Tuesday January 3rd, 2006

Russians and Ukrainians to discuss natural gas prices...Robert Half International says financial hiring in Houston expected to outpace national average...Hyperdynamics moving corporate offices to Sugar Land...

Russian and Ukrainian officials plan to resume talks aimed at resolving a dispute over the price of natural gas. The issue has reverberated across Europe and has left Ukraine cut off from supplies. A spokesman for Russia's state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom tells the Associated Press that Ukrainian officials were on their way to Moscow. He did not specify who would be taking part but said the talks would be "at a sufficiently high level.'' Gazprom cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine on Sunday after the country refused to meet its demand for a four-fold price increase, although the new rate is still lower than market prices. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Gazprom want to end preferential gas prices for Ukraine that have been in place since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Steve Milloy with the Free Enterprise Action Fund says Putin is pricing natural gas politically, and not in a market way.

Steve Milloy audio

Russia supplies about one-quarter of the gas consumed in Europe and 80 percent of that goes through Ukraine. Gazprom promised to turn up the volume to compensate for the falloff. The European countries most affected--Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia--report supplies are back to normal today.

A State Department spokesman says Russia's recent tightening of natural gas flowing through Ukraine "raises questions'' about using energy to wield political influence. Sean McCormack says Russia's decision to restore the flow of gas today doesn't resolve the issue. The clampdown by the energy company Gazprom Limited Gas Supplies in Europe. The pipeline carries about 80 percent of russian gas exports to the west. McCormack says the gas slowdown comes as ukraine prepared for parliamentary elections. But the State Department official says he isn't trying to pin a motive on Russia for the supply limits.

Robert Half International says financial hiring activity in the Houston area is expected to outpace the national average. RHI's Kris Steider says the survey shows that nine percent of executives expect increased hiring.

Kris Steider audio 1

Steider says there are several reasons why financial hiring could be increasing this year.

Kris Steider audio 2

Houston's financial hiring picture is up two points from last quarter and nine points above the national average. Some 200 Houston-area CFO's from a random sample of companies with 20 or more employees were polled.

The first passenger flights on Southwest Airlines from Denver International Airport have departed. Flights to Las Vegas and Chicago's Midway Airport have begun. The Dallas-based low-fare airline--which is new to Denver--will also offer a Denver to Phoenix service, for a total of 13 daily flights. Yesterday, a Southwest plane rolled up to DIA, in a ceremony with an erupting water cannon and cheering employees. Southwest will challenge Denver-based Frontier, which also serves Las Vegas, Chicago and Phoenix among its nearly 50 U.S. destinations. Southwest offered service at the now-closed Stapleton International Airport in Denver until 1986, when it left because of high costs. Southwest avoided DIA after it opened in 1995, again citing costs. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly says the time was right for Southwest to return, with lower airport fees and other favorable market conditions.

Hyperdynamics is moving its corporate offices to Sugar Land from its current facility on Bissonnet, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Houston-based oil and gas company settled a lawsuit with its previous landlord, resulting in a walk-away agreement abating an early termination penalty. The company is moving out of its current facility by January 21st, and will temporarily locate on Sugar Grove in Stafford until offices in Sugar Land are ready. Hyperdynamics owns the rights to explore offshore West Africa.

Homeland Security grants are being handed out to counter terrorism as well as other dangers, including natural disasters. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced this morning that more money will be directed at areas facing multiple threats. He said the department is "talking about areas and not cities.'' Specifically, there are 35 areas that encompass 95 cities with populations of 100,000 people or more. Among the metro areas on the list are Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio. The Houston zone includes Pasadena and a ten-mile buffer extending from the border around both cities. It's part of $765 million in the annual urban area security initiative grants. Changes address both the destruction and lack of preparedness seen during Hurricane Katrina. In past years, the grants generally have gone to the nation's 50 largest cities for terror-related security measures.

A purchasing executives group says manufacturing continued to expand last month, but at a slower pace. The Institute for Supply Management says its business index fell to 54.2, a decline of about 3.5 points from November. Any number above 50 indicates growth. Measures of both new orders and production also reflected slowing growth. The ISM's survey chief Norbert Ore says despite the decline, the outlook continues to point to continuing economic growth.

East Texas poultry giant Pilgrim's Pride said today its first-quarter earnings will fall more than 50 percent short of its prior expectations. The Pittsburg, Texas-based poultry producer also said it was withdrawing its earnings outlook for the full fiscal 2006 and will cut about 300 jobs at a Pennsylvania plant. The company blamed worse-than-expected performance by its operations in Mexico and lower prices received on chicken leg quarters in its U.S. operations. Company president and CEO O.B. Goolsby blamed public fears over Avian flu for reduced demand. Pilgrim's pride hasn't yet revised its full-year earnings guidance, but it planned to do so when it releases its first-quarter 2006 financial statement on January 23rd.

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