Friday AM September 29th, 2006

Texas A&M hosts investment forum to raise $400 million in venture capital...Texas and 27 other states force PayPal to change business methods...Dell launches free recycling program...

Texas A&M University staged an investment forum at the InterContinental Hotel to fund and commercialize new technologies from research programs. A&M partnered with Millennium Energy Ventures to raise $400 million in venture capital. Millennium's Steven Hill says this is a good way to efficiently market technologies and products developed by the university.

"Texas A&M University has invested about $500 million over the past 11 years in developing their technology and furthering their technology with their professors and their various schools. The way the university gets its money back is it licenses out the technology and patents and it gets paid back in royalties. There's an eye drop in there for, that can cure macular degeneration—very important thing for elderly people. And if it can be a simple eye drop and it works, they've gone through the trials, already. It's ready for FDA approval. What can we do to accelerate this, to get this on the market in 2007—quickly—before somebody in Japan or Germany develops the same thing?"

Three hundred investors are in Houston for the event, from the United States, Europe and the Far East. Hill says events like this conference can help Houston venture capitalists to be taken more seriously.

"The venture capital business in Houston and Texas is a very fickle business. It's not nearly as respected as that on the New York and San Diego--technology escapes from Texas and migrates to New York and San Diego and San Francisco. So, bringing back credibility like this will keep out technology here, we'll raise funds here, and we can start getting these things funded and we can build up our own venture capital industry and reputation here so that things don't leave the state."

The early growth companies selected by Millennium and Texas A&M span the biotech, chemical, industrial and energy fields. There are companies with technology for increasing worldwide crop productivity, new medical testing devices and fuel improvement processes.

Texas and 27 other states have reached an agreement with online payment service PayPal setting strict disclosure and customer service standards the company must follow. The agreement addresses PayPal's failure to provide customers with adequate disclosures regarding key components of its service, including dispute resolution and chargeback practices, selection of funding sources, buyer and seller protection programs and the freezing of vendor accounts during disputes. PayPal must now present customers with a clear choice regarding the form of payment, disclosing whether the payment is being funded from the consumer's bank account or their credit card.

Falling prices at the gasoline pump isn't the only good news for consumers on the energy front. Natural gas producers say consumers should see lower heating bills this winter. That's because there's plenty of natural gas in storage and more is being produced. The Natural Gas Supply Association cites record supplies of the fuel in storage, well above normal levels as the winter heating season approaches. It notes that wholesale prices already have been declining significantly. A year ago, as the industry faced major losses of supply because of Hurricane Katrina. At that time, wholesale prices going into the winter were around $12 per thousand cubic feet. Recently, the prices dipped below $4.50 per thousand cubic feet at the wholesale level.

In hindsight, the Commerce Department says the U.S. economy wasn't as strong as thought in the second quarter. Economic growth is now said to have expanded at an annual rate of 2.6 percent in the spring. That is weaker than the GDP rate of 2.9 percent estimated a month ago. The revision is weaker than economists expected. In another report, the Labor Department says new claims for jobless benefits fell last week. The number of fresh claims dropped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 316,000. The less-volatile four-week moving average was little changed at more than 315,000.

Rates on long-term mortgages have fallen to their lowest level in more than six months. Freddie Mac reports 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 6.31 percent this week, compared this 6.4 percent last week. That's the lowest since it stood at 6.24 percent in early Earch. Rates on 15-year, fixed-rate mortgages, popular in refinancing, averaged 5.98 percent. They stood at 6.06 percent last week. Many analysts believe interest rates will remain near their current levels for the rest of the year, helping the housing industry level off after sharp declines in recent months. Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft says both lower mortgage rates and a moderation in house price growth should make buying a home more affordable.

The chairman and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee want the Justice Department to delay approval of the AT&T-BellSouth merger until a federal court decides whether two previous mergers were in the public interest. Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner and Michigan Democrat John Conyers wrote Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking the department to delay its decision. They want see how a federal judge rules on the merger of SBC and the old AT&T, as well as the Verizon-MCI merger. In addition, Judiciary Committee Democrats Patrick Leahy and Herb Kohl have questioned whether justice has been approving mergers too hastily, counter to the intent of federal law. There has been no comment from the Justice Department.

The Iraqi oil industry has lost $16 billion in two years to insurgent attacks, crime and bad equipment. An unclassified summary of a secret U.S. audit says the Iraqi government "must take bold action'' to protect its most important moneymaker. The Inspector General for Reconstruction writes that "Iraq cannot prosper'' without oil exports and "the reliable delivery of electricity.'' In addition to the losses from its own oil fields, the summary says Iraq is paying billions more for refined petroleum imports. The report concludes that even if the attacks ended, criminal activity and a decaying infrastructure would still hamper oil exports and electricity production.

Want to get rid of your old Dell computer? Dell will help you do it--for free. The world's largest computer maker is launching a free recycling program in the U.S. All you have to do is go to the company's Web site, enter product information numbers of used Dell computers and printers, print a prepaid shipping label and schedule free home pickup. The service is not tied to the purchase of new Dell equipment. Dell has similar programs in Europe and Canada, and already offers free recycling of any brand of computer or printer when you buy new Dell hardware.

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