Monday November 28th, 2005

British bankers fight extradition on Enron-related fraud charges...Overall sales on "Black Friday'' relatively unchanged compared to last year, according to International Council of Shopper Centers...Crews begin dismantling rides at Astroworld...

Three British bankers today began their appeal in Britain's High Court of their extradition to the United States on Enron-related fraud charges. The British government granted the U.S. extradition request for Natwest bankers David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby in May on the advice of the Lower District Court. However, the three contend it would be a breach of their human rights to hand them over to the American authorities. They also argue that the alleged charges aren't extradition offenses, and that forcing them to stand trial in the United States would be unjust because of the passage of time. The three bankers are former executives at Royal Bank of Scotland Group unit Greenwich Natwest. They were charged in the United States in 2002 with bilking National Westminster Bank of more than $7 million in a scheme allegedly engineered by Andrew Fastow. At the time, Fastow was finance chief of Enron.

It seems the official holiday shopping season has gotten off to a lukewarm start. A national research group that monitors retail sales says overall sales on "Black Friday'' were relatively unchanged compared to a year ago. That's despite heavier discounting and expanded hours that drew a surge of shoppers to stores in the early morning hours. There was one bright spot. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, said its sales exceeded expectations. Shoppertrak RCT Corporation of Chicago tracks total sales at more than 45,000 retail outlets. Shoppertrak reported total sales on the day after Thanksgiving at $8 billion, down nine-tenths of a percent from the same day in 2004. The chief economist for the International Council of Shopping Centers says that while yesterday's numbers are a bit flat, they may be misleading, because 2004 was so strong.

Crews have begun to dismantle the once-thrilling rides at Houston's famed Astroworld. The decades-old amusement park closed last month. Oklahoma-based Six Flags plans to sell the 109-acre site. Property values in the area have doubled over the last five years. Astroworld opened in 1968.

Hurricane evacuees have until Wednesday to file for disaster unemployment insurance. The 30-day registration period for benefits was extended to 60 days. The Texas Workforce Commission administers the program, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the U.S. Department of Labor.

The percentage of Texas workers with a college degree will decrease if current trends continue, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, based in San Jose, California. The report says the personal income of state residents will decline over the next 15 years as a result. It finds that if Texas does not improve the education of Hispanics and African-Americans, the percentage of the state workforce with less than a high school diploma is projected to increase, while the percentage with an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree is expected to decline. If current trends continue, personal income per capita in Texas is projected to decline from $19,663 in 2000 to $18,708 in 2020--a drop of $955 or five percent in real terms.

Houston-based TexCom is building a new 30 million gallon-per-year biodiesel plant in Corpus Christi. TexCom has signed a lease agreement with Puerto Los Caballeros Properties for the site. The company is securing funding for the biodiesel process unit with plans to begin construction by the end of the year and having it operational by the end of next year. It will include the capability to store conventional petroleum diesel, allowing TexCom to blend and market B20 and other biodiesel blends. Feedstock will be virgin soybean oil. Another biodiesel plant is planned at the LBC Houston Terminal at Seabrook.

New rules have been proposed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to allow cities in Texas to better compete for the FutureGen project. The proposed rules are now with the Texas Register for public comment. Texas is trying to secure the $1 billion Department of Energy initiative to design, build and operate a 275-megawatt energy facility that produces electricity and hydrogen from coal with near-zero emissions. The proposed rules would streamline the state permitting process so that Texas can meet the DOE timeline for citing the FutureGen project.

HM Partnership has sold three local Marriott hotels to North Carolina-based Winston Hotels for an undisclosed amount, according to the Houston Business Journal. The properties include the Courtyard by Marriott near Hewlett-Packard, the TownePlace Suites adjacent to the Houston Courtyard by Marriott and the TownePlace Suites Clear Lake. The divestiture of the six-property portfolio includes hotels in Byran/College Station, Austin and Birmingham, Alabama.

SpectraCell Laboratories has moved into its new $2.5 million facility on Town Park Drive at the Oak Park development in Westchase, according to the Houston Business Journal. The expansion accommodates additional laboratory equipment and office space. SpectraCell is a clinical lab providing blood testing services, including tests for deficiencies of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants at the cellular level.

Houston-based CyrusOne is providing IT services to Texas Medical Center member institutions, including broadband connections for voice, data and video. The link enables TMC member institutions to connect to CyrusOne data centers for co-location, disaster recovery, business continuity, storage, backup and remote system and network management.

Fulbright & Jaworski is expanding into Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, according to the Houston Business Journal. The two offices give the Houston-based law firm 13 locations with some 940 lawyers. The new offices will focus on international transactions, energy, project finance, defense procurement, hospitality, tourism and international dispute resolution and arbitration.

Kimberly-Clark is better known for making Kleenex tissues and Huggies disposable diapers. But now, the Irving-based paper products maker is cashing in on the craze for home makeover projects by adapting some of its paper and plastic products to the weekend do-it-yourselfer. The remodeling business is booming, with profits soaring at chains such as Home Depot and Lowes. The fix-up frenzy has lifted sales of paint and power tools. It also has boosted sales of face masks, coveralls, drop clothes and paper shop towels. That's turning a little-noticed Kimberly-Clark sideline into a $100 million a year business. Some of the do-it-yourself products carry the Scott brand, others the Kimberly-Clark name. Whatever they're called, the company says sales of the products are rising by double-digit percentages each year. The company predicts the business will double in three years. That still leaves do-it-yourself accounting for only a tiny fraction of Kimberly-Clark total sales.

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