montgomery and fort Bend Counties by the end of the year.


A federal judge in Mississippi has ruled against insurers in a Hurricane Katrina damage case. State Farm had refused to cover more than $200,000 worth of damage to a Biloxi couple's home. The couple claims a tornado spawned by the storm destroyed it. State Farm blamed all the damage on Katrina's storm surge. The judge ruled in favor of the couple and said a jury would decide whether to award the $5 million the couple asked for in punitive damages. The case could have implications for hundreds of other homeowner lawsuits. State Farm and other insurance companies say homeowner policies cover damage from wind but not water. They also say the policies exclude damage that could be caused by a combination of both, even if the winds preceded a storm's rising water.

A federal judge has ordered mediation in dozens of lawsuits filed against insurance companies after Hurricane Katrina. Several of those cases are linked to recent settlement talks between State Farm Insurance, Mississippi's attorney general and lawyers for policyholders. Hundreds of Mississippi homeowners have sued State Farm and other insurers for refusing to cover billions of dollars in damage from Katrina's storm surge. Insurers say their homeowner policies cover damage from wind but not from water. They claim the policies exclude damage that could have been caused by a combination of both, even if hurricane-force winds preceded the rising water.


A Texas-based pizza chain is under fire for offering to accept Mexican pesos. Pizza Patron has been hit with death threats and hate mail since posting signs this week in its 59 stores that say the currency is accepted. The chain has stores in Texas, as well as in Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and California. A Pizza Patron spokesman says the company was just trying to sell more pizza to its customers, 60 percent of whom are Hispanic. Wal-Mart and other American businesses in towns along the Mexican border also accept pesos.


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...