Monday October 10th, 2005

Hurricanes contribute to ten-cent average rise in gasoline prices, according to Lundberg...Book helps executives balance work hours...Continental pays $84 million into defined-benefit pension plans...

The Lundberg Survey says retail gas prices rose an average of ten cents in the past two weeks. Gulf Coast refineries idled by Hurricane Rita are cited as a cause. The weighted average price for all three grades rose to $2.93 a gallon, compared to the previous survey. Self-serve regular averaged $2.91 a gallon nationwide. The average price of gas at the pump had fallen an average 20 cents in the previous survey period before Rita slammed into Texas and Louisiana. Since then, gasoline imports have increased and demand for gasoline has been easing back some. And higher gas prices have caused many consumers to cut back. Crude oil prices have also dipped slightly recently. Meanwhile, many of the refineries hurt by Rita and Katrina have been gradually resuming production. Lundberg says all those factors should help drive down prices soon.

Author Chuck Martin has another business advice book from Biblio Distribution called Coffee at Luna's: a Business Fable that contains "three secrets to knowledge, self-improvement and happiness in your work in life." Martin says people are working more hours than ever.

Chuck Martin audio 1

Martin says his book is an attempt to help executives balance their lives.

Chuck Martin audio 2

Martin says it's a hard concept to sell--working less and producing more.

Chuck Martin audio 3

The book is a fable, but is based on research over the past two years. Martin says more than 25 senior executives and managers read a draft version of the book for input and validation.

Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has entered the prison where he will serve the remainder of his eight-year sentence on tax evasion and fraud. The Interfax news agency says Khodorkovsky's family would be notified by mail about where he had been taken. A spokeswoman for the Federal Prisons Service says he was being moved to a prison colony. Observers say the case against Khodorkovsky and placing Yukos partly under government control was Kremlin-driven punishment for his funding of opposition parties in the run-up to parliamentary elections in 2003.

Texans needn't worry about a housing bubble, according to the Texas Association of Realtors. The group says employment gains and rising home prices are evidence of a stable market. The association says the state's median price of an existing home has risen almost 25 percent in five years, and the state's labor market has seen a net gain of more than 65,000 jobs in less than two years.

Prisma Energy has completed the sale of its 50 percent interest in SK-Enron to a group of buyers. SK-Enron is a joint venture that was established between Enron and SK Corporation in 1999. SK-Enron is the leading distributor of natural gas in South Korea and imports and markets liquified petroleum gas. Prisma manages interests in a group of 15 energy assets in 11 countries.

The list of potential witnesses in the high-profile trial of former Enron executives is a long one. That list of 700 won't be nearly as long once attorneys make their final decisions. But it does offer a glimpse of who could testify. The fraud and conspiracy trial for Enron founder Kenneth Lay, former CEO Jeffrey Skilling and former top accountant Richard Causey is scheduled to start in January. They are being tried for their roles in the company's December 2001 collapse. Potential witnesses include: former Enron Finance Chief Andrew Fastow. He pleaded guilty in January 2004 to accounting fraud, including the charge of funneling millions of dollars to himself; Wendy Gramm, an Enron director in the years before the company's collapse; Sherron Watkins, the whistle-blower who warned lay of impending doom shortly after Skilling resigned.

The Texas Forest Service estimates that high winds that roared into Texas with Hurricane Rita damaged 771,000 acres of timber, valued at $833 million. After surveying his 250-acre tree farm in Magnolia Springs, Danny Elder said "it got me pretty bad.'' An official with the Texas Forestry Association says that a task force was formed with a goal of salvaging 40 percent of the timber. But rescuing the timber needs to be done quickly. Defects form within weeks of a tree being downed. Unfortunately, a shortage of loggers and sawmills is slowing the rescue mission. Elder, for example, is getting call after call from people looking for a place to send their pine and hardwood trees. He has a list of 30 names, but says he may only be able to help a few. His sawmill can't handle anything extra. Other area sawmills are either in the same situation or without power.

International entertainment company Sanctuary Group says it'll cut its work force by 25 percent worldwide after a series of profit warnings. Sanctuary represents artists including Elton John, the Manic Street Preachers and Iron Maiden. It says it plans to cut 175 positions worldwide to cut costs. The company has offices in Houston, as well as in London, Los Angeles, New York and Berlin.

Continental Airlines said today that it paid $84 million into its defined-benefit pension plans, bringing this year's contributions to $304 million. The airline said the latest payment means the Houston-based carrier has met its minimum required contribution for the year. Continental's chairman and chief executive, Larry Kellner, says the payment shows that the airline is working hard to fulfill its obligations and keep promises to employees. The carrier is the nation's fifth-largest. Fort Worth-based American Airlines is the largest. Both have been seeking more time to make required pension contributions. They objected to a bill in the U. S. Senate that would have given Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines more time to make pension contributions. Both of those have filed for bankruptcy protection. Last week, key Senators agreed to add Continental and American to the relief measure. But the legislation's fate is unclear because a House version of the bill doesn't cover airlines.

A consultant hired by American Airlines says the nation's biggest carrier would lose 36 percent of its business in Dallas if Southwest Airlines begins operating long-haul flights from Love Field. Virginia-based Eclat Consulting said today that expanding flights at Love Field would hurt traffic at nearby Dallas Fort Worth International Airport because low-cost carriers would shift flights to Love Field to compete with Southwest. According to the consultant, the overall number of flights in and out of North Texas would then decrease. American's report was intended to reinforce its case against repealing limits that Congress placed on Love Field in 1979. But the study also highlighted the financial importance of the fight to American. A consultant for Southwest estimated in May that American could lose up to $300 million a year if forced to compete with Southwest. Southwest's consultant said that opening Love Field could save passengers $700 million a year and travel to Texas would increase.

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