Tuesday June 6th, 2006

Downtown office space changes hands...Kinder Morgan buyout challenged by two state court lawsuits...Continental Airlines orders ten additional Boeing 787 Dreamliners and 24 more Boeing Next-Generation 737 NG aircraft...

Toronto-based Brookfield Properties and the Blackstone investment group are acquiring Chicago-based Trizec Properties and its Canadian subsidiary in a $4.8 billion deal. Trizec owns 6.2 million square feet of office space in downtown Houston, including the Allen Center and Cullen Center.

Houston and other major Texas cities posted decreases in May's average apartment occupancy levels, but occupancy remains above 90 percent, with Austin recording the highest rate at slightly over 93 percent occupancy. O'Connor & Associates reports Houston had a May occupancy rate of 90.57 percent. Average rent in Houston is $702.15, which is up $1.12 from the previous month. Rentals in Houston average 82.5 cents per square foot.

The $13.5 billion management-led buyout of Kinder Morgan is being challenged by two state court lawsuits, according to the Houston Chronicle. Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins filed suit to block the deal on behalf of KMI shareholders and Wechsler Harwood filed a lawsuit in Kansas on behalf of a California-based shareholder. The lawsuits claim the buyout group tailored terms of the deal to meet its own needs rather than seeking the highest price available for stockholders. The buyout proposal was announced on May 29th, with management team and board members, including Chairman and CEO Richard Kinder, said they would team with institutional investors for the purchase.

Continental Airlines has ordered ten additional Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, bringing to 20 the number of 787s the company has ordered, making Continental the largest U.S. customer for Boeing's new widebody aircraft. Continental will also acquire 24 more Boeing Next-Generation 737 NG aircraft, which will bring the number of that model in its fleet to 213. Continental says it's hoping to increase its ability to serve long-haul routes while removing gas-guzzling planes from its fleet. In addition, chief executive Larry Kellner says the airline still plans to expand its passenger-carrying capacity between five and seven percent per year.

The American Civil Liberties Union, some small telecommunications companies and Sprint Nextel have joined to oppose AT&T's bid to acquire BellSouth. Details are in filings with the Federal Communications Commission. AT&T is based in San Antonio. The ACLU wants the FCC to hold up approval of the merger until the phone companies settle allegations that they released customer information to the National Security Agency. But AT&T spokesman Michael Coe says there's little overlap between the two companies and competition is well established in markets where both operate. The ACLU also seeks to end the alleged NSA spying program--first reported by USA Today. The story claims AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon Communications have been releasing customer information to the government. The companies deny doing anything illegal.

Port of Bilbao officialsOfficials of Spain's Port of Bilbao have been visiting Houston as part of a trade mission to establish stronger connections and business relationships between companies in Houston and Spain. The group is headed by Jose Corres, chairman of the Bilbao Port Authority. Uniport Bilbao, on the northern coast of Spain, is made up of 144 companies and institutions involved in port development. The delegation toured facilities at the Port of Houston on Monday.

Governor Rick Perry will host the Houston Small Business Summit and Procurement Fair on June 20th at the Westin Galleria, sponsored by the Greater Houston Partnership. The summit will cover how to get financing from various sources, how to develop your workforce, payroll tax and tax credits, how to get healthcare and how to do business with the state. State agency procurement officers will be on hand, able to offer state contracts on the spot.

Sentencing of several former Enron employees is set to occur over the next several months, following their testimony leading to the convictions of Enron founder Ken Lay and ex-CEO Jeff Skilling. Former Enron finance executive Larry Lawyer is scheduled to be sentenced June 26th. The former head of Enron's wholesale and retail trading divisions, David Delainey, will be sentenced July 10th. The sentencing of former chief financial officer Andy Fastow, whose off-the-books partnerships helped bring about Enron's collapse, is set for August 28th. He faces a ten-year sentence in a plea bargain. Former managing director Michael Kopper will be sentenced September 22nd. Former investor relations executive Mark Koenig will be sentenced October 27th.

Cricket Communications has entered the Houston market, offering flat-rate, unlimited cell phone service. Cricket's 11 new retail outlets offer unlimited minutes with no long-term commitments. The firm presented a $25,000 donation to Playgrounds Without Limits in a press event today at Sam Houston Park.

Hewlett-Packard says it has reached a favorable tax settlement with the U.S. government that is prompting a restatement of second-quarter profits upward by $443 million. The settlement, reached on June 1st, also prompted the company to boost its full-year outlook. The computer and printer maker says the settlement, adding 15 cents to per-share earnings, stemmed from an audit of the company's returns for the years 1996 through 1998. The deal was reached before HP filed its financial statement for the second quarter, which closed at the end of April, requiring HP to account for the gain in that period.

A state district court jury in Dallas has returned a $64 million verdict against a north Texas travel agency for consumer deception. A statement issued today by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office says the jury found Sun Country Travel and its controllers liable for deceptive sale and advertising practices. The jury also found that the company violated state and federal "do not call'' laws, which prohibit unsolicited telephone marketing calls to people who have registered to block them. The AG's statement says the defendants must pay $15.2 million in civil penalties and $49 million in restitution. Sun Country Travel is now out of business, said Dallas lawyer John E. Collins, who represents co-defendant David Vavro, who was an investor in the agency. He says Vavro will appeal if the trial judge doesn't set the verdict aside. No telephone listings could be found for co-defendants Jerry L. McDonald, Sr., and Jerry L. McDonald, Jr.

The Texas Rangers officials hope to boost sales of hot dogs and beer this summer with a better team and new credit card terminals at concession stands. The players are doing their part as the Rangers are in first place in the American League West. And credit-card sales are accounting for about ten to 12 percent of concession sales so far, which club officials also consider a hit. Rangers Vice President for Sales Brad Alberts says "it's easier for the fans, it's quicker for the fans, and people will probably spend more money.'' The concession-stand terminals are part of Chase Bank's effort to expand the use of contactless cards that don't need to be swiped through a reader, just held near the device. Chase put terminals in movie theaters in Denver, a hockey arena in Atlanta and at convenience stores. The technology is similar to that used for several years at some gasoline stations. Many motorists in Dallas and other cities use it to pay highway tolls without stopping at a tollbooth.

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