Friday AM September 15th, 2006

U.S. airlines enjoy increased passenger traffic...Port of Houston Authority welcomes Senate approval of 275 new Customs and Border Protection officers at Houston and other ports...Houston officials asking 18,000 Katrina evacuees to renew federal housing assistance by October 31st...

U.S. airlines enjoyed more passenger traffic during the first half of this year than during the same period last year. The Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics says the airlines carried 369.5 million domestic and international passengers during the first six months of 2006, a nearly one percent increase compared with last year. The bureau says domestic passengers rose only slightly, but international passengers increased by 5.9 percent. The top five U.S. airlines for passenger traffic were American, Southwest, Delta, United and Northwest.

The Houston City Council has approved a shared-ride van services concession agreement with Adams Systems SuperShuttle to provide ground transportation services at George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby airports. SuperShuttle will take reservations and pick passengers up at their homes or businesses and transport them to or from the airport. The fares for the new service are about half what a taxi would cost.


The Port of Houston Authority is welcoming the recent 97-0 U.S. Senate vote approving an amendment to the Port Security Improvement Act to provide an additional 275 Customs and Border Protection officers at Houston and other U.S. ports. The Houston CBP region includes the Port of Houston's complex of public and private facilities, and the world's second largest petrochemical complex is also part of the port. Houston's port ranks first in the U.S. in foreign tonnage.


Houston officials are pressing about 18,000 Katrina evacuees to renew their federal housing assistance by an October 31st deadline. Otherwise, the officials say the evacuees could potentially be left homeless. About 24,000 evacuees living in the Houston area are eligible to receive money to help pay their rent through February. But officials say only about one in four have submitted the necessary forms to receive the extensions. Some evacuees in Houston say they didn't know the forms were required until they got phone messages from the city this week. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it has sent multiple notices to evacuees about the deadline. But caseworker Katherine Johnson says most notices went to landlords and not to evacuees. To receive the extension, evacuees must submit rental receipts and a written plan outlining how they plan to obtain housing once the federal aid expires. About 120,000 Katrina evacuees remain in the Houston area--more than any other city.


In a sign sales were picking up in July, the government says business inventories rose at a slightly slower pace that month. The Commerce Department says the stockpile of unsold goods businesses were holding on their shelves and back lots rose by just six-tenths of a percent in July, down from a nine-tenths of a percent rise in June. The slowdown reflects the fact that sales by retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers rose by six-tenths of percent in July, a rebound from a two-tenths-of-a-percent rise in sales in June. The increase in sales should allay concerns that manufacturers will cut back on production in coming months because of a buildup in unwanted inventories.


The number of people filing for jobless claims fell last week to a seven-week low. The Labor Department says claims fell by 5,000 to 308,000. Analysts had been expecting a slight increase in claims, but the recent holiday weekend could have skewed the number. Claims offices were open for only four days last week.


Americans took a bit of a vacation from retailers in August. The Commerce Department says retail sales increased by just two-tenths of a percent last month after a much bigger increase in July. Consumers have been pinching their pennies because they've spent so much at the gas pump. However, gas prices have been falling lately. And that could help retailers in the coming months. The winning retailers last month were grocery stores, hardware stores and electronics sellers. Sales fell at specialty clothing and department stores.


The Dallas Morning News said that 111 newsroom employees accepted voluntary severance offers. That's under an effort by owner Belo Corporation to cut costs at the paper. The final day of work for most of the departing employees is Friday. The News said in a statement issued today that the severance payments would cost about $6.7 million. Of that, about $5 million will be recorded in the third quarter and the rest in the fourth quarter. The newspaper said the jobs reduction will cut spending on wages and benefits by about $9.9 million a year. The paper announced the severance program in June. It said today that enough employees accepted the severance package to meet Belo's strategic goals, and about 450 newsroom employees would remain. Dallas-based Belo owns three other daily newspapers and 19 television stations.


The Arlington City Council has agreed to pay a woman $2.75 million to make way for a new Dallas Cowboys stadium. It's believed to be the largest payout for residential property acquired for the venue. Seventy-two-year-old Evelyn Wray is selling four acres. Wray moved out in March, but has been staying with family and friends because she didn't want to make a decision on a new house until she knew the payoff price. The original offer for Wray was 351,000, but a court-appointed panel set the value at $1.2 million. She continued her fight in the courts, and Arlington this week finally settled for more than twice that amount. The $650 million Cowboys Stadium Complex is scheduled to be open for the 2009 season.


Troubled home-furnishings chain Pier One Imports today posted a sharply wider loss for its latest quarter. But Fort Worth-based Pier One pinned its hopes for a turnaround on the rollout of new merchandise. Pier One lost $73.1 million for its second quarter that ended August 26th. That compares with a year-ago loss of $10.2 million. Chairman Martin Girouard says Pier One expects to do better over the next few months through the critical fall and holiday selling seasons. The company plans to increase store inventory of decorative accessories, gifts and tabletop collections. The company continues to evaluate its store base and will close 65 to 70 stores this fiscal year, including seven Pier One kids stores.


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