Thursday AM August 2nd, 2007

Texas submits final offer to host $1.5 billion FutureGen clean coal project...ISM index registers at lowest level since March...Berggi partners with Spanish firms to expand services globally...

The Clean Coal Technology Foundation of Texas says the state of Texas submitted its best and final offers to host the U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored FutureGen project. The legislature passed comprehensive clean coal legislation addressing concerns by the Alliance, authorizing the state to make a significant financial contribution to the research project. An earlier bill ensures the timely permitting of components necessary for the construction and operation of FutureGen. Another bill indemnifies the Alliance from liability associated with the carbon dioxide from the project. Locations in Jewett and Odessa are among the final four sites in the running to host FutureGen. The other two are in Illinois. The FutureGen Alliance is expected to announce the winning site before the end of 2007.


Customers of Entergy Louisiana and Entergy Gulf States-Louisiana will pay $732 million to cover costs of repairing damage from 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The plan was approved by the Louisiana Public Service Commission. Entergy Louisiana customers will pay $545 million over ten years. Customers of Entergy Gulf States-Louisiana will pay $187 million over the same period. Customers of the two units also will fund an account to cover possible damage from future storms: $152 million for Entergy Louisiana, which has 650,000 customers, and $87 million for Entergy Gulf States-Louisiana, which has 355,000 customers. The two Entergy units will sell bonds as early as September to obtain the storm recovery money up front. The new rate plan will go into effect after the bonds are sold.


A closely-watched gauge of the manufacturing sector finds slower growth last month. The Institute for Supply Management says its index registered at the lowest level since March. The measure, which reflects the opinions of purchasing managers at factories, plants and utilities, came in at 53.8, down more than two points from the previous month. It is also below expectations.


Downsizing appears to have hit a slow patch. A new report says the number of announced job cuts fell in July to a 12-month low. Challenger, Gray and Christmas says job cuts announced topped 42,000, which was down 23 percent from the previous month. Even with the improvement, the outplacement firm says there were some trouble spots. Transportation and electronics experienced the largest number of job cuts announced in a year. The Labor Department is to release the monthly employment report on Friday. Analysts are looking for a steady unemployment rate at 4.5 percent.


There's a new number two in town. Although Ford and Toyota reported sales declines during July, Ford's sales slipped further, leaving room for Toyota to replace it as the number-two car seller in the U.S. Ford's sales were down 19.1 percent from a year earlier, to slightly more than 194,000 cars and trucks. Toyota's sales were down 7.4 percent, but it still sold just over 224,000 vehicles. It was also a rough month for General Motors. The industry leader says its sales were down 22.3 percent on drops in demand for both cars and light trucks. Car sales were down more than 26 percent, while sales of light trucks dropped almost 20 percent. Chrysler--the third of the big three domestic car companies--saw sales slide by 8.4 percent. Its German-American parent, DaimlerChrysler, reports overall sales fell 9.1 percent from a year ago.


Houston-based mobile messaging provider Berggi has joined with Spanish telecommunications company Avanzit to expand its services globally, according to the Houston Business Journal. Avanzit is investing $8 million, and Spain-based Adara Advisors is investing a further $1 million in Berggi, which operates a mobile e-mail service on AT&T and Sprint.


The Greater Houston Convention and Visitor's Bureau is welcoming 23 conventions, trade shows and events to the city in September. More than 27,400 attendees will spend an estimated $26.7 million while visiting. The Turbomachinery Laboratory at Texas A&M University hosts its 36th annual Turbomachinery Symposium from September 10th through the 13th at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The Texas Travel Industry Association hosts its Travel Summit at the Westin Galleria September 23rd through the 26th. The Toyota Center hosts Women of Faith's Amazing Freedom 2007 on September 28th and 29th.


American Airlines says it will be the first U.S. carrier to test high-speed Internet service—in flight. The airline announced it will test the service next year on some Boeing 767-200 jets that mostly fly transcontinental routes. Fort Worth-based American will charge a fee for the hookup, but won't announce the charge until broadband-equipped flights are ready to go. American has a memo of intent with Aircell to provide the service. Aircell will build cellular towers throughout the continental United States to transmit the signals. Planes will have three antennas--two on the bottom and one on top. The service will work with WiFi-equipped notebook computers and PDA's. American says if the service is a success, it could be expanded throughout American's fleet. Aircell sells Internet service for business jets and helicopters.


Federal attorneys turned repeatedly to e-mail and online opinions of Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey during a court hearing on the company's proposed purchase of Wild Oats Markets. The FTC wants to block the $565 million transaction, saying it would violate antitrust laws and lead to higher prices. FTC lawyer Michael Bloom quoted Mackey's comments in an e-mail to Whole Foods' board that the Wild Oats buyout would allow the Austin-based company to "avoid nasty price wars.'' In Bloom's words"nasty price wars are nasty to Mr. Mackey, but they are not nasty to consumers.'' In his closing statement after a two-day hearing in a Washington federal court, Bloom said Mackey was "candid'' in his deposition about Whole Foods' intention to close some Wild Oats' stores. Bloom said the closures would limit consumer alternatives. Whole Foods' lawyers will present their closing statement this afternoon. Earlier, they argued that many of their customers "cross-shop'' at other stores, such as Safeway's or Trader Joe's, indicating that those stores are potential competitors.


Deposed Dell CEO Kevin Rollins has a new job. Fort Worth-based private-equity giant TPG Capital has hired Rollins to serve as a senior adviser on global investment strategies in the technology sector. Jim Coulter, a founding partner of TPG, said Rollins will identify investment ideas and also be "a key contributor to the ongoing management of TPG's technology investment portfolio.'' TPG is the former Texas Pacific Group. Rollins was replaced as CEO at Round Rock-based Dell by company founder and Chairman Michael Dell on January 31st. Rollins had spent 11 years at the personal computer maker and was seen as Michael Dell's protege. The move to reassert control over the company Dell transformed from a startup in his college dormitory room into one of the world's largest PC makers was a sign of the crisis facing Dell. The company was known for its business model of selling PCs directly to consumers and business clients over the phone and Internet. But its business has stalled the past few years as buying behavior in the PC world changed drastically.


Canada-based InterOil Corporation is joining with Merrill Lynch Commodities and Pacific LNG Operations to develop a liquified natural gas project in Papua New Guinea, according to the Houston Business Journal. InterOil has its North American headquarters in Houston.


Dominion Resources and Shell WindEnergy say they'll proceed with building 50 more wind turbines next year at West Virginia's Mount Storm Wind Farm. That's despite a legal challenge. Dominion Resources spokesman Dan Genest says Mount Storm is a good project and a good location. Construction of the project's first phase is nearing completion. The companies say the first 82 turbines will be hooked up to the region's power grid by the fourth quarter of this year. The turbines are expected to generate 164 megawatts of electricity--enough for 41,000 homes. Houston-based Dominion and Dutch-based Shell say the second phase will add 50 more turbines capable of generating 100 megawatts--enough to power 25,000 homes. The companies say it will be built next year, assuming it receives all necessary permits and approvals. The 300 million project still faces a lawsuit filed by nearby homeowners who claim their property values will plunge. A circuit judge dismissed the lawsuit, but the West Virginia Supreme Court reinstated it in June.


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...