Tuesday AM April 10th, 2007

IMF head says U.S. economic slowdown having minimal effect on world economy...Florida company purchases seven former Six Flags properties, including Splashtown...Men's Wearhouse closes acquisition of After Hours Formalwear...

The head of the International Monetary Fund says threats to the global economy have lessened a bit in recent months. In excerpts of his speech to the Peterson Institute of International Economics, Rodrigo de Rato says he doesn't think the risks are greater than they were six months ago. In fact, he says, ''they are a little lower.'' Last week, an IMF report concluded that the economic slowdown in the U.S. has had only a small effect on global economic activity. De Rato has predicted that global growth for all of this year will come close to five percent. Projections will be released later this week ahead of the spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank this weekend.


A Florida-based real estate investment trust announced the purchase of seven former Six Flags properties. The $312 million deal includes one site in Texas--Splashtown in Houston. CNL Income Properties acquired the theme parks from Parc 7-F Operations. CNL will lease the properties to Parc, which will operate the complexes under long-term, triple-net lease agreements. Parc acquired the properties from Six Flags in a related stock purchase. The other parks acquired in the transaction are: Darien Lake in Buffalo, New York, Elitch Gardens in Denver, Frontier City & White Water Bay in Oklahoma City, Waterworld in Concord, California, and Wild Waves & Enchanted Village in Seattle.


Houston hosts the first-ever Sino-United States symposium on energy market development and risk management on April 28th and 29th. Houston-based Chinese Association of Professionals in Science and Technology and the Chinese American Petroleum Association are behind the symposium, which will feature policy-makers and energy executives from China and their U.S. counterparts.


Houston-based Men's Wearhouse has closed its acquisition of After Hours Formalwear from Federated Department Stores for about $100 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. Men's Wearhouse will integrate the chain's 507 stores, which includes Mr. Tux stores.


KBS Real Estate Investment Trust has purchased the Offices at Kensington in Sugar Land, according to the Houston Chronicle. The two four-story, mid-rise buildings are on Texas 6 and U.S. 59 at First Colony.


Transocean Offshore International Ventures is providing two deepwater drilling ships under construction for Pacific Drilling and the option to purchase a 50 percent interest in a joint venture company, according to the Houston Business Journal. Pacific Drilling is based in the Northern Mariana Islands near Guam. The two Samsung drill ships are under construction in Korea, expected to be delivered in 2009.


VeriSign is increasing registry domain name fees beginning October 15th from $6 to $6.42 for .com domain names and from $3.50 to $3.85 for .net names. The Mountain View, California company says this is the first registry fee increase for .com and .net since the fee structure was set by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in 1999.


A new survey shows that customers who subscribe to high-speed Internet plans could pay $150 or more if they decide to terminate service before their contracts are up. Companies impose the early termination fees in an effort to cut down on "churn.'' That's when a customer dumps one service provider for another. But a policy analyst with Consumers Union says such penalties "deprive customers of the benefits of competition.'' Cell phone companies have similar policies. The survey, conducted by the consumer group, found that the two largest cable companies, Comcast and Time Warner, don't charge earlier termination fees for high-speed Internet service. The highest termination fee in the survey comes from the Qwest Communications. That company charges a customer $200 for ending a two-year contract.


Houston-based broadband network WhiteBlox has signed an online broadcasting deal with MVS Radio to allow radio stations to broadcast live and on-demand video and audio via the Internet. The Houston Business Journal says the company will launch the 54-station EXA FM Network online using WhiteBlox's interactive media player. WhiteBlox is a company of The Woodlands-based Continental Vista Broadcasting Group.


A key shareholder in Pier 1 Imports wants the retailer to close stores, trim expenses, lease part of its corporate headquarters and expand its board. Details are in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Elliott Associates owns a 5.5 percent stake in Fort Worth-based Pier 1. Elliott as sent a letter to the company's board saying the shareholder is "puzzled'' by the pace of the company's cost-cutting and restructuring moves over the past two years. Pier 1 has been struggling with falling same-store sales and has tried several fixes including bargain pricing, contemporary furniture and more marketing.


In addition to buying Burlington Northern Santa Fe stock, Warren Buffett's company recently invested in two other North American railroads. That's according to Buffett's office and news reports. Buffett's assistant Debbie Bosanek says no one at Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway was available to discuss the company's investments. But Bosanek says a CNBC report about Berkshire investing in two railroads besides Fort Worth, Texas-based BSNF was accurate. CNBC reported Buffett said Berkshire had invested about $700 million in one North American railroad and slightly less than that in another railroad. But Buffett declined to identify those two investments. Bear, Stearns analyst Edward Wolfe said in a research note that Berkshire's investment in BNSF should be a positive for all the major freight railroads.


U.S. Airways Group is projecting a slight profit for the first quarter, despite weather-related disruptions and a computer glitch that temporarily shut down kiosks in numerous airports across the country. The airline also reports that its revenue passenger miles for March were up less than one percent compared with the previous year. Capacity was down one percent and the percentage of filled airline seats for March was 82 percent.


Union leaders have many ways to vent their displeasure at corporate executives. They can file grievances, write letters or organize picketing. Tommie Hutto-Blake showed a movie. The president of the flight attendants' union at American Airlines wanted to tell Chief Executive Gerard Arpey that labor relations are rocky because American will give millions in bonuses to executives--but not to rank-and-file workers. Hutto-Blake says the bonuses--which will total an estimated $175 million for a thousand managers--don't match Arpey's motto to labor of "pull together, win together.'' So at a meeting of about 20 labor leaders and top executives, including Arpey, Hutto-Blake showed "Collision Course,'' a 1980s documentary about the union-management strife that helped sink Eastern Airlines. Hutto-Blake and other union leaders say that slogans aside, labor-management relations at the nation's largest airline are the worst since 2003. That's when Arpey replaced an unpopular CEO and saved the company from bankruptcy. And they point to those bonuses. American officials say executives are paid in the middle of the pack for comparable jobs inside and out of the airline business.


While there may not be much going on this week in terms of volume for economic reports, there are a couple of releases that will get considerable market scrutiny. As always, traders will be interested in the oil inventory data that the Energy Department puts out on Wednesday. And, later in the week, the Labor Department will report on inflation on the wholesale level for March. Reports are also due on the trade balance, consumer sentiment and initial jobless claims.


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...