Tuesday November 15th, 2005

Despite hurricane, homes sales in Houston continue strong showing...Crews work to stabilize capsized leaking oil barge in Port Arthur...Houston mayor searching for company to build WiFi network to blanket downtown...

Total sales for single-family homes in Houston increased by 12 percent to 5,236 for October, according to the Houston Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service. This follows two weeks of relative inactivity in September from Hurricane Rita. Properties sold during the month reached a total of more than $1.1 billion--a 21.7 percent increase compared to last year's more than $900 million in October sales. Year-to-date property sales have reached 66,040--an increase of nine percent over the same period of 2004. Houston is seeing increases not only in total property sales, but also in average sales prices, median sales prices, available inventory, pending sales and overall total dollar volume on a year-over-year basis. The overall median price for single-family homes reached $142,000 in October--an increase of 7.2 percent compared to the previous year. The average price is up 8.6 percent to reach $189,141.


Crews are working to stabilize a leaking oil barge after it capsized overnight in the Gulf of Mexico. The 441-foot barge left Houston late Thursday en route to Tampa, Florida when it hit debris in the water about 100 miles east of Galveston. That gouged a 30-by-six-foot hole in the starboard bow. The Coast Guard and other responding crews erected a containment boom around the vessel. But the Coast Guard says progressive flooding caused the barge to list onto its side yesterday afternoon and capsize last night. The Coast Guard says the barge isn't obstructing marine traffic. There's no estimate of how much of the 300,000 gallons of oil has leaked from a damaged tank on the vessel. But at one point, officials estimated about 10,000 gallons of heavy oil leaked. Salvage and clean-up crews have suspended work on barge as a windy cold front approaches, threatening to bring high seas to the scene. The double-hulled tank barge is owned by K-Sea Transportation of New York.


NASA has formed the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project Office to spur private industry to provide cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. Boeing is NASA's prime contractor for the International Space Station. The ISS should be completed by about 2010 and is projected to be operating through 2017, according to Boeing's John Elbon, the ISS vice president and program manager.

John Elbon audio 1

Boeing hopes the space station will have a longer life.

John Elbon audio 2

The ISS is used to conduct research to support human exploration of space and to utilize space as a laboratory for scientific, technological, and commercial research.

FEMA will stop paying for hotel rooms for most evacuees of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on December 1st. The agency is pushing victims to find more stable housing. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates about 53,000 families remain in hotels--mostly in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi. Katrina slammed parts of the Gulf Coast in late August--swamping New Orleans along the way. Rita made landfall September 24th near Sabine Pass. FEMA previously set the December deadline as a goal to have evacuees out of hotels and into travel trailers, mobile homes or apartments until they find permanent homes. Today's announcement is the first time FEMA said it will cease directly paying for hotel rooms that have cost at least $250 million since the storms struck. FEMA granted exceptions to evacuees in hotels in Louisiana and Mississippi, where there's a housing shortage. Evacuees in those states have until January 7th to find homes.


The turnaround expert who guided Enron through bankruptcy says his work is worth $25 million. Stephen Cooper today told a bankruptcy judge in New York that he thinks it's been a remarkable success. The hearing involves Cooper's request for a "success fee,'' as well as final fee, and expense requests from lawyers, accountants and other professionals in the case. Cooper has been Enron's interim CEO since January of 2002. The judge will consider approving Cooper's request and more than $689 million in final fee and expense requests from others. Enron emerged from Chapter 11 protection about one year ago. Cooper's firm credits itself for wrapping up the case in three years.


Mayor Bill White says Houston will begin looking in March for a company to finance and build a wireless Internet network to blanket downtown. Mayor White says no tax dollars will be used to create a broadband wireless network, and having a private company behind the project could help avoid battles with telecommunications companies opposed to municipal WiFi. City government would use the wireless network at low or no cost, and the company could sell airtime to residents and businesses, while using Houston's easements and rights of ways for WiFi antennas and equipment.


PreCash has introduced an upgrade to its online application used by retailers across the country. WebConnect 2.0 decreases the steps retailers take to execute cash-based transactions, including deposits, bill payment, prepaid wireless and prepaid debit. The company says the application can offer a level of protection for smaller stores that is comparable to the internal security programs at large national retailers. PreCash provides electronic access to the payment system to the more than 65 million Americans who do not use credit cards or bank accounts, turning cash into electronic payments.


Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle ordered that executives from the nation's five largest oil companies be subpoenaed to talk about higher energy prices. They'll be summoned to appear at a hearing and answer questions about soaring gasoline and natural gas prices after Hurricane Katrina. But Erin Roth with the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the five companies, says Doyle should wait for Congress and federal investigators to complete their own reviews. The companies subpoenaed are Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP and Shell Oil. Doyle estimates Wisconsin consumers overpaid by as much as $113 million in the three months after Katrina--while oil companies reported record profits.


Lockheed Martin Aeronautics will continue to reduce its F-16 fighter jet work force in Fort Worth next year. The company plans to lays off about 300 employees on January 16th. The cutbacks are attributed to fewer orders. The move will leave the division of Maryland-based Lockheed Martin with about 4,000 employees working on the F-16. Company spokesman Joe Stout says they're coming up on a time when the delivery rates will be lower than they are today. The layoffs reflect company's previously stated intentions to cut the F-16 work force. The company still employs about 15,000 in Fort Worth and expects to stay in that range as work on the F-35 increases.


Raytheon today announced it's won a $1.3 billion Army contract to develop and test a new radar system. The system is designed to protect troops from cruise missile attacks. The agreement is the second large contract this year for Raytheon's Massachusetts-based Integrated Defense Systems business. The group in May won a $3 billion contract to develop radar and communications for an advanced Navy destroyer. The new contract is part of the military's seven-year-old program called J-Lens--Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System. About two-thirds of the work will be done at Raytheon sites in Andover and Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Other work will be done in California, Maryland and Texas. System testing is scheduled to begin in 2009. Completion is expected in 2011.


Houston-based medical waste management services provider Medserve has acquired Engineered Recovery Systems of Shawnee, Kansas, according to the Houston Business Journal. Medserve says the purchase gives it 3,000 new customers and presence in several new states, including Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa. Medserve was created in September through the merger of Houston firms Med-Shred and Enserv.


Houston-based independent oil and gas company Burlington Resources is acquiring assets of an unnamed privately-held company in a $400 million deal. Burlington says the deal will boost its production in an East Texas producing region, and it will gain additional exploratory rights in the area and related proprietary 3D seismic data.


J.C. Penney today reported a 57 percent surge in its third-quarter profits--citing an improved operating performance and lower interest expense. The Plano-based department store chain reports a net income of $234 million for the three months ended October 29th. Sales edged up two percent to $4.48 billion. The company forecast earnings from continuing operations of $1.58 per share in the fourth quarter and $3.51 per share for the year. Last year, it reported a profit of $2.20 per share. The estimates are in line with analysts' current average estimates for both the current quarter and full year.


Union workers were back on the job today in Arizona and Texas following resolution of a four-month strike at Asarco copper facilities. The company, which is going through bankruptcy reorganization, is seeking to resume production to take advantage of copper prices topping $2 per pound. Many workers reported for shifts at Asarco's five facilities in Arizona and its refinery in Amarillo. United Steelworkers Regional Director Terry Bonds, who headed negotiations on behalf of seven unions, says some workers in Amarillo reported last night. Nearly 1,500 hourly production workers are expected to return to their jobs over the next few weeks. A bankruptcy judge in Corpus Christi this week approved a contract agreement.


Earl Abel's Restaurant, which has been a fixture at the corner of Broadway and Hildebrand avenue in North San Antonio for 65 years, will soon pass into history. The retro diner's retro menu featuring fried chicken, mashed potatoes and homemade pies have been a familiar staple to generations of San Antonio residents and soldiers stationed there. Now comes word that San Antonio development group Koontz McCombs plans to demolish the restaurant near Brackenridge Park as soon as January. Restaurant owner Jerry Abel, whose father founded what at one time was a chain of Earl Abel's Restaurants, says a 25-story condo tower is planned for the site. Earl Abel opened his first namesake diner on North Main Avenue in 1933 after he lost his job as a theater organist during the depression. It was at Earl Abel's that legendary Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez punched a fellow diner in 1986--allegedly after the diner had called the San Antonio Democrat a communist. The development partnership is headed by San Antonio billionaire Red McCombs.


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