Tuesday AM April 29th, 2008

UK anti-corruption group rates oil firms on transparency…American Airlines joins other carriers in charging $25 for checking second bag…Postal Service reports brisk sales of "forever" stamp with postal rates go up in two weeks…

An anti-corruption group has rated more than 40 energy companies on the transparency of their dealings. The Transparency International Report gives low marks to Irving-based ExxonMobil, but praises Shell and Petrobras. The report published Monday places 42 oil and gas companies into three tiers based on their level of transparency in revenue disclosure. The group used publicly available records to measure companies' payments to host governments, their operations and contributions to corporate anti-corruption programs. Companies were placed in the lowest tier for disclosing information only by geographical segments and providing almost no additional information. ExxonMobil said it's working to establish transparency agreements with governments where it had significant investments, including Chad, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Nigeria. It said in a statement that it was "committed to honest and ethical behavior'' and "constructively participates in transparency and anti-corruption programs.'' Royal Dutch Shell, Brazil's Petrobras, Norway's StatoilHydro and Petro-Canada were among the best performing companies. ExxonMobil, Russia's Lukoil and the China National Offshore OilCNOOC, fell into the lowest tier. BP, Chevron, Houston-based ConocoPhillips, Spain's ENI and France's Total were in the middle tier of companies that disclose revenue by geographic region and which the report said could improve by giving a country-by-country breakdown.


American taxpayers appear to be more likely to use their income tax rebate to cover the necessities rather than finance a spending spree. A retail industry watcher, Janet Hoffman with Accenture, says consumers are in such a financial bind that they are "forced to step away from luxury or discretionary purchases.'' A recent survey by Goldman Sachs indicates that more than a-third of those questioned expect to spend about a quarter of their rebates on basic items such as meat and paper products. They also plan to use up to 60 percent of the rebate to pay down debt. Hoffman says department stores and consumer electronics outlets are not likely to see a "measurable lift'' in sales because the amount of the rebates is ''not that significant.'' She expects grocery chains and discount stores such as Wal-Mart and T.J. Maxx will see the greatest increases in sales because of the rebates.


The price of food is rising. The price of gas is rising. Now add electricity rates to the list. Surging coal prices are behind it. Despite an abundance of coal in the U.S., global factors are stoking demand. Snowstorms in China this winter cut production there, while heavy rains flooded mines in Australia. Australia is the world's largest coal exporter. Meanwhile, global demand for coal is rising, especially in China and India where it's needed to power their fast-developing economies. That's put American coal at a premium. The Energy Department says exports jumped nearly 20 percent last year and are expected to rise another 15 this year. Central Appalachian coal is a benchmark grade and it's widely used by power plants. Its price has more than doubled from around $40 a ton early last year to almost $90 a ton now.


Pack lightly if you're traveling on American Airlines. The nation's biggest airline says it'll join other major carriers and begin charging passengers $25 for checking a second bag. Fort Worth-based American says it's taking the step to help offset rising fuel costs. It says the fee will apply to travelers who buy domestic economy class tickets on or after May 12th. It'll also affect passengers on the American Eagle commuter line. American's move comes after recent similar fees at number two carrier United Airlines, Houston-based Continental Airlines, Northwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.


EOS Airlines has ceased operations after filing for bankruptcy protection. It's the latest casualty of a credit crunch and a money-losing airline industry that has been hit hard by high fuel prices. There have been a handful of small carriers to file for Chapter 11 or go out of business in recent months. One of EOS' main rivals in the all-business-class niche, MaxJet Airways, stopped flying in December. At the time, analysts questioned the viability of all-business-class airlines. The purchase, New York-based airline reconfigured Boeing 757s meant for 220 passengers with 48 seats that could extend into a fully flat bed. Flights served wine, champagne, cocktails and gourmet foods. The price for the New York to London flights, which it offered twice a day, ranged from $3,500 to $9,000 roundtrip. The smaller carriers face stiff competition from deeper-pocketed large airlines that offer business-class service along similar routes.


The forever stamp is a hot item these days. Postal rates go up in two weeks, and the Postal Service says Americans are buying 30 million of them a day. Right now the forever stamp costs 41 cents. It will remain valid for full postage even after the increase takes effect May 12th. After that date, the cost of sending a first-class letter raises a penny, to 42 cents. And the cost of a forever stamp goes up with it. Since they were introduced last year, more than six billion forever stamps have been sold. The rate increase comes as the post office sees higher gasoline prices eat away at its budget. Each penny increase in the price of gas is estimated to cost the post office $8 million a year. Postage rates last went up about a year ago.


Sorenson Genomics has relocated Identigene to Salt Lake City. Identigene was founded in 2003 as a division of Salt Lake City-based DNA testing services provider Sorenson. Identigene merged with Sorenson's GeneTree unit in 2007. Paternity and family-related DNA tsting will continue to be carried out under the Identigene business unit.


More Washingtonians could be pedaling around town when the city launches the nation's first European-style bike-sharing service next month. The program, called Smartbike D.C., is similar to car-sharing services like Zipcar. Users must sign up for a $40 annual membership to gain access to a network of bikes stored at computerized racks around the city. To unlock the bike, users simply scan their access cards. The bikes can be used for up to three hours at a time and can be returned at any Smartbike station. Smartbike is run by San Antonio-based Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, which handles bus-shelter advertising for D.C. The company runs the bike-sharing programs in 13 European cities, including Barcelona, Spain, and Oslo, Norway. In the beginning at least, there won't be any hourly charges. The District of Columbia program is starting small, with just ten stations and 120 bikes. But D.C. officials are eager to expand it quickly if the response is good. Proponents say the program easily could be expanded to more than 1,000 bikes at more than 100 stations within a year.


A.H. Belo Corporation said that it lost $8.7 million in the first quarter as revenue fell from a year ago. The Dallas-based newspaper chain also warned that the sales decline would likely continue throughout 2008 due to the weak economy. Newspapers around the country are losing readers and advertising dollars to the Internet, and A.H. Belo was not immune. Revenue fell 8.8 percent, and advertising sales at the newspapers and their Web sites dropped 12 percent. Circulation at the Dallas paper fell 10.6 percent in the six months ended March 31st. However, Belo says circulation revenue in Dallas rose 12 percent from early 2007. The financial report was the first for Belo since Dallas-based broadcast company Belo Corporation spun it off in February. A.H. Belo owns the Dallas Morning News, the Providence Journal, the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California, and the Denton Record-Chronicle.


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...