Wednesday October 26th, 2005

Downtown Entertainment District sets up another World Series viewing party in Market Square Park...Schlumberger moving headquarters to Houston from New York City...Tanox reporting positive clinical trial results for HIV drug candidate...

The Downtown Entertainment District once again is inviting Houstonians to view the fourth World Series game in Market Square Park and the adjacent parking lot. Large screens are set up, and patrons are invited to bring blankets and folding lawn chairs. No outside coolers, beverages or pets are allowed at the event, which is sponsored by the City of Houston, Central Houston and Downtown District. There are lane closures surrounding the festival perimeter on Travis, Congress, Milam and Prairie beginning at 4 p.m. Preston between Milam and Travis will be closed. Main Street between Rusk and Congress will also close to traffic. Event parking is available at Market Square Garage on Milam and the Chase Garage on Travis.

T-shirt sellers can make a killing on the World Series. Beer joints and sports bars have little trouble filling their seats. Parking near Minute Maid Park can set you back $50 a space. Beyond that, baseball's big finish isn't much of a cash cow for its host cities. But that's OK--in Houston, the attention is good enough. Lynne Liberato--a board member for the Greater Houston Partnership--says that the real benefit of big sports events is the attention they direct at Houston. Last year the Super Bowl attracted thousands to Houston for the New England Patriots' 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

Schlumberger is moving its U. S. headquarters to Houston from New York City. The company will continue to maintain corporate offices in Paris and in The Hague in the Netherlands. Fewer than 100 workers are based at Schlumberger's New York headquarters. The company has not yet picked a location in Houston. Schlumberger says its focus on growth in oilfield services will be enhanced by a closer proximity of its corporate office to key engineering and operational facilities. Schlumberger employs about 8,000 in the Houston area.

Tanox is reporting positive clinical trial results for its HIV drug candidate. The Houston-based biopharmaceutical firm says the 24-week study shows that TNX-355 produced a considerably greater reduction in levels of HIV in the bloodstream in HIV-infected patients than a placebo.

Halliburton has settled $1 billion out of the estimated $1.4 billion in disputed billings under the Restore Iraqi Oil contract with the U. S. military. Six of ten "task orders" being challenged by Pentagon auditors have been settled in the company's favor, according to Chairman and CEO David Lesar. Most orders dealt primarily with fuel that its KBR subsidiary provided.

In California today, an attorney says that the owner of Southern California's two major gas utilities conspired with a Texas company to divvy up California's electricity markets. Pierce O'Donnell, who represents consumers in a class action lawsuit against the utilities and its parent company Sempra Energy, says that sparked a power crisis in 2000-2001. O'Donnell says the plan was hatched in a Phoenix hotel room in September 1996. O'Donnell spoke during his opening statements in a jury trial. The suit against Southern California Gas and San Diego Gas and Electric--along with parent Sempra--accuses the companies' executives of meeting at the hotel to carve up markets with a competitor, El Paso Corporation. Texas-based El Paso settled the case and other complaints involving California's energy crisis for $1.6 billion in 2003. Sempra representatives were not at that meeting. Eleven executives have all filed sworn depositions denying a conspiracy. An executive for Sempra Energy dismissed the allegation as "nonsense.''

The U. S. Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration has formed an alliance with the Gypsum Association at the group's fall meeting at The Woodlands. The alliance is to foster safe and healthful aggregate operations nationwide. to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. The Gypsum Association is a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C. that represents ten manufacturers of gypsum board in the United States and Canada and provides technical information and assistance to the construction industry.

Houston-based Manhattan Construction has paid $163,782 in back wages and fringe benefits to 44 ironworkers after the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division found that subcontractor D'Ambra Construction of Houston had underpaid the workers. The investigation centered on work at a transportation unit of the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Mayor Bill White and Greater Houston Partnership Chairman Jodie Giles are leading a delegation of Houston business leaders on a New York City media tour October 31st and November 1st. The tour will focus on energy, disaster preparedness and Houston as a business magnet, as well as the region's emergence in information technology and biotechnology/nanotechnology.

Businesses awarded federal contracts to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina will have to pay their crew the going wage. The Bush administration has reinstated that regulation, after waiving it in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Congressman Peter King was one of the lawmakers who met with the White House Chief of Staff to make the argument for reinstating the regulation. King tells the Associated Press "it was bad policy and bad politics'' to waive it in the first place. He says "there's no need to antagonize organized labor.'' When President Bush suspended the requirement, he said it would help reduce rebuilding costs and give minority-owned businesses more opportunity. But critics said it would result in lower pay for workers. The wage is usually close to what union workers make.

American Airlines said it was operating five flights to Mexico today to bring out tourists stranded by Hurricane Wilma. American says after negotiating with the Mexican government and the Transportation Security Administration it was making three flights to Cancun, one to Cozumel and one to Merida. All were expected to return to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The airline says it will continue flying into Cancun the rest of the week, with four flights each tomorrow and Friday. American also planned one flight daily through Sunday into Cozumel but was uncertain about future flights to Merida. American also says it has resumed flying into its Miami hub, operating 125 departures today. That's about half the normal schedule.

ConocoPhillips today reports its third-quarter profit surged 89 percent. The Houston-based integrated oil and gas company says the improvement reflects strong prices for crude oil and natural gas. Earnings for the quarter that ended September 30th rose to $3.8 billion. One year ago ConocoPhillips earned $2 billion. ConocoPhillips Chairman Jim Mulva says Gulf Coast operations were "significantly impacted'' by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Dennis. Mulva says despite those impacts, the overall operating performance for the quarter was good.

Shares of movie-rental giant Blockbuster tumbled almost 16 percent today. The company disclosed it has asked lenders for "more flexibility'' in its credit agreements and plans to raise more capital to pay down debt. Blockbuster officials met yesterday in New York with representatives of its syndicate of lenders, led by JP Morgan. Company officials declined to say whether they reached agreement with the lenders. They also declined to say how much capital they plan to raise and whether that would be through issuing stock or by other means.

Federated Department Stores plans to consolidate credit centers acquired in its merger with May Department Stores into its main Credit Services Division in Ohio. Federated, which operates Macy's and Bloomingdale's, plans to close a Lorain division that employs 760 workers and a Parma center that employs 35. A center in Houston, which employs 380, also is slated to close. Up to 300 jobs will be added at the main Credit Services Center north of Cincinnati, which now employs about 2,000 workers. The company says the change will help with its goal of saving $175 million next year and $450 million in 2007 as a result of the merger.

Moscow-based Gazprom, the world's largest producer and exporter of natural gas, wants to buy interest in liquefied natural gas pipelines and terminals in the United States. Gazprom Deputy Chairman Alexander Medvedev says that, in exchange for that ownership, the company would allow western energy companies to have a part in developing the Shtokman Field in the Barents Sea. The chairman said in the Houston Chronicle that the company wants to be involved in all parts of the value chain. The chairman says that only companies that were willing to help Gazprom buy stakes in U. S. pipelines and terminals were put on a short list for the Shtokman project. He was in Houston as part of a Russia-U. S. energy symposium. Two U. S. companies, Houston-based ConocoPhillips and San Ramon, California-based Chevron, made the list.

Dell today announced an all-inclusive way to help consumers who've accidentally deleted photos or lost data because of a hard drive crash. Starting in November, Round Rock-based Dell will install its "Datasafe'' option on new Dimension E-310 and E-510 and XPS-400 desktop computers. For $99, consumers get a second, 80-gigabyte hard drive inside the computer which acts as a mirror--continually backing up data on the primary drive. Larger disk sizes are planned. A Dell spokesman says the idea is to make it simple for consumers. Included software will monitor the health of the drives and alert users to any problems. It also will let people restore their computer to an earlier point in time, should problems arise.

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