Tuesday PM March 25th, 2008
by: Ed Mayberry, March 25, 2008 8:03:00 pm
The Global Energy Forum at the Westin Galleria today featured oilfield service companies sharing their experiences with the new technology associated with exploration and production. Microsoft's Craig Hodges says it's also a chance for his firm to learn more about what the industry needs.
"This is our fifth year for the Global Energy forum here in Houston. This year we had in excess of 475 customers and partners attend. And our primary objective is to have customers share their experiences about how they use Microsoft technology in their business. I mean, what we try to do is to get learnings, get best practices, of how customers use our technologies to drive advantage. For example, today I know one of the presentations was from a large oil services company who's in the early stages of deploying Microsoft capabilities around an area called unified communications. And other Houston-based companies were able to get the learnings that they've had as an early adopter of these technologies. So therefore their cycle-time can be greatly improved when they decide to employ these technologies."
Microsoft released its 2008 High-Performance Computing Oil and Gas Industry Survey, which shows concern about the graying of the workforce.
A Hines Real Estate Investment Trust subsidiary is buying the 65-story Williams Tower for $271.5 million. The Galleria-area landmark was built by Hines in 1982 as the Transco Tower. The 1.5-million-square-foot structure is currently managed by Hines. The sale includes an adjacent parking garage, as well as interest in a 2.8-acre park and the nearby waterwall.
Consumer confidence sank to a five-year low in March as tight credit markets, rising prices and worsening job prospects made many worry that the economy is falling into recession. The Conference Board says that its Consumer Confidence Index plunged to 64.5 in March from a revised 76.4 in February. The reading from the business-backed research group was far below the 73.0 expected by Wall Street analysts. The index has been weakening since July, and is watched because lower consumer confidence tends to result in lower consumer spending, which is a drag on the economy.
The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller Index shows U.S. home prices fell 11.4 percent in January--the steepest drop since S&P started collecting data in 1987. The decline means prices have been growing more slowly or dropping for 19 consecutive months. The index tracks the prices of single-family homes in ten major metropolitan areas in the U.S. The broader 20-city composite index fell 10.7 percent in January from a year ago. That marks the first time both indexes have dropped by double-digit percentages.
The Federal Reserve has auctioned another $50 billion in short-term loans to cash-strapped banks to help them overcome credit problems. The move is part of the central bank's effort to provide relief to a spreading credit crunch that has rattled financial markets. The situation threatens to push the country into a deep recession. In today's auction--the eighth--commercial banks paid an interest rate of 2.615 percent, the lowest rate for any of the auctions of this kind conducted so far. The Fed has now provided a total of $260 billion in short-term loans to banks since December.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Imperial Sugar for various violations totaling $36,000 in penalties at its Gramercy, Louisiana, plant. The alleged violations included the use of three filter-cartridge dust collectors that were not equipped with explosion protection systems and bags of sugar stored in an unstable manner. Proposed penalties ranged from $4,500 to $6,300. Imperial Sugar CEO John Sheptor says the company learned of the citations and possible penalties on Friday. But he says Imperial disagrees with the "type and/or severity classification'' of the citations and will most likely contest them through OSHA's appeal process. Imperial Sugar is based in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, and is a major processor and refiner of sugar. Last week, the company said it planned to begin removing potentially combustible dust at its powdered sugar operation in Gramercy. The dust recently forced the plant to shut down that operation. A February explosion at an Imperial refinery in Georgia near Savannah killed 13 people and has been blamed on dust that ignited. The disaster prompted OSHA to inspect hundreds of plants where combustible dust is a workplace hazard.
Anadarko Petroleum increased its production target for 2008 as the oil producer takes advantage of higher-than-expected commodity prices. The Houston-area company expects production between 207 million and 212 million barrels of oil equivalent, up from the previous range of 205 million to 210 million. Anadarko boosted its capital budget by $400 million, to $4.9 billion to $5.1 billion for the year. Company officials say the extra money will be used to develop and produce projects in progress faster than previously planned. Anadarko's announcement came one day after Chesapeake Energy boosted its production forecasts for this year and next.