Thursday AM October 25th, 2007

Consumers may find discounted or free shipping with holiday online purchases...Ukraine signs production sharing agreement with Houston-based Vanco International...Regulators continue efforts to block Whole Foods Market's takeover of Wild Oats...

As consumers prepare to buy online during this year's holiday season, they will find most retailers will be looking to lure them with free or discounted shipping. A survey released by, part of the National Retail Federation, finds that more than half will offer free shipping upgrades, discounted shipping or free shipping without conditions. Executive Director Scott Silverman says most forecasts are looking for online sales growth this year of as much as 20 percent. He says online retailers will likely be offering steep discounts, just as traditional brick and mortar outlets are expected to do.

It works for "snail mail.'' The post office forwards letters when you move. Should Internet companies be required to forward e-mails for people who switch providers? There is no mandate on e-mail forwarding, and industry officials say imposing one would be costly and unnecessary. But federal regulators are looking at the issue more closely following a complaint from a former America Online customer who claims an abrupt termination of service devastated her business. Washington-based freelance editor Gail Mortenson has filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission, which opened a 30-day public comment period that ends this week, followed by another 30-day period for replies. Mortenson says in her complaint that she lost potential clients because they couldn't reach her. One analyst says it is doubtful that the FCC would require companies to provide a free e-mail forwarding service.

Ukraine has signed a production sharing agreement with Houston-based Vanco International. Vanco was granted the right in April 2006 to negotiate the first license to explore the deepwater part of Ukraine Black Sea. Work begins immediately on a detailed exploration program, with a 3D seismic survey planned in 2008. Vanco has operated drilling programs offshore Morocco and Cǒte d'Ivoire in the last three years. It also has deepwater exploration programs offshore Cǒte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Ghana.

Regulators are continuing efforts to block Whole Foods Market's $565 million takeover of Wild Oats--despite the deal closing in August. The Federal Trade Commission earlier tried to halt on antitrust grounds. A federal district court this summer ruled against the agency. The FTC appealed, but an appeals court refused to halt the transaction by Austin-based Whole Foods. Federal regulators usually end litigation after a deal is completed. But the FTC now says there's still time to remedy the anticompetitive effects--because Whole Foods still runs many Wild Oats stores separately--under the Wild Oats name. Whole Foods earlier this month filed a request with the court to dismiss the FTC's appeal. But in a Monday filing, the FTC said the appeal is still relevant. Whole Foods didn't immediately comment.

For two days the oil industry has implored Alaska state lawmakers to keep a net profits tax rate at 22.5 percent. Irving-based ExxonMobil has gone one better. It told the Alaska House Oil and Gas Committee to lower the rate. Exxon didn't offer an alternative to the current rate or the 25 percent rate proposed by Alaska Governor Governor Sarah Palin. The move that left some lawmakers stunned. Bitter feelings from an unresolved civil judgment remain raw. It prompted Alaska State Representative Mark Neuman to characterize Exxon's position as a "punch in the guts.'' House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula was also stunned, calling Exxon's position "ridiculous.'' Meanwhile, Alaska State Senator Tom Wagoner says Exxon's position is simple strategy, saying "they are just playing the game.''

American officials are saying that China is slowing cooperation in the fight against product piracy since Washington complained about the problem to the World Trade Organization. The U.S. Commerce Undersecretary says Beijing has stepped up cooperation in some areas, but has slowed down in others. The U.S. complained in April that Beijing was failing to do enough to stop rampant copying of music, movies and other goods, and added to strain between the two nations over China's swollen trade surplus and recalls and warnings of tainted or faulty Chinese goods.

A Corpus Christi bankruptcy judge has criticized Pacific Lumber's plan to exit bankruptcy. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Richard Schmidt notes stiff opposition the proposal has drawn. That raises the possibility that the logging company will lose control over its bankruptcy case. Dow Jones Newswires reports Schmidt told Pacific Lumber's attorney during a hearing that the company's plan would be "more palatable if you had someone on your side.'' Pacific Lumber is based in Scotia, California. It was bought by Houston financier Charles Hurwitz in 1986. Pacific Lumber proposes to raise more than $1 billion, in part, by developing its timberlands for luxury homes. But Schmidt notes that permitting officials in Humboldt County in northern California oppose the plan. Schmidt was considering whether Pacific Lumber should be able to keep exclusive control of its bankruptcy case into February. That would prevent other parties from filing rival plans with the court.

ConocoPhillips posted third-quarter earnings five percent lower than those of last year's quarter. The third-largest U.S. oil company blames weakness in refining for the decline, which was still less than Wall Street had feared. Net income for the three months ended September 30th fell to $3.67 billion. The company said its quarterly revenue fell four percent to $46.1 billion. ConocoPhillips said its exploration and production operations suffered from lower volumes, lower realized natural gas prices and higher operating costs. The Houston-based company also says tighter refining margins took a bite out of earnings, although higher crude oil prices helped offset the declines. The company said it expects to produce the equivalent of 50,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil per day more in the fourth quarter than it did in the third because of normal seasonality and the completion of maintenance.

American Electric Power says its third quarter earnings rose 54 percent. The Columbus, Ohio-based electric utility says a warmer-than-normal summer helped by boosting energy usage. AEP is one of the nation's largest power generators and has more than five million customers in 11 states, including Texas. Among the Texas cities AEP serves are Corpus Christi, Kingsville, Abilene, Mcallen, Harlingen, Uvalde, San Angelo, Victoria and Laredo. AEP said it made $407 million. Revenue rose six percent to $3.8 billion, from $3.6 billion last year. Besides the hot weather, AEP said its results also benefited from rate changes in a number of its states. AEP also said its earnings reflect a $55 million charge relating to a clean air settlement with federal officials. Otherwise, AEP earned $462 million in the quarter. AEP is one of the nation's largest power generators and has more than five million customers in 11 states, including Texas. Among the Texas cities AEP serves are Corpus Christi, Kingsville, Abilene, Mcallen, Harlingen, Uvalde, San Angelo, Victoria and Laredo.

Dallas police officials will no longer automatically disqualify job applicants who have used small amounts of such illegal drugs as cocaine and heroin. Recruiters already could consider applicants who had used marijuana, but officer candidates who had tried harder drugs were barred. Police Chief David Kunkle says the new policy is similar to the FBI's.

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...