Monday PM May 14th, 2007
by: Ed Mayberry, May 14, 2007 5:05:00 am
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a former Merrill Lynch executive's convictions associated with the 2001 Enron collapse. James A. Brown was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice relating to fraud by the Houston-based former energy giant. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out some convictions against Brown and other Merrill Lynch executives, but sustained Brown's perjury and obstruction convictions. The defendants were prosecuted for their role in the sham sale in 1999 of power barges anchored off the coast of Nigeria. The deal was struck to make the earnings of Enron's energy division appear larger. The justices didn't comment in denying Brown's appeal. Federal prosecutors plan to retry Brown and the others on the counts that were overturned.
The Compass Bank Texas Business Leader Confidence Index rose for the first time in three quarters, registering a two-point gain compared to the previous quarter. The second quarter 2007 BLCI is at 55.8, with surveyed panelists expecting economic conditions to improve in their state, but giving the national economy its lowest reading since the BLCI started in 2002. Over 41 percent of panelists believe that the Texas economy will improve in the next quarter, compared with 15 percent who believe it will worsen. The index is compiled by Compass Bank and its university partners at the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management and the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama.
Control of Detroit's number-three automaker is being sold. New York-based private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management is buying 80 percent of Chrysler from DaimlerChrysler for nearly $7.5 billion. Former Treasury Secretary John Snow is chairman of Cerberus. He says the deal is a sign of faith in Chrysler. The former Daimler-Benz had purchased Chrysler for $36 billion back in 1998. It will retain about a fifth of the company, allowing for future collaboration. Costly obligations for pensions and health-care costs are being retained. United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger says he made a last-ditch effort to try to convince DaimlerChrysler to avoid a sale. But he is voicing support for the deal. At a news conference in Germany, snow said private-sector ownership may ''create more room for growth and expansion.''
The sale of 1.1 million acres of east Texas timberland has raised concern among conservationists. It was in February that Austin-based Temple-Inland announced plans to split into three stand-alone companies and sell nearly two million acres of timberland in the south. Most of that's in Texas. Now conservation groups are wondering what's going to happen to all that forest. They're particularly interested in 150,000 acres abutting the Big Thicket National Preserve. Conservationists also have their eye on a collection of "distinctive sites'' that Temple-Inland has nurtured over the years. Temple-Inland Chief Executive Kenneth Jastrow says the company will press for certain conservation and forest management commitments--but he added that the details of negotiations were confidential. Andy Jones is director of the Conservation Fund based in Austin. He says the demand is hot for timberland, but he thinks conservationists have "a fighting chance.''
Swift Meatpacking has refilled nearly 1,300 jobs left open after December immigration-related raids. Authorities rounded up workers at six plants--including one in Cactus, Texas--in a federal crackdown on illegal immigrants. Swift says the raids cost the company as much as $50 million. A Swift spokesman also said a strategic review to determine the company's future is continuing, but no decision has been made. Operations at Swift plants in Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas and Utah were suspended for several hours on December 12th during the review. In January, privately held Swift announced it was looking at strategies for the future ranging from refinancing to a sale or initial public offering.
No economic data and no earnings reports. That's the situation, leaving investors without much guidance to start the new trading week. But the Producer Price Index provided evidence that inflation is moderating and encouraged investors Friday, with new hope that central bankers won't need to hike interest rates to keep inflation in check, and might even lean toward lowering them. Fresh economic data should provide some guidance for investors this week. Traders will be looking closely at the Consumer Price Index from the Labor Department on Tuesday for confirmation. Among key reports coming up are, Housing Starts for April from the Commerce Department and Industrial Production for April from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday, and the Conference Board's monthly Leading Economic Indicators on Thursday. Also on Thursday, the Labor Department will issue its weekly report on jobless claims and Freddie Mac, the mortgage company, reports on mortgage rates.
It costs more to send mail today. The postage for a first-class letter has increased two cents, to 41 cents. U.S. Postal Service officials say items that were dropped in a box over the weekend should have the higher postage on them. But the agency usually allows a little leeway, and doesn't plan a rash of returns for insufficient postage. Also today, the postal service will start selling "forever'' stamps that cost 41 cents now but will remain valid regardless of any future increase. Postmaster General John Potter has said that even with the higher prices the agency expects a deficit this year as it struggles to compete in a swiftly changing communications market.
For the first time, starting today, the U.S. Postal Service will be charging by the shape of the mail, and many mail-intensive businesses will take a big hit. The new regulations mean larger envelopes and packages will automatically cost more than smaller mail. Currently, postage is determined by weight, unless it's an especially large or odd-shaped package that warrants special handling. And there are also new thickness restrictions.