Thursday August 9th, 2007

National Association of Realtors lowers outlook for existing home sales...Administaff survey: 82 percent of companies growing on schedule or faster than predicted...Dell supports prototype device to beam high-speed Internet service over unused TV airwaves...

The National Association of Realtors lowered its outlook for existing home sales this year by one percent. NAR is calling for existing home sales of 6.04 million in 2007. And they expect sales of 6.38 million next year. Both years are below last year's level of 6.48 million. New home sales are projected at 852,000 in 2007 and 848,000 next year, down from the 1.1 million new homes sold in 2006.

Earlier this week, Aegis Mortgage suspended all loan originations amid the worsening housing and credit markets. The Houston-based lender's owners include private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. The suspension came on the same day American Home Mortgage Investment filed for bankruptcy protection. An Aegis Mortgage spokeswoman says the company has notified brokers who serve as customers that Aegis won't be able to fund loans currently in the pipeline. The company has 300 staffers in Houston, but the national office laid off employees on Tuesday as it shut down mortgage operations.

American Home Mortgage Investment is down for the count, but at least two prominent businessmen don't think it's out. Turnaround specialist Stephen Cooper and bankruptcy financier Wilbur Ross, Jr., are going to take a crack at rescuing what was once the 10th-largest U.S. mortgage lender. Cooper, who was named chief restructuring officer, has held similar jobs at Enron and Trans World Airways. Ross, the billionaire investor behind W.L. Ross & Company, made his fortune picking over the smoldering wreckage of burned-out industries such as steel and textiles.


Some 82 percent of small business owners say their companies are growing on schedule or at a faster pace than expected, according to an Administaff survey. Their Business Confidence Survey finds that 59 percent of respondents report business projections are being met, with another 23 percent saying they were exceeding their initial 2007 projections. Half of the 5,800 respondents are hiring additional full-time employees and 13 percent are hiring part-times. Compensation is up 6.4 percent.


Not using a human resources department at full potential puts small and medium-sized businesses at a disadvantage, according to results of a survey by Houston-based Achilles Group, as reported in the Houston Business Journal. The survey indicated that many smaller companies consider their HR departments as a separate arm of the business. The survey found that finding and retaining top talent is a concern, but less than 33 percent employ a HR director.


Round Rock-based Dell has lined up with Microsoft, Google and other technology companies behind a prototype device they say will beam high-speed Internet service over unused TV airwaves. The government disagrees. On July 31st, the Federal Communications Commission said the devices submitted by the technology coalition cannot reliably detect unused TV broadcast, and could also cause interference. Still, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says the commission wants to find a way to transmit high-speed Internet service over the unused airwaves. The companies claim such "white spaces'' will make Internet service accessible and affordable, especially in rural areas. However, TV broadcasters worry that the device will cause interference with their programming and could cause problems with the transition from analog to digital signals in February 2009.


A new study finds the per-vehicle profit gap between Japanese automakers and the Detroit three in North America is growing. Stout Risius Ross, a financial and operational advisory firm, says even though general motors has made significant improvements, the profit gap rose by 32 percent from 2005 to 2006. Overall, GM, Ford and Chrysler made an average of $3,814 less per car or truck than their prime competitors Toyota, Honda and Nissan. The gap includes special write-offs such as early retirement, buyout and other restructuring costs. GM cut its loss per vehicle in North America to $146 last year from $1,271 in 2005, mostly because of cost cuts that included the departure of more than 34,000 hourly workers to buyout and early retirement offers.


The U.S. Labor Department is suing east Texas poultry processor Pilgrim's Pride for $3 million in back wages. The federal officials said the money is owed to more than 500 current and former workers of the nation's largest poultry producer. According to the lawsuit filed in a federal court in Dallas, officials say Pilgrim's Pride failed to pay overtime wages for the time workers spent putting on and taking off protective clothing. They also say the Pittsburg-based processor hadn't kept accurate overtime records since August 2005. A Pilgrim's Pride spokesman hasn't returned a call for comment. The company operates 34 plants around the country and sells chicken and turkey under its own name and other brands including Pierce and Country Pride. The company is controlled by the family of 78-year-old former chairman and chief executive "Bo'' Pilgrim.


As part of its long-term plan to cut greenhouse gases, American Electric Power says it will buy power from an Indiana wind farm. Columbus, Ohio-based AEP says two of its subsidiaries have signed 20-year agreements with Fowler Ridge Wind Farm. The wind energy farm in northwest Indiana is expected to be running by the end of next year. It's part of AEP's green energy initiatives that include improvements at power plants, projects to plant more trees and a program to capture methane from livestock manure. AEP delivers electricity to more than five million customers in 11 states--including Texas. The company is one of the nation's largest power generators and now owns two wind farms in Texas.


"Drying in wait.'' Texas Cooperative Extension reports that's what grasslands are doing as producers work to cut the abundant hay and make bales between rain. Good quality hay comes from grasses that are cut before the plant begins making seed. But once it's cut, the grass has to be rolled or squared into bales while it is dry or it will begin to rot into mush that's not suitable for feeding livestock. Harris County extension agent Wayne Thompson says many producers are taking the risk to cut the grass between rains--hoping to have time to bale it. Thompson says grass that matures to produce a seed head becomes more fibrous, less digestible and lower in protein.


Citibank is offering a free seminar this afternoon at 11 area branch locations to help analyze your financial situation. The seminar utilizes a tool called Citipro Financial Analysis, which outlines steps needed to manage your current finances, as well as demonstrates how to reduce debt and plan for the future.


TXU is reporting its second-quarter profit plunged by more than three-fourths because cooler weather turned down demand for air conditioning. Dallas-based TXU also cited costs related to its pending sale. TXU in February agreed to be bought by a group of private-equity investors for $32 billion. Earnings after dividends to preferred shareholders dropped to $121 million from $497 million one year earlier. The buyers, led by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Texas Pacific Group, forced TXU to drop plans to build eight coal-fired power plants. Shareholders are scheduled to vote September 7th on the offer.


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...