Tuesday AM August 29th, 2006

Economists call terrorism the biggest short-term problem to U.S. economy... Economists forecast slower growth for economy; blame gasoline prices, big-ticket slowdowns... Memorial Hermann Healthcare System to relocate long-term acute care operations to Missouri City...

Some of the nation's top economists have a common worry about the near-term threat facing the U.S. economy. They believe it is terrorism. The National Association for Business Economics says about a-third of its panel of 195 members call terrorism the biggest short-term problem. After that comes energy, worries about inflation and the trade deficit. The group's president, Stuart Hoffman, says terrorism may have moved to the top, in light of the fighting in Lebanon. The survey was conducted during the first two weeks of August. He says the approaching anniversary of 9-11 may have also weighed on the economists minds. Hoffman says while they note the risk, the economists believe that the economy will continue to grow, at a slower pace.

Leading economists are forecasting slower growth for the economy as a whole. A number of economic reports out this week blame gas prices averaging $3 a gallon in some parts of the country. Durable goods orders were down in July, meaning Americans are waiting to buy big ticket items, like cars and large appliances. And the housing market is showing signs of cooling, too. New home sales were down, while the number of existing homes on the market swelled and home prices slipped. Gregory Miller, chief economist at Sun Trust Bank, predicts growth in consumer spending will fall a full point in the second half of the year to around 1.5 percent. He says that will bring down overall economic growth at the same rate.

Memorial Hermann Healthcare System will relocate its long-term acute care operations from Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital to its Fort Bend campus in Missouri City, according to the Houston Business Journal. The facility will have more than 200 employees, and many of those positions will be new jobs created in Missouri City. Memorial Hermann will convert its current Fort Bend campus to a Memorial Hermann Continuing Care hospital after current operations move to the new Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, scheduled to open in December. Renovations on the Fort Bend facility start after the new Sugar Land hospital begins operations. Then, in late spring 2007, the long-term acute care hospital now operating within Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital on Beechnut will close, with operations moving to Missouri City.

A federal judge has handed Dish Network Satellite TV's parent another setback in its copyright feud with Tivo. U.S. magistrate Caroline Craven of Texarkana had delayed an Echostar Communications patent-infringement countersuit against Tivo last month. Now, Tivo says Craven confirmed the stay after Colorado-based Echostar declined to appeal. Tivo is the maker of the first widely available set-top box for recording live television programming on a hard drive. The case had been scheduled for trial early next year, but Echostar says in a regulatory filing that a patent office examination "could take many years.'' The judge's decision was the latest defeat for Echostar in its legal fight over Tivo technology patents on its set-top digital video recorder boxes. After a federal jury in Marshall found that Echostar had infringed on Tivo patents, U.S. District Judge David Folsom this month ordered Echostar to pay almost $90 million in damages. He also ordered Echostar to disable more than three million of its DVRs, but a federal appeals court has stayed that order pending appeal.

Echostar Communications--the operator of Dish Network--says it's reached a $100 million dollar settlement with affiliate associations of three major networks over distant programming service. However, the satellite TV provider has not been able to resolve differences with the Fox Network. The agreement could end a nine-year lawsuit over the company's practice of selling programming from ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox stations that originates in one market to subscribers who live in a different city. Echostar says it'll pay the affiliate associations to protect subscribers from the shutoff of distant channels. The payments also will expand the number of markets in which it offers local network services from 165 to 175 by the end of the year. It still must be approved by a judge in Florida where the suit is pending.

Business bankruptcies are at the lowest level in five years. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts says the number of companies filing for bankruptcy in the U.S. fell 2.6 percent to 31,562 for the 12 months ending June 30th this year. That's down from 32,406 companies during the same period a year earlier. Business bankruptcies include all Chapter 7, Chapter 11, Chapter 12 and Chapter 13 non-consumer bankruptcy petitions. Total bankruptcy cases filed in federal courts also fell to their lowest point in five years. The U.S. courts office says bankruptcy filings for the same 12-month period fell 9.3 percent to less than $1.5 million. There were more than 1.6 million bankruptcy filings for the same period a year earlier.

The Interior Department proposes beginning oil and natural gas leases in new parts of the Gulf of Mexico as early as next year. The gulf leases are 100 miles south of the Florida Panhandle and over 200 miles from most of Florida's western coast. The department also proposes development off Virginia for the first time, as well as leases in the North Aleutian Basin off Alaska.

The Hucksters advertising agency has moved its headquarters to Houston on Franklin, in the Old Cotton Exchange. The Las Vegas-based agency's six employees specialize in gaming, nightlife, fashion and property development.

Houston-based AMEC has been contracted by Enbridge for its Southern Access and Southern Lights Pipeline projects. AMEC will provide project management, engineering and procurement services for the pipeline projects, which will include installation of lines from the Rockies and Alberta to refineries in the Midwest U.S.

Swift Energy is buying interests in five onshore South Louisiana oil and gas properties for $175 million from BP American Production, according to the Houston Business Journal. Houston-based Swift estimates about 58.2 billion cubic feet equivalent of proved reserves in the purchased properties.

Total E&P Indonesie has awarded Halliburton a $60 million contract, according to the Houston Business Journal. Halliburton will provide Geo-Pilot rotary steerable systems and directional and logging-while-drilling services for oil fields offshore Indonesia. Halliburton is also providing cementing and drilling waste management services.

Services Cooperative Association is hosting its Annual Entrepreneurial Workshop on Wednesday at the Lakeside Country Club on Wilcrest, between Briar Forest and Memorial. Six workshops are scheduled, covering Websites, the Small Business Administration, marketing and other topics for starting and expanding a business.

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