Wednesday PM October 18th, 2006

Attorney for Enron investor critical of Lay's verdict being vacated...Janitors and cleaning companies fail to produce contract agreement...Shell executive calls for expanded exploration...

An attorney for a former Enron investor is criticizing the ruling that vacated Ken Lay's guilty verdict. The attorney says it's ''unfair'' to those who were ''left penniless'' by Lay's actions as head of Enron. A federal judge scrubbed Lay's criminal record yesterday because the former CEO died before an appeal could be wrapped up. The Justice Department insists the ruling doesn't change the fact that a jury found Lay guilty. A spokesman says federal prosecutors will "continue to pursue all remedies available for restitution'' for "the victims of the fraud at Enron.'' The government wanted to go after more than $43 million in what prosecutors called Lay's ill-gotten gains. They can go to civil court, but they'll have to compete with other claims. A lawyer for Lay's estate says he's "really quite pleased.''

Five hours of talks have failed to produce a deal between the Service Employees International Union and five janitorial cleaning companies. The union's chief negotiator says a strike is likely unless progress is made. The union sent its wage and benefit demands to the cleaning companies three weeks ago, but have not received a counterproposal. The Houston janitors want a raise to $8.50 an hour from the current average of $5.30 hourly, as well as family health insurance. The five cleaning companies negotiating with the SEIU are ABM Janitorial Services, Sanitors Services of Texas, OneSource Facility Services, GCA Services Group and Pritchard Industries Southwest. Union locals across the nation have pledged $1 million to a strike fund.

The days of $3 gasoline are probably not gone for good, according to the president of Shell Oil. John Hofmeister told the Consumer Energy Alliance consumers must conserve more, and oil companies must be permitted to expand exploration in areas now off limits. Industry groups are pushing to open federally protected lands to oil and gas drilling.

Houston's 135-room Hotel Icon on Main downtown has been sold to an investment firm controlled by Los Angeles-based Lowe Enterprises Investors. The 12-story hotel, formerly the Union National Bank building, opened just before Super Bowl XXXVIII in January 2004.

A recent survey by CDS Market Research looks at what the homebuilder pays the land developer in the Houston area. The firm's Kent Dussair says there's a good balance between the lots being sold to homebuilders and the number of homes being sold.

"It's very healthy right now. There's a, we've had two years back-to-back--including this year, of course--with almost record sales in new construction homes. And of course that's motivating a lot of developers to continue to build more lots. But right now we're at a pretty good balance. The absorption rate of lots—the homebuilders taking those lots away from the developers—is about the same as the number of homes that are being sold, and so forth, so we're not getting too far out front, even though we did notice a little bit of an increase in new lot, future lot development announcements, where they're saying we're having quite a few more lots in the pipe. So possibly by this time next year, we could see an oversupply, but right now we do not have it."

Dussair spoke to land owners and homebuilders at a Land Forecast luncheon at the Hilton Post Oak, hosted by O'Connor & Associates. He said homebuilders have to anticipate future sales, so they're not left with lots they've purchased from developers that they have to hold until homes can built.

Russia's biggest oil producer, Lukoil, said today its net profit rose 65 percent in the second quarter due to high world oil prices, rising output and better cost management. The company said in a statement that net profit increased to $2.32 billion. The figures beat a forecast of $2.17 billion by analysts surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires. Total revenues rose 35 percent to $18.38 billion. The company noted that the ruble's strengthening against the dollar had held back profits, as had a growing tax burden. The company said its taxes in the first half of the year rose by 40.2 percent to $11.3 billion. Houston-based oil company ConocoPhillips owns an 18 percent stake in the company.

The parent of American Airlines said today it earned a slim profit in the third quarter as revenue continued to climb, offsetting high fuel prices. Fort Worth-based AMR Corporation says it earned $15 million in the quarter ended September 30th. The parent of the nation's biggest airline had reported a loss of $153 million for the comparable quarter last year. Revenue rose 6.6 percent to $5.85 billion. The profit figure included a $99 million charge to reduce the value of fuel-hedging contracts. Without that expense, AMR says it would have earned $114 million.

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