Thursday PM January 25th, 2007
by: Ed Mayberry, January 25, 2007 5:01:00 am
A federal judge has granted a request by former shareholders and investors suing Enron to drop several individuals and firms from their lawsuit. One of the individuals dropped is deceased company founder Ken Lay. The regents of the University of California are the lead plaintiffs in securities litigation against Enron and several banks. Plaintiffs are suing investment firms and global banks they claim played key roles in the Enron collapse. The lawsuit, set for trial in April, is seeking billions of dollars in damages. A spokesman for the lead plaintiffs says the decision to remove these individuals and firms from the lawsuit was made because it was unlikely investors would be able to recoup any money from them.
A five-to-seven minute chemical release around noon today at a Dupont plant in the Houston area led to shelter-in-place advisories for two communities. Nobody was hurt and the warning was later lifted for people in the La Porte and Pasadena areas. Officials say the release involved the Dupont unit in La Porte that deals with sulfuric acid. Witnesses had reported seeing a lingering vapor cloud in the area. A shelter-in-place order issued for the La Porte schools was lifted by early afternoon. Then emergency officials in nearby Pasadena put a shelter-in-place order for part of the city, as a precaution, when the cloud reached the area. Pasadena spokesman Vance Mitchell says the release of sulfur dioxide can irritate people's breathing.
Hunton Energy plans to construct a $2.4 billion power plant to provide energy to area schools, hospitals and Fort Bend County government buildings. Groundbreaking for the proposed 1,200-megawatt Lockwood gasification plant is set for the first quarter of 2008. The plant will use petroleum coke, a refinery byproduct with properties similar to coal, as its primary fuel.
Sales of existing homes continued to slump last month, wrapping up a tough year. A trade group puts the decline at eight-tenths of one percent, worse-than-expected. Not only that, but in 2006, the National Association of Realtors says sales of previously-owned homes dropped nearly eight and a-half percent. That marks the largest annual decline since 1989. The correction in the housing market has come after five years of record numbers. The national numbers are considerably different than statistics from the Houston real estate scene.
The Houston real estate market continues to outshine the national market, according to statistics released by the Houston Association of Realtors. Year-end sales totaled 87,435 properties, with a dollar volume of $16.6 billion, compared to 79,012 properties worth $14.2 billion in 2005. Total property sales for December registered 7,136—a 1.1 percent increase over December 2005. Properties sold during the month reached more than $1.4 billion—an 11.5 percent increase compared to last year's nearly $1.3 billion in December sales.
The Labor Department says the number of Americans filing new applications for jobless benefits rose last week by the most in 16 months. That reverses two weeks of big declines. The larger-than-expected increase of 36,000 takes new claims up to 325,000. Analysts caution that it is hard to read much into the claims because of wide swings caused by holidays and other statistical factors. The less volatile four-week average stands at more than 309,000 claims.