Wednesday AM October 18th, 2006

Continental continues push for Shanghai route... Labor Department says wholesale inflation plunged in September from lower gasoline prices...Illinois makes push for FutureGen project...

Continental Airlines has submitted rebuttal exhibits to the U.S. Department of Transportation in support of its case to provide daily, non-stop service between New York/Newark and Shanghai, China. Seven weekly frequencies become available in 2007, and Continental is trying to win the slots, competing against American, United and Northwest Airlines. Continental contends that the New York/Newark to Shanghai market is five times larger than the Dallas/Fort Worth to Beijing market. The Houston-based air carrier says United holds a near monopoly on U.S.-China non-stop routes.

American Airlines will recall about ten pilots a month beginning in January to fill gaps left by pilots who are retiring. Fort-Worth-based American has recalled laid-off flight attendants three times since the terror attacks of 2001, but this is the first re-hiring of laid-off pilots. The airline has 8,400 active pilots and 2,850 on a recall list.

Southwest Airlines says it'll offer one-stop service from Dallas Love Field to 46 cities with air fares starting at $99 each way. Southwest moved quickly to take advantage of a new federal law signed last week that allows expanded one-stop service from Dallas Love field immediately, and more nonstop flights in 2014. Among the cities Southwest will serve from Dallas are Las Vegas, Chicago, Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida. All those flights will have to stop first in a nine-state area including Texas. Southwest will also offer two-stop routes to Hawaii. The flights must stop in Texas or a nearby state to comply with the last vestiges of a 1979 law called the Wright Amendment. That law tried to protect nearby Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport by crippling Love Field as a competitor. Instead, Southwest grew into the nation's largest low-cost carrier and built a healthy business at the small airport near downtown Dallas.

American Lawyer magazine's editorial director recently reported on the future of legal services at a gathering of Fulbright & Jaworski attorneys. Aric Press made observations about client companies and how they view available legal talent.

"There is constant pruning of preferred provider lists, and these decisions frequently rest on quality of service, and the nature and strength of relationships as much as they do on skill sets or price. Clients—some in this city—have in recent years put more demands on firms to develop teams of lawyers who are more balanced by gender and race. That has only increased the pressure on firms at a time when demand exceeds supply. If that pressure continues or is turned up, it is not clear how firms will meet those goals."

Press says his magazine focuses on the largest and most successful worldwide law firms.

"Is there enough demand at the high end to sustain all the law firms who have been built to do as much high-end, premium billing work as they can? There is a great deal of work because we live in a world of troubles and a world of opportunity. By high-end work, I mean the sort of work that happens when you do get a call, or when, God forbid, your plant blows up and you call your lawyer and ask not 'what are you going to charge me?' but 'how in the world are you going to save my bacon?' That's what the firms are constructed to do. Is there enough bad bacon in the world to keep everyone afloat? Not clear. There is at the moment, not clear that they'll continue to be."

A recent Fulbright & Jaworski survey found that expanded government regulatory investigations have fueled an increase in internal investigation--some 63 percent report hiring outside counsel for that purpose in the past year. Billion-dollar companies carry the biggest litigation burden, with about 40 percent of them expecting the number of actions to increase in the coming year. Insurers are the most litigation-prone, followed by retailers and energy firms, followed by manufacturing, financial services and educational groups.

The Labor Department says wholesale inflation plunged by the largest amount in more than three years in September, reflecting the big drop in gas prices. That offset rising prices in other areas. The producer price index fell 1.3 percent last month. That's nearly double the decline analysts had been expecting. Gasoline prices plummeted 22 percent, the biggest one-month decrease on record. At the same time core inflation, which excludes food and energy, surged six-tenths of one percent. That's the largest increase in 20 months. Much of the surprisingly large gain was because of a jump in new car prices.

The Federal Reserve is reporting a six-tenths of one percent decline in industrial production last month. The drop reflects lower output for the nation's factories and a pullback in utility output. Cooler weather reduced demand for electricity production. It was the first drop in industrial production since January and the biggest fall since September 2005, which resulted from widespread shutdowns following Hurricane Katrina.

Illinois and federal officials are teaming up with business and labor to lure the massive FutureGen project. Officials announced a new task force of Congressmen, legislators, plus business and labor leaders who'll work to land the $1 billion power plant. Tuscola and Mattoon are among four sites chosen as finalists for the facility; the other two are in Texas--in the Jewett area and near Odessa. A decision is expected late next year. FutureGen is designed to turn coal into gas to produce electricity with almost no air pollution. It promises 1,300 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs once it's built, plus hundreds more spin-off jobs from boosting the local economy.

Communications network operator Level Three Communications says it plans to acquire Austin-based communications services vendor Broadwing Corporation. Broomfield, Colorado-based Leven three says it'll pay about $1.4 billion in the cash-and-stock deal. Level Three agreed to pay $744 million in cash and issue 122 million shares. It says that translates to $8.18 per share in cash and about one-and-a-third shares for each Broadwing share. The offer represents a 15 percent premium over Broadwing's closing price on Monday. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2007 pending approval by regulators and Broadwing shareholders. Level Three sells wholesale dial-up and broadband Internet services. Broadwing delivers data, voice and media services to wholesale and business customers over a 19,000-mile intercity fiber network.

The chef and owner of Houston's Ibiza Food & Wine Bar has been chosen as a challenger for the fourth season of Food Network's "Iron Chef America," according to the Houston Business Journal. Charles Clark has assembled an ensemble of high-profile Houston chefs from Tony's and St. Regis to go head to head with the program's chefs. Filming is underway, wrapping up on October 24th.

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