Tuesday August 8th, 2006

Analysts discuss BP shutdown of Alaska pipeline...Anadarko receives antitrust clearance to acquire Western Gas Resources, leading to acquisition of Kerr-McGee...Administaff Business Confidence Survey: 84 percent of small- and medium-sized businesses report positive performance in first half of 2006...

The contingency planning is under way on how to deal with the shutdown of Alaska's Prudhoe Bay oil field. Analysts say pipeline problems could shut down the oil field for months and drive gasoline prices even higher. World oil prices jumped more than $2 a barrel yesterday. BP says it will have to replace 16 miles of pipeline. The shutdown could squeeze the West Coast particularly hard. The government is considering releasing oil from its emergency stockpile to ease the crunch. Alaska also faces the loss of millions of dollars in royalties and taxes each day the pipeline is down. The state's revenue commissioner says without Prudhoe Bay, the state's budget surplus will disappear in two months. BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said the company is looking into temporarily bypassing the 16 miles of corroded pipeline.

If the guys at the gas station claim they've got to jack up the price because of the problems with that Alaskan oil field, tell them what the Energy Secretary is saying. As far as he's concerned, there are adequate supplies to make up for any losses. In fact, Secretary Samuel Bodman believes "we're in pretty reasonable shape.'' Bodman says there are already high inventories of crude oil. And, if need be, he says more can come from places like Saudi Arabia and Mexico, to keep refineries humming. Some 400,000 daily barrels of crude will be lost while the Alaskan situation is dealt with. Bodman says BP expects it will take months to fix the pipeline corrosion. But the entire field might not have to close. Bodman says BP may be able to make repairs while continuing some production.

Mariner Energy has become the operator of two Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas blocks with the $70.9 million purchase of BP's stake. Mariner, which acquired 37.5 percent of the blocks when it bought Forest Oil in March, bought the remaining rights to drill and pump at depths shallower than 15,000 feet.


Anadarko Petroleum announced today it's received U.S. antitrust clearance to acquire Western Gas Resources. Houston-based Anadarko announced last week that it had received the same clearance for its simultaneous acquisition of Kerr-McGee. However, Anadarko could shrink to second or third among independent producers through asset sales aimed at cutting deal-related debt over the next two years. Anadarko will pay $16.4 billion in cash for Oklahoma City-based Kerr-McGee and assume $1.6 billion in debt. It'll pay $4.74 billion for Denver-based Western Gas and assume $560 million in debt. The separate all-cash transactions are worth a combined $21.1 billion. They're slated to close in the third quarter and will create the nation's largest independent exploration and production company.


Apache has completed the sale of its 24.5 percent stake in China's Zhao Dong block to Australia-based ROC Oil for $260 million. The Houston-based company says it will use the proceeds to fund operations. Apache has oil and gas operations in North America, the North Sea, Egypt, Australia and Argentina.


Sprint Nextel says it will used what's known as WiMax technology, backed by Intel and Motorola, to build a Next Generation wireless network. WiMax would provide Internet access over considerably longer distances than traditional cell phone and wi-fi networks, which are now being used to transit data and voice. For example, wi-fi transmission is generally limited to a few hundred feet, whereas WiMax has stated range of ten miles. Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin says the network, when fully built, will probably exist along highways and throughout communities, making the Internet ''fully mobile.'' That means along with phones, laptops, digital cameras, game players, music devices, even automobiles should be able to connect to the Internet.


Some 84 percent of small- and medium-sized business owners surveyed report positive performance by their companies in the first half of 2006, according to the Administaff Business Confidence Survey. The survey finds that 62 percent are hiring new full-time employees. Houston-based Administaff also reports that average compensation is up 6.3 percent and average commissions have increased 5.9 percent. About two-thirds of the respondents said competitive salary and wages are their strongest tools, followed by a strong benefits package. Others cited flex scheduling, training and development programs and vacation time.


Stafford-based Gurwitch Products, which produces the Laura Mercier line of cosmetics, will remain in Stafford, following its purchase by Alticor, according to the Houston Business Journal. The company will operate as a subsidiary of Michigan-based Alticor. Gurwitch's cosmetics line is distributed through Neiman-Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Sephora and Nordstrom. Gurwitch employs about 80 people in Stafford and says it has no plans for layoffs. Alticor is also the parent company of Amway.


Houston-based Universal Computer Systems is acquiring Ohio-based Reynolds and Reynolds in a $2.8 billion deal, according to the Houston Business Journal. Reynolds develops management software for the automotive retail industry, with 1,700 local employees and 4,300 workers globally. USC is a dealership technology company with about 2,600 employees.


Houston-based Powell Industries has purchased a switch gear product line from General Electric for $32 million, according to the Houston Chronicle. Production of the switch gears will be moved to Houston from Louisville, Kentucky. Powell is a maker of products that control electricity.


Care Improvement Plus has conditional approval from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to offer a new regional PPO Special Needs Plan in Texas, according to the Houston Business Journal. The health plan is specifically designed for chronically ill Medicare beneficiaries living with diabetes, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and end-stage renal disease.


A leading maker of aluminum and zinc products is being purchased by a buyout firm. Aleris International says it has an agreement to be purchased by Fort Worth-based Texas Pacific Group for $1.7 billion. Texas Pacific also is assuming $1.6 billion of the suburban Cleveland company's debt. Under the deal, Aleris shareholders would get $52.50 a share in cash for each share held. That's a premium of 27 percent over yesterday's closing stock price. In a statement, Aleris says the transaction is expected to be completed early next year. Aleris describes itself as a leader in aluminum rolled products and extrusions, aluminum recycling and zinc metal and zinc products.


Entergy today posted a modest decline in fiscal second-quarter earnings due to weaker results at its utility and corporate businesses. After paying preferred dividends, the New Orleans-based utility holding company net income dipped two percent to $281.8 million for the period ended June 30th. Operating earnings totaled $258 million. Entergy said its nuclear business posted higher earnings due to increased energy pricing and rates. But its primary utility, parent and other operations saw earnings decline due to lower unbilled revenue and higher interest expense. Entergy delivers electricity to Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and southeast Texas.

Entergy has granted restricted stock valued at nearly $7.8 million to Chairman and CEO Wayne Leonard. Details are in a filing this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The New Orleans-based electric company on Thursday granted Leonard 100,000 restricted stock units. Restricted stock units give the right to receive a corresponding cash amount for each vested share. Half of the award will vest August 3rd, 2008, and the other half will vest one year later.


Dickens on the StrandThe Galveston Historical Foundation is seeking new vendors for the 33rd annual Dickens on The Strand. The Victorian holiday festival is set for the weekend of December 2nd and 3rd. This year's festival pays tribute to the first World's Fair, the Great Exhibition of London, held in 1851.ξDuring theξDickens on the Strand weekend, visitors mix with costumed entertainers and volunteers as more than 150 vendors hawk their wares. The event is produced by the Galveston Historical Foundation, and is centered in a 10-block area of Galveston's The Strand National Historic Landmark District. New vendors can download an application from the festival's Web site.


Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bouncing Brain Productions is holding a casting call on August 19th at 7 a.m. at the Elgin studios of Houston PBS, KUHT Channel 8, for amateur inventors in the Houston area. Ten inventors from a five-city casting call will be chosen to participate in the series "Everyday Edison," which airs this fall. The inventors chosen will appear in the second season of the program. They will be followed by cameras for a year as they develop, produce and market their inventions.


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