Thursday AM November 9th, 2007

China records record trade surplus...International Business Wales opens Houston office...Save-a-Lot "edited-assortment" grocery store opens first Houston outlet...

From the U.S. perspective, it is the other side of the trade imbalance story. China says its trade surplus notched a record monthly high in October as exports soared and import growth fell amid government efforts to cool its sizzling economy. The surplus in October jumped to $23.8 billion, up 27 percent from the previous high in August. That raised China's total surplus for the first ten months of the year to $133.6 billion, already topping the record for all of last year. China's growing trade gap has fueled requests by Washington and other trading partners for Beijing to raise the value of its currency. That would make Chinese goods more expensive for foreign buyers and might restrain surging exports.

The economic development and trade arm of the Welsh Assembly Government has opened a Houston office on Louisiana. International Business Wales will promote business ties between Wales and the United States. The group says Wales is a key entry point to the UK and the broader European markets. More than 300 North American corporations have operations in Wales.

Striking janitors visited City Hall to discuss whether billion dollar companies that do not support better-paying jobs with health care for janitors should receive tax breaks. They were referring to Chevron's multi-year multi-million dollar tax break granted by the City of Houston. Some 1,700 members of the local chapter of Service Employees International Union have been striking for a wage increase plus health insurance in contract talks with the city's five largest cleaning companies. They're now in the third week of the strike. Janitors are calling on Houston's building owners to intervene in the strike and instruct the contractors they hire to bargain in good faith. Supporters also rallied outside a meeting between Shell Oil and other business leaders at the Houston Club. Shell's John Hofmeister was being presented the 2006 International Executive of the Year Award by the Greater Houston Partnership.

A so-called "edited-assortment" grocery chain has opened its first Houston store near Beltway 8 in the Alief area on Bissonnet. Save-a-Lot sells discounted high-end foods in a quick in-and-out format. Save-a-Lot outlets have a smaller store size and feature 1,250 of the products most used by consumers. There are more than 1,150 stores in 42 states, and another Houston outlet on Broadway is set to open on November 16th. A third store on Fondren opens in January. The store has partnered with Catholic charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to donate groceries through the organization's Guadalupe Pantry Center for this Grand Opening.

St. Louis-based First Banks is acquiring Houston-based Royal Oaks Bancshares for about $38.6 million. Royal Oaks has four bank outlets in the Houston area and is opening two more in Sugar Land and the Heights. The company plans to add branches in Katy and two in Pearland, plus a second Sugar Land branch.

An affiliate of Houston-based Nelson Duffie Interests has purchased local industrial buildings for an undisclosed price through a California bankruptcy court, according to the Houston Business Journal. The package includes 21 buildings in seven locations, mostly in northwest Houston near Beltway 8 and State Highway 290. Three properties are in south Houston near Hobby Airport. The portfolio has about 100 tenants.

Great Western Land & Recreation has sold its 200-acre Westchester Lakes property north of Houston in a $3.78 million deal to Nevada-based Sunbelt Investors. The property, just south of Highway 290 near Katy Hockley Road, will be used for residential development.

The Houston-based Anime Network has partnered with Sprint to provide its mobile video content to Sprint Power Vision subscribers on Sprint TV's Channel 66. Subscribers can access clips from up to five titles at $4.95 a month. Anime Network is available on a linear channel, on video-on-demand, subscription-based video-on-demand and pay-per-view on cable and satellite. Parent company A.D. Vision also distributes the anime magazine Newtype USA.

Six eastern states and the District of Columbia will get an extra day to file their 2006 federal income tax returns. The Internal Revenue Service says people in those jurisdictions will have until April 17th. Most of the rest of the country must file and pay taxes by the 16th next year because April 15th falls on a Sunday. But states served by the Andover, Massachusetts, IRS processing center will have an extra day because April 16th is Patriot's Day--a state holiday in Massachusetts. The affected states are Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont as well as Washington DC. The April 17th deadline will apply to 2006 income tax returns--whether filed electronically or on paper--and requests for an automatic six-month filing extension.

Dynegy reported a third-quarter loss. That's as the Houston-based power company recorded a large write-down related to a Kentucky power plant. Dynegy's loss attributable to common shareholders was $69 million for the July-through-September period. That's compared with a profit of $29 million a year earlier. The results included $98 million in charges related to a write-down in the value of its Bluegrass facility due to "recent changes in the market that placed economic constraints on the facility.'' Dynegy also says it incurred debt exchange and litigation settlement costs that hurt results. Revenue fell 25 percent to $581 million. Dynegy blames lower volumes and pricing softness in the northeast and south for offsetting gains in the midwest.

I.W. Marks has received a national arts award from Business Committee for the Arts, founded by David Rockefeller to bring business and arts together. Business support to the arts from BCA has grown from $22 million to $3.32 billion in 2003.

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