Friday AM May 24th, 2007
by: Ed Mayberry, May 25, 2007 5:05:00 am
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is urging government to take steps to protect public employees from preventable chemical accidents, calling for the establishment of programs incorporating mandatory OSHA standards. CSB Chair Carolyn Merritt said it's inequitable to afford public employees with lesser workplace protections than workers in private industry. She submitted written testimony to the House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workplace Protections.
Shell Hydrogen and Wisconsin-based Virent Energy Systems have signed a five-year joint agreement to make hydrogen using biomass, according to the Houston Business Journal. The companies will use technology enabling the economic production of hydrogen, among other fuels and chemicals, from renewable glycerol and sugar-based feedstocks. Most hydrogen produced today is from fossil fuels. The companies will develop and test systems targeted for fueling stations at a Madison facility and at the Shell Westhollow Technology Center in Houston.
A generally steady showing is seen for the economy. The Commerce Department reports orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods rose a moderate six-tenths of one percent in April. Durable goods are items expected to last three years or longer. The increase was weaker than expected. However, there was better news about the prior month's reading. The government issued a sharp upward revision to March's performance to a five percent gain. It had previously been pegged at 3.7 percent. On the unemployment front, the Labor Department says the number of workers filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 311,000.
Mortgage rates rose this week, due largely to stronger-than-expected economic data. Freddie Mac says the average for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is up to 6.37 percent from 6.21 percent last week. Freddie Mac Vice President and Chief Economist Frank Nothaft says the surge came on stronger-than-expected consumer confidence and recent comments from Federal Reserve members that raised some inflation concerns in the market.
Although he left the Federal Reserve more than a year ago, Alan Greenspan still has the ability to move the markets. And analysts say that's what happened to Wednesday's rally, which had pushed the Dow Industrials above 13,600 for the first time. Word that the former Fed chairman expressed concern about an eventual sharp decline in China's stock market brought out the bears, sending the Dow down more than 14 points.
Congress is getting ready to vote for the first time in a decade on increasing the minimum wage. It's set to jump by $2.10, to $7.25 an hour, in three stages. The move is part of the Iraq war spending bill that President Bush is indicating he'll sign. It's the first increase since President Clinton reached a deal in September 1997 with a Republican Congress. Currently, a person working 40 hours a week at the current minimum wage makes about $10,700 a year. The full increase takes that to just over $15,000 a year. The Economic Policy Institute in Washington estimates that about 5.5 million workers currently earn less than $7.25 an hour. That's four percent of the work force.
Residential customers of Entergy Louisiana and Entergy Gulf States-Louisiana will soon see cuts in their electric bills. Beginning next month, customers will receive seven months of credits that will trim about eight percent from their bills. The relief was approved Thursday by the Louisiana Public Service Commission. It's possible the cuts could be instituted annually because of an order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The Feds are forcing Entergy to equalize rates among its regulated power units in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has reached a new agreement with China to double the number of passenger flights between the United States and China. That could mean another chance for Houston-based Continental Airlines to establish a route to China. Continental lost to United Airlines in a recent bid to fly to Beijing and Shanghai. Under the new agreement, starting this year U.S. carriers will be able to operate 13 new daily flights to China within five years. Currently there are ten flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The agreement would also lift limits on the number of cargo flights serving the two countries by 2011.
Kelsey-Seybold has broken ground for a new facility at Louetta and 249. It's part of Kelsey-Seybold's $100 million multi-year expansion of infrastructure and facilities. The groundbreaking was for a clinic on ten acres of a larger 640acre master-planned Kickerillo development called The Vintage. The new facility will house more than 20 physicians and will have a 24-hour minor emergency center.
The Baylor College of Medicine has broken ground on its first inpatient facility. The Baylor Clinic and Hospital will be at Old Spanish Trail and Cambridge in the Texas Medical Center area, with an adult hospital, outpatient clinics, faculty offices and research space.
More women are starting their own businesses and becoming chief executives and managers, according to the Houston Business Journal. A Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas report says women still lag behind men in job parity, but they're making educational and career choices that lead to more lucrative jobs. Women now own a half interest or better in nearly 40 percent of U.S. businesses. Their share of management positions increased to 37.2 percent in 2005 from 17.6 percent in 1972.
Houston-based KBR's management and engineering unit has won the contract to provide program and construction management services for Florida's new $330 million Panama City-Bay County International Airport, according to the Houston Business Journal. The project will be supported by the unit's southeast operations office in Mobile, Alabama. KBR completed its separation from Halliburton in April.
Schlumberger is acquiring London-based Insensys Oil and Gas. The Southampton-based firm provides fiber-optic measurements in the integrity surveillance of subsea oil and natural gas production systems, providing measurement and sensor technology.
Dell Computers will soon be coming to a Wal-Mart store near you. Dell says it plans to sell PCs at Wal-Marts in a departure from the Round Rock-based PC maker's custom of selling computers directly to customers. A Dell spokesman said Thursday that the computer maker will begin selling two of its Dimension desktop computers in about 3,000 Wal-Marts, starting June 10th. Dwayne Cox says the deal with the world's largest retailer represents Dell's first step into global retail. He says Dell will announce additional moves into retail in the coming quarters, but he declined to give specifics. The desktops will be sold at Wal-Marts in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Since its founding in the 1980s, Dell has relied on selling PCs and other products directly to consumers and business customers over the phone and Internet. It viewed direct sales as an important cost advantage over competitors who sold computers through retailers. The strategy helped Dell become the world's leading PC maker. But recently, Dell has lost its lead to revitalized Hewlett-Packard.
AT&T will start accepting old cell phones--at its 1,800 stores--to benefit a military charity. The San Antonio-based company announced it's pairing with Cell Phones for Soldiers. Siblings Brittany and Robbie Bergquist in 2004 began collecting old cell phones for recycling, to raise money to buy prepaid phone cards for service members overseas. AT&T works with recyclers, but doesn't recycle phones itself. The company offered to begin helping the Norwell, Massachusetts, teens collect the phones--after the duo sent an e-mail to the telecommunications giant asking for help. The recycling program will start in the northeast. It should be available nationwide by July 4th. AT&T is donating about 30,000 phone cards as part of the announcement.