Wednesday AM January 9th, 2007

OTC organizers urge foreign attendees to begin visa application process...Contango sells interest in Freeport LNG...Outplacement firm says fewer CEOs are changing positions...

Organizers of this year's Offshore Technology Conference are getting the word out to foreign attendees that now's the time to secure the necessary travel documents. OTC is set for May 5th through the 8th at Reliant Center. Travelers from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean are now required by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initative to present a passport to enter the U.S. Travelers from of the 27 Visa Waiver Program countries are required to have a machine-readable passport. Otherwise, you must obtain a visa for travel. Attendees from all other countries must obtain a visa to enter the U.S. The 27 visa waiver countries include: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. More information, as well as a downloadable invitation letter, is available on the OTC Web site.


Houston-based Contango Oil & Gas is selling its ten percent interest in Freeport LNG Development to an unnamed Asian utility firm for about $68 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. Freeport is developing a liquified natural gas receiving and gasification terminal on Quintana Island near Freeport.


Fewer CEO's headed for the exits last year than in 2006. Outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas says 1,356 chief execs left their positions in 2007, a drop of more than eight percent from the previous year. The biggest surprise over the final months of the year may be that there were not more departures in the financial sector tied to the credit crunch. But for the third consecutive year, the number of monthly departures averaged more than 100.


ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva is joining General Electric's board, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to the Houston chronicle. The FERC review was necessary because GE is an electric-equipment supplier and Houston-based ConocoPhillips is considered a public utility because of its power-marketing activities.


Auto executives worldwide are more optimistic about their business than in past years because their mission has become clear: produce quality, fuel efficient vehicles. That's according to an annual survey conducted by the accounting and advisory firm KPMG. Eighty-six percent of the executives said quality would be among the leading factors influencing consumers' vehicle purchases during the next five years, followed by fuel efficiency at 84 percent. Other top criteria, according to the executives, are safety and affordability. The leaders say they also feel that they must develop alternative fuel technology and produce low-cost cars and hybrid technology. The number of executives predicting an increase in global profits in the next five years rose from 16 percent two years ago to 26 percent in the latest survey. The number predicting a decline in profits dropped from 28 percent to 14 percent.


AT&T's shares tumbled this afternoon after chairman and chief executive Randall Stephenson said the telecom carrier is experiencing some slowdown in consumer business. Speaking in New York, Stephenson said the bulk of the weakness is coming from service disconnections due to nonpayment of its access lines and home broadband services. But he added that so far, the slowing U.S. economy has not hurt the company's wireless or enterprise businesses. On the whole, Stephenson said San Antonio-based AT&T's business will continue to grow, driven by wireless strength, increasing broadband penetration and Internet protocol TV. AT&T expects to have more than one million subscribers to its U-verse television service by the end of this year. The carrier's enterprise segment--the business it does with large corporations--has been a "pleasant surprise in the past few months.''


Comcast told the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that its is launching ultra-high-speed Internet service, more high-definition television content and equipment that links video, phone and broadband services. Comcast points to technology that will allow the download of a high-definition copy of a movie in four minutes. Comcast is also launching its Fancast Web site, with more than 3,000 hours of clips and full TV episodes for old and new shows and some movies.


President Bush says he's watching the economy very carefully to see if it needs a short-term boost from the federal government. He says the administration is listening to "different ideas about what may or may not need to happen.'' But, Bush declined to say what specific proposals he is considering. President Bush said economic indicators are "increasingly mixed,'' but maintained the U.S. economy is resilient. The comments were a new recognition by the president, of the challenges facing the economy. The president is using his State of the Union address at the end of the month as a sort of deadline for a decision on whether the economy needs a stimulus package. Aides say he wants to analyze more data before making the final call.


The nation's largest mortgage lender is denying rumors that it is planning to file for bankruptcy protection. In a prepared statement, Countrywide Financial says there's "no substance to the rumor that countrywide is planning to file for bankruptcy. The company went on to say that it is not aware of any basis for the rumor that any of the major rating agencies are contemplating negative action. Countrywide, like many in the mortgage industry, has suffered as more customers have defaulted on home loans, particularly on those made to borrowers with questionable repayment histories. Its stock dipped as low as $5.76 before trading was halted in advance of the company's statement. When trading resumed, shares did rebound somewhat.


Georgetown is looking into ways to ensure that businesses doing work for the Austin-area city--are not hiring undocumented workers. Georgetown City Councilman Keith Brainard says cities should support federal immigration laws by requiring contractors to prove their employees are in the U.S. legally. Brainard says his proposal was triggered by the city's December 11th approval of a contract with a local landscaping service to maintain parkland. City Manager Paul Brandenburg says his staff is studying Brainard's request and could have a report for the council this month. Last May, the Farmers Branch city council passed an ordinance that prohibits landlords from renting to illegal immigrants. A judge has blocked enforcement while the ordinance is challenged in court.


BP is re-starting an ultracracker unit on Thursday at its Texas City refinery, according to the Houston Chronicle, after an emergency shutdown on December 22nd from a high reactor temperature. And ExxonMobil reported a yearlong spill of wastewater from an underground pipe at its Baytown refinery. About 2,176 pounds of volatile organic compounds were released between December 29th, 2006 and January 4th, according to a filing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.


Houston-based Rowan Companies has signed a six-month, $56 million drilling contract for one of its rigs for work offshore eastern Canada, according to the Houston Business Journal. Work is expected to begin in mid-2009.


Comstock Resources announced it expects to spend $526 million this year on oil and gas development and exploration. The Frisco-based company says it will be focusing on eastern Texas and northern Louisiana. Comstock says $250 million will go toward offshore drilling and exploration through Bois d'Arc Energy, in which Comstock holds a 49 percent stake. Of Comstock's onshore plans, $239 million will be dedicated to onshore drilling, with $37 million for exploration. The company expects to drill about 116 onshore wells in 2008, including 106 development wells and ten exploratory wells. Comstock expects to spend $122 million in its south Texas region, and $149 million across eastern Texas and northern Louisiana. The remaining $5 million will be spent in other regions.


Southwest Airlines has scheduled a news conference for today and is expected to announce an expansion of its Denver service. Chief executive officer Gary Kelly will be joined for the announcement by Mayor John Hickenlooper. Southwest spokeswoman Marilee McInnis declined additional comment Tuesday. The airline said Denver is one of its fastest-growing cities with 56 daily flights, up from 13 when it launched service in January 2006 at Denver International Airport. Dallas-based Southwest competes with United and Frontier Airlines at DIA, an aggressive battle which has benefited customers by forcing lower fares.


Lockheed Martin says the Army awarded it a $556 million contract to provide hardware and other equipment for the Patriot missile defense system. The Bethesda, Maryland-based company will produce 148 missiles, 17 launcher modification kits and provide program-management and engineering services. Production of the Patriot advanced capability-three missiles, will take place in Dallas; Lufkin; Chelmsford, Massachusetts; Ocala, Florida; and Camden, Arkansas. The work is expected to be completed by July 2010.


A suburban St. Louis company that provided fat-dissolving injections has sought bankruptcy protection. The Chapter 11 reorganization filing comes one month after go fig closed 17 clinics and left about 500 people out of work. Go Fig, which does business as Fig, had sites in the Houston and Dallas areas. The only one of its 18 clinics to remain open was in Costa Mesa, California, which is independently owned. The company provided lipodissolve treatments. Officials say it's a process in which injections of a compound substance melts fat and flushes it from the body. Fig last month posted a message on its Web site saying that it was closing "due to economic conditions beyond our control.'' The company ceased operations December 7th.


Another Mexican candy is being recalled due to elevated levels of lead that could cause health problems. The Texas Department of State Health Services says a San Antonio company is voluntarily recalling a third candy imported from Mexico. Villa-Mex Imports is recalling Miguelito Azucar Salada Enchilada Acidulada. The candy is a reddish powder in a clear cellophane packet with blue lettering. The net weight is marked as 1.7 ounces. The label also reads: elaborado por: fabrica de dulces Miguelito, S.A. de C.V. Totonacas no 293 col. Ajusco Coyoacan, Mexico. Villa-Mex earlier voluntarily recalled Barrilito and Tarritos. DSHS says consumers who have the recalled products should return them or throw them away.


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...