Monday PM January 14th, 2008

Shell Oil's John Hofmeister steps down as chairman of Greater Houston Partnership; Memorial Herman's Dan Wolterman takes over...Lundberg Survey tracks national gas spike of ten cents in three weeks...Luby's shareholders to settle fight over board seats at annual meeting in Houston...

The president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Healthcare System is the 2008 chairman of the board for the Greater Houston Partnership. Dan Wolterman has more than 20 years of experience in various executive positions in the health care industry.

"These past couple of years were foundation-laying years. Couple years ago we embarked on the ten-year strategic plan, mainly because we saw out there many cities and communities and countries waking up everyday trying to figure out how to take our prize jobs and industries out of Houston and move them elsewhere. And so what we did that past year is set up Opportunity Houston. You've heard of the $30-plus million raised. That gave us the capital and the resources necessary to launch this next phase. It's my privilege to be able to lead the Partnership during this coming year into that phase. It will be a transformational year."< P>

"Opportunity Houston" is a ten-year plan to help regional jobs grow by 600,000, increase capital investment by $60 billion and expand foreign trade by $120 billion by the end of 2015.

The Lundberg Survey says the national average price for gasoline rose nearly ten cents over the last three weeks. Oil industry analyst Trilby Lundberg says the average price of regular gasoline on Friday was $3.07 a gallon, mid-grade was $3.19, and premium was $3.30. Of cities surveyed, the nation's lowest price was in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where a gallon of regular cost $2.77, on average. The highest was in San Francisco at $3.39, according to the Lundberg Survey of 7,000 stations nationwide. The cost of diesel was also up, with an average national price of $3.48.

Officials with Delta Air Lines are mum on the outcome of a board meeting for a possible green light for talks with United and/or Northwest about a merger. Oil prices soared 58 percent last year and briefly rose above $100 per barrel last week, leading to a corresponding rise in jet fuel prices. Meanwhile, competition and an uncertain economy have limited the ability of carriers to cover the higher expense by hiking fares. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial believe that most major carriers lost money in the fourth quarter. The airlines start reporting those results next week. Prospects for the new year are uncertain. Airlines believe combining will let them eliminate redundant back-office functions, reservations and computer systems. American Airlines is based in Fort Worth. Continental Airlines is based in Houston. Southwest Airlines has its headquarters in Dallas.

Outsiders are trying to crash the line at Luby's and win seats on the board of the Houston-based cafeteria chain. Dissident shareholders led by Ramius Capital Group say Luby's CEO and his brother have engaged in sweetheart stock deals and didn't do enough to boost the stock price. Ramius wants the company to consider selling some properties to pay shareholders a dividend, then leasing back the restaurant locations. Luby's officials call the sale-leaseback idea shortsighted. They defend stock deals with top executives. Shareholders will settle the fight at the company's annual meeting Tuesday in Houston. The vote won't change control of the board--only four of 10 seats are at stake. But Ramius nominees say their election would increase oversight of governance and operations. Chief Executive Christopher Pappas and his brother, Chief Operating Officer Harris Pappas, joined the company in 2001. They provided a cash infusion that was converted into stock. Their private company operates the Pappasito's Cantina and Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen chains.

South Korean prosecutors have questioned the visiting head of Lone Star Funds days after barring him from leaving the country. A senior prosecutor says the chairman of the Dallas-based buyout firm, John Grayken, was summoned and questioned. The prosecutor provided few details, though. Prosecutors said last week that they'd question Grayken, who testified Friday in the trial of a Lone Star official charged with stock price manipulation. Grayken, who has not been charged, said after testifying last week that prosecutors had banned him from leaving the country and he expected to be queried. He vowed full cooperation. Dallas-based Lone Star has found itself a target of critics in South Korea who say buyout funds shouldn't profit at the expense of distressed local companies. The group bought a controlling stake in Korea Exchange Bank in 2003, though its efforts to sell that interest have been hampered by a series of legal and tax disputes. Lone Star has consistently denied wrongdoing.

Economic data could take a back seat to corporate earnings this week, but there will be intense interest in another economic event. On Thursday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is to deliver testimony on the outlook to the House Budget Committee. Bernanke may have shown his hand last week when he told a Washington group that the central bank was prepared to slash interest rates as needed to prevent housing and credit problems from plunging the country into a recession. Reports due in the coming week include key inflation readings, the Producer Price Index on Tuesday, and the Consumer Price Index on Wednesday. The government's retail sales reading for December is also due Tuesday. Later in the week, December housing starts and building permits numbers are scheduled for release on Thursday.

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...