Wednesday December 14th 2005

Supply managers expect continued economic growth in 2006...Online retailers step up discounting as deadlines near for guaranteed delivery before Christmas...Trade deficit shoots to record high on soaring oil shipments...

Economic growth in the United States will continue in 2006, according to the nation's purchasing and supply management executives. The Institute for Supply Management says expectations are at relatively high levels for both manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors. The projections are part of the 70th semi-annual economic forecast issued by the Business Survey Committee of the ISM. University of Houston-Downtown Supply Chain Management Program Coordinator Ralph Kauffman is chairman of the ISM Non-Manufacturing Business Survey Committee. Those polled in the manufacturing sector expect a 5.4 percent net increase in overall revenues for 2006, compared to a 7.3 percent increase reported for 2005. Non-manufacturing supply management executives expect their revenues to increase by 6.6 percent next year, compared to a 5.8 percent increase in 2005.

Online retailers have stepped up discounting as deadlines near for free shipping and guaranteed delivery before Christmas. This week, the Bluefly Web site, which sells discounted designer clothing, is offering an extra 20 percent each day on different apparel categories, from sweaters to outerwear. And gourmet food retailer Harry & David is offering a deal where shoppers can buy one item and get the second one at half price. Online merchants are increasing the come-ons to seal what they expect will be a strong season. For the 39-day period that ended last Friday, non-travel spending online totaled $12.75 billion, a 23 percent gain over the $10.38 billion posted during the same period a year ago, according to Comscore Networks, an internet research company. Traditional brick-and-mortar store owners are waiting for the final shopping push next week to see how their sales turn out.

The nation's trade deficit shot to a record high in October on soaring oil shipments. In addition, the U.S. set deficit records with China, Europe, Canada and Mexico. According to the Commerce Department, the gap between what America sells overseas and what it buys surged 4.4 percent to an all-time high $68.9 billion. The old record of $66 billion was set the month before. The increase in October came as a surprise to many economists, who were expecting it to drop by about $3 billion. So far this year, the trade deficit is running at an annual rate of $718 billion, well ahead of last year's $617.6 billion red ink entry.

The battle for Six Flags is over after four months. New chairman Daniel Snyder, who also owns the Washington Redskins, today removed the theme park company from the auction block and named Mark Shapiro to the top executive post. According to a company press release, Six Flags received no formal bids to purchase before the submission deadline, and has therefore ended the sale process. Six Flags also named former Congressman Jack Kemp and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein as directors. The Oklahoma City-based amusement park chain has parks in Arlington and San Antonio.

Loans made to Enron by banks the company says committed fraud, and that were than sold by the banks to investors, should be subordinate to all other claims. That's what Credit Investment News says U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur Gonzalez has ruled. He says buyers of bonds and credit default swaps should be treated similarly. The judge says his ruling would make it easier for the debtor, which wouldn't need to sue the banks in question to recover losses.

Adopting a statewide sales tax for education and new taxes on cigarettes, gambling and gasoline are among ideas aired at a hearing in Victoria. The three-hour hearing was conducted yesterday by a task force that will make reform recommendations to the legislature. The Texas Supreme Court has declared the property tax system that supports schools unconstitutional. It gave the legislature until June 1st to come up with a new way to pay for education. Under the current system, nicknamed Robin Hood, more than $1 billion in property tax revenues collected from property-rich districts are redistributed to property-poor districts. The share-the-wealth aspect of the system was not challenged in the lawsuit but could be diminished somewhat if lawmakers reduce the state's dependence on property taxes.

An unnamed European-based institutional investor has bought a five percent interest in Houston-based network security company Exobox, according to the Houston Business Journal. Exobox was formed just three years ago to provide software security protecting against cyber threats to individuals, corporations and government agencies.

Shareholders of Spinnaker Exploration have approved a merger with a subsidiary of Norwegian petroleum and aluminum producer Norsk Hydro. Houston-based Spinnaker is being acquired for $2.45 billion.

HCC Insurance Holdings has closed on the acquisition of MIC Life Insurance, according to the Houston Business Journal. MIC Life is being renamed Perico Life Insurance.

Continental Airlines has begun daily nonstop flights between the airline's hub at George Bush Intercontinental airport to Buenos Aires, Argentina. That's the Houston-based air carrier's ninth destination in South America and 77th Latin American/Caribbean destination.

St. Luke's Episcopal Health System plans to build a 24-hour-a-day minor emergency center in Pearland on Country Place Parkway, north of FM 518. Construction is set to begin early next year and opening is slated for late Fall 2006. St. Luke's operates two other minor emergency centers on San Felipe and West Holcombe.

A group of physicians is constructing a medical office building near Katy, on the Grand Parkway just north of Interstate 10. The Katy Medical Arts Building will be sited next to Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital that is currently under construction. The office building breaks ground in March is is expected to be completed by December 2006.

Northeast Medical Center in Humble has opened a newly-revamped $1 million endoscopy center, according to the Houston Business Journal.

The law firm of Jones Walker has opened an office in downtown Houston, leasing sp[ace on the 66th floor of the JP Morgan Chase Tower on Travis, according to the Houston Business Journal. The firm also has offices in The Woodlands, as well as Louisiana, Florida and Washington, D.C.

As many as 11,000 Dallas County women could lose access to postpartum care and birth control next year. That's the view of doctors from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas after word came that three neighborhood clinics would close. The doctors are running the program for Parkland Memorial Hospital. They blame an almost 25 percent cut in federal funding distributed by the state next year. The loss totals $1.7 million. Parkland's board of managers yesterday urged UT Southwestern not to cut the program but look elsewhere for money. Hospital officials say they'd consider trying to raise $1 million in private donations to keep it going. A 2003 state law outlawed giving family planning funds to organizations that provide abortions on demand. UT Southwestern leaders worried about possibly violating the law because some of its doctors practice at hospitals where elective abortions are performed.

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