Wednesday PM April 11th, 2007
by: Ed Mayberry, April 11, 2007 5:04:00 am
ConocoPhillips has joined other big companies in urging Congress to require limits on greenhouse gases tied to global warming. ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva has said in the past that market forces--not federal mandates--should determine energy efficiency. But he now says mandatory limits are the most likely way to achieve impact on global greenhouse gas emissions. ConocoPhillips is becoming part of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an alliance of big business and environmental groups. The alliance recently sent a letter to President Bush arguing that mandatory emissions caps are needed to reduce the flow of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. The partnership also includes BP and Duke Energy, as well as Alcoa, DuPont, Caterpillar and General Electric. The corporations say mandatory reductions of emissions can be imposed without economic harm, and in fact could lead to economic opportunities. ConocoPhillips has said it will spend $150 million this year on research and development of new energy sources and technologies. That's a 50 percent increase in spending from 2006.
The so-called "NatWest Three" must stand trial September 4th on Enron-related fraud charges after a federal court rejected their motion for dismissal. The three British bankers who formerly worked for Greenwich NatWest are accused of stealing $7 million in a scheme with ex-Enron Chief Financial Officer Andy Fastow. David Bermingham, Giles Darby and Gary Mulgrew had argued that they shouldn't be prosecuted in the United States since they are British citizens accused of crimes committed in the UK. The three must remain under electronic monitoring in the Houston area until trial. Greenwich NatWest is now part of Edinburgh-based Royal Bank of Scotland.
Houston-area home sales fell last month for the first time in more than three years, according to the Houston Association of Realtors. Single-family home sales dropped 8.8 percent in March from the same month in 2006. The median price for a single-family home rose five percent last month to $150,590. The median price is where half sell for more and half sell for less. HAR Chairman Rob Cook says a possible explanation might be that sales for the same month last year were unusually high, with a 22.7 percent gain over the previous year. Houston has been the exception in a national trend where prices and sales have been weakening.
The National Association of Realtors expects the national median price for existing homes to drop this year for the first time since the trade group began keeping records in the late 1960s. The group has also lowered its 2007 sales forecast for new and existing homes. A spokesman says tighter lending standards and the continued fallout from the subprime mortgage market are to blame. The realtors group forecasts a seven-tenths-of-one-percent dip in 2007 for the national median price for existing homes after a one percent gain last year. The national median new home sale price is seen rising just four-tenths of one percent after a gain of 1.8 percent last year. NAR now forecasts a 14 percent decline in new home sales compared to its previous estimate of a nearly 10.5-percent slide.
The chief economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, according to the Houston Business Journal, says the Texas real estate market has remained strong and housing remains very affordable. Dr. Mark Dotzour credits the law tax structure and pro-business climate that has made the state attractive for corporate relocations. He says population growth contributes to the state's healthy real estate climate.
Citigroup, the nation's largest financial institution, says it will eliminate about 17,000 jobs in a restructuring aimed at reducing costs and improving profit. That amounts to about six percent of the bank's work force. About 1,000 Texas jobs will be affected, although it's not clear how many Houston positions might be affected. Citigroup says plans include "shrinking the size of corporate centers,'' several of which are in New York. It also expects to move some 9,500 jobs to lower-cost locations. Executives say the elimination of the jobs won't reduce the bank's work force, but merely slow its growth. Citigroup has a number of acquisitions in the works. It is expanding operations in China and earlier this month announced the purchase of a bank in Taiwan. It also has made a tender offer for a Japanese brokerage.
Prosecutors claimed Texas Southern University's ex-chief financial officer was a "partner in crime'' with the school's ex-president. Quintin Wiggins is accused of misspending more than $200,000 to buy furniture, landscaping and a home security system for now ex-president Priscilla Slade. His trial began in Houston and is expected to last up to one month. But a defense attorney says Wiggins never intended to misuse public funds and he relied on what was done by his predecessors. The defense also says Wiggins didn't benefit from the purchases and was just doing his job. Wiggins, Slade and another ex-TSU employee were indicted for their alleged roles in the scheme. Charges against a fourth person were dropped in February. If convicted, Wiggins faces five years probation to life in prison. An ex-TSU financial employee testified she felt forced out by the now-former school president. Paulette Frederick took the stand to describe how Wiggins replaced her as TSU's chief financial officer. Frederick testified she felt she was forced out by Slade. Prosecutors allege Wiggins got the job because he was willing to do Slade's bidding. Slade, who was fired last summer, faces trial in August. She's denied wrongdoing.