Thursday December 20th, 2007
by: Ed Mayberry, December 20, 2007 5:12:00 am
The government is focusing on New York City to ease air travel delays nationwide. Authorities are capping the number of flights that will go in and out of New York City's three major airports at the busiest times. And aviation officials are also creating a "czar'' for New York City air travel. The maximum number of flights at Newark in New Jersey—one of Houston-based Continental Airlines' hubs-- hasn't been determined yet. Kennedy International Airport will only be allowed 82 or 83 flights per hour at peak times, down from 90 to 100 scheduled this past summer. And LaGuardia Airport already has flight limits. Continental says it welcomes the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration focus on operational improvements in New York's airspace. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters says she had hoped to avoid the restrictions, but she says this short-term solution will provide relief for air travelers. The new rules take effect in March. Air travel delays often start with New York flights, and the ripple effect can spread nationwide.
A lawsuit filed by California alleges janitors working for two Houston companies toiled up to seven days a week for sub-minimum wages. The lawsuit seeks more than $700,000, saying the workers didn't get overtime or rest breaks. The California Attorney General's office says some janitors earned just $50 a day for working up to ten hours on graveyard shifts--and some of their checks bounced. The suit also seeks penalties that could reach $5 million or more. The lawsuit accuses Excell Cleaning & Building Services and Mo Restaurant Cleaning Services of California of violating wage laws. A call to an Excel Cleaning Service in Houston resulted in a recording saying the number was discounted. Excell in March agreed to pay $278,000 in back wages to 166 janitors in Houston after an investigation concluded the company failed to pay overtime.
Houston-based Cyberonics has acquired the exclusive rights to three patents to use its vagus nerve stimulation technology for the treatment of stroke and traumatic brain injury from Southern Illinois University. The patent research was a collaboration of psychology and physiology and neurology faculty at SIU. Cyberonics this week also signed a $9.5 million patent agreement allowing Ethicon EndoSurgery to use the technology for treatment of obesity and diabetes and hypertension in overweight patients.
Nuclear power plant operator Exelon has picked land near Victoria, about 130 miles southwest of Houston, as a potential site for the nation's first new nuclear generator in three decades. Exelon expects to seek a federal license for the $6 billion power plant next September, and may make a final decision on construction in 2009. The Chicago-based company and New Jersey-based NRG Energy have targeted Texas because of its power demands.
Banks are getting $20 billion in loans from the Federal Reserve to help them through the credit crunch. It's part of an unprecedented auction process to ease a global credit predicament and make sure financial institutions can keep lending to their customers. The interest rate on the short-term loans will be 4.65 percent, compared with the 4.75 percent the Fed charges banks on emergency loans through its "discount'' window. Banks have been reluctant to use the Fed's discount window because of the fear that investors will believe they are having trouble getting funds in a normal manner. The Fed received bids from banks for $61.6 billion worth of loans Monday, an indication that it has been successful in achieving its goal of encouraging banks to use the new auction facility.
The Anime Network is announcing a new broadband service to stream anime on the Internet. The free service will find over 20 episodes of classic and new anime series available. The service is ad-supported. The streams require the Flash 9 player and Java Script for viewing. The Anime Network is a subsidiary of Houston-based A.D. Vision.
UK-based Salamander Energy is acquiring Houston-based GFI Oil & Gas in a $220 million deal, according to the Houston Business Journal. GFI has core interests in two offshore fields under development in Thailand and Indonesia.
A study by the American Institute of Architects indicates commercial construction will perform well in 2008, despite predictions of a U.S. recession. The AIA Billings Index shows an approximate nine- to 12-month lag between architecture billings and construction spending. Commercial/industrial ranked highest, followed by mixed practice, institutional and multifamily residential.
Houston-based Global Warming Solutions has signed a collaboration agreement with double-side silicon solar cell provider Solar Wind of Russia, according to the Houston Business Journal. Global Warming Solutions says the collaboration has the potential to make solar power more cost-effective. Global Warming is also negotiating with Motech Industries of Taiwan, maker of highly efficient polysilicon solar cells.
American homeowners continue to have trouble keeping up with their mortgage payments. A company that tracks the numbers says there were almost 202,000 foreclosure filings last month, compared with around 120,000 in November of last year. That's a surge of 68 percent. But there's a little bit of good news. Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac says the November filings fell 10 percent from October. An official with the company calls that "significant.'' The filings include default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions. Some properties might have received more than one notice if the owners have multiple mortgages. Nevada, Florida and Ohio had the highest foreclosure filing rates in the country last month. California, Colorado, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, Indiana and Illinois rounded out the top 10 list in November.
A new study shows Texas homeowners insurance premiums stabilized some after legislative reforms in 2003, but were still the highest in the United States. The average annual premium in Texas for the most common homeowner policy was $1,372 in 2005, while the national average was $764. That's according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Premiums in Texas have always been relatively expensive because of severe weather conditions such as hurricanes, hailstorms and tornadoes. Rates went up in the early part of the decade as insurers fielded a rash of mold claims. The legislature responded in 2003 with reforms that promised to bring relief to homeowners. Consumer groups and the insurance industry differ on whether the reforms have been effective. The study found that Texas premiums increased slower than the national average in the two years after the 2003 reform.
A report finds public pensions in Texas are in fair financial shape. But the Pew Center on the States found Texas still faces a massive bill to cover the costs of health care and other retirement benefits for state employees and public school workers. The report says Texas has about 89 cents of every dollar it needs for the pension benefits it has promised to pay state employees and teachers over the next 30 years. Nationally, public pensions have 85 cents of every dollar needed for pension payments. Pension experts consider a funded ratio of 80 percent or higher to be healthy. Texas, like most states, handles retiree benefits on a pay-as-it-goes-basis rather than setting aside money to decrease the unfunded liability.
The top two executives at Fort Worth homebuilder D.R. Horton got bonuses of nearly $1.6 million each. That's even though the company suffered heavy losses in the worst housing downturn in many years. A regulatory filing says the bonuses constitute most of the compensation paid to Chairman Donald R. Horton and Chief Executive Donald J. Tomnitz during the fiscal year ended September 30th. According to the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the 57-year-old Horton got a $1.59 million bonus, a $400,000 salary, $32,611 in above-market earnings on deferred pay, and $46,750 in other compensation. The 59-year-old Tomnitz got the $1.59 million bonus, $300,000 in salary, $23,582 in above-market deferred pay earnings and $46,750 in other compensation. Horton lost $712.5 million in the fiscal year as it cut inventory and wrote down the value of assets in the face of a declining housing market. Investors have shared in the company's pain, as Horton shares recently fell to their lowest level in five years.
Austin-based Whole Foods Market is eliminating the use of plastic bags in its Austin stores, and will stop offering them companywide in early 2008. There are five Houston outlets, as well as one being built on Post Oak and San Felipe. Paper bags made from recycled content will be available, as the chain will sell a reusable bag made from 80 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.