Wednesday AM November 1st, 2006

Houston mayor updates progress of wireless and broadband service plan...Consumer confidence edges down slightly...Wages and benefits rises at fastest pace in more than two years...

Mayor Bill WhiteThe Greater Houston Partnership's Technology Infrastructure Committee gave an update of efforts to provide wireless and broadband service throughout Houston. Speaking at the group's 2nd annual Imagine Houston luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel, Mayor Bill White said that Houston is ready to move forward with the plan.

"We're not going to wait for somebody at other, some level of government to give us a grant to do it. We can do it, harnessing the energy in this room, along with a little cooperation which we receive from out electric utility pole company and the people who can allow us to put base stations on buildings for a reasonable fee. We can do all that. We won't do it with tax dollars. We'll do it based on the market forces which are out there."

Mayor White says he's confident that Houston's wireless and broadband service will be a reality in the next couple of years.

"There will be technical demands as the system is built out, but I believe that you will see a system that is built out to the city limits. It would be done not with taxpayer funds directly or indirectly. It'll take about 24 months to build out."

Mayor White says Houston is learning by watching other cities and analyzing what is working and not working.

Concern about jobs is said to be outweighing the benefit of falling gas prices. Consumer confidence is reported to have edged down ever so slightly this month. The Conference Board's index is put at 105.4, down a half point from a revised reading for last month. It was also weaker-than-expected. The business research group's Lynn Franco says the dip reflects a ''mixed assessment of present-day business conditions and a less favorable view of the job market.'' Franco says the readings hint at moderate economic growth heading into early 2007.

The government says wages and benefits paid to American workers in the third quarter rose at the fastest pace in more than two years. The Labor Department's employment cost index edged up one percent. That's compared to a nine-tenths of one percent rise in the April through June period. The increase was led by a jump in the cost of employee benefits like health insurance and pensions. Compared to a year earlier, employment costs were up 3.3 percent.

Federal disaster assistance is being sought for ten southeast Texas counties pounded by storms and flooding. Governor Rick Perry has asked President Bush for a disaster declaration for the areas due to severe weather that began October 15th. Such a declaration would clear the way for federal grants and other government help. Perry's office says a review indicated several hundred homes have been affected by flooding. Perry last week announced a state disaster declaration for Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Newton, Orange, Polk, San Jacinto and Tyler Counties. The governor added Brazoria County to the list.

San Antonio-based oil refiner Valero Energy posted an 86 percent rise in its third-quarter profit. The nation's largest independent oil refiner credits higher sales, a one-time gain and roughly flat expenses for the increase. After paying preferred dividends, net income surged to $1.6 billion for the July-to-September period. Valero notes the recent quarter includes a $132 million pre-tax gain on the July sale of its 41 percent stake in Valero GP Holdings. Valero GP holds the general partner interest in energy pipeline operator Valero. The year-ago quarter includes a $621 million pre-tax charge related to last-in, first-out accounting. Excluding one-time items, earnings totaled $1.5 billion. Operating revenue rose four percent to $24.32 billion.

Houston-based Marathon Oil more than doubled its third-quarter earnings with stronger oil production volumes and prices. Marathon also cites record performance from marketing and refining. It reports net income for the July-through-September period of $1.62 billion. That's up from $770 million last year's quarter.

Columbus-based American Electric Power is reporting a 32 percent drop in profits, mostly due to losses from the sale of a Louisiana plant. When you take the plant sale out of the equation, AEP's third-quarter earnings rose from a year ago and have matched Wall Street analysts' forecasts. CEO Michael Morris says the numbers improved in spite of a milder summer that reduced demand for electricity. But he says the company's books have seen a positive impact from recent rate changes. AEP has more than five million power customers in Texas and ten other states. Among the Texas cities it serves are Corpus Christi, Abilene, McAllen, Harlingen, San Angelo, Vernon, Victoria and Laredo.

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