Tuesday PM November 21st, 2006

Retail outlets plan extended post-Thanksgiving hours...National and state economic forecasts issued by Bush, Strayhorn...Houston hosts 2006 Jinshan-Houston Chemical Industry Forum...

Used to be you had to line up the day after Thanksgiving to get bargains when some stores opened at 5 a.m. But this year, show up at that hour and you might be in for a disappointment. Some stores will be opening at the stroke of midnight. The Galleria, Willowbrook Mall, Baybrook Mall, Deerbrook Mall in Humble, First Colony Mall in Sugar Land and The Woodlands Mall will all open their doors at 5 a.m. on Friday so that retailers can open by 6 a.m. KB Toys will have more than 50 stores open nationwide at the witching hour. Their chief marketing officer says it would make "terrible business sense'' not to. So far, retail giants like Wal-Mart are resisting the urge to pull an all-nighter. But some chains will open on Thanksgiving Day for the first time. They include BJ's Wholesale, as well as CompUSA, the latter of which will open from 9 p.m. until midnight in many states.

Energy costs are still a big concern. But a new survey by the Consumer Federation of America finds Americans have a couple of other worries affecting how much they'll spend this holiday season. Household expenses and a person's current finances are other key factors, according to Bill Hampel, chief economist at the Credit Union National Association, which also commissioned the survey. Almost one-third of consumers say they'll spend less on the holidays. Of the 15-percent expecting to spend more, Hampel says they're more likely to be upbeat on their prospects for next year. So if you're on a limited budget and don't want to break the bank, what can you do? Hampel suggests that much like Santa you make a list and check it twice before leaving for the mall. Once you have that list of gift recipients, he says stick to it.

Revenues from the Houston Ballet Guild's 2006 Nutcracker Market brought in $11.2 million in gross sales—almost a 20 percent increase from $9.8 million in 2005. Attendance was up from last year by nearly seven percent, reaching 69,500 visitors. This year's market featured 311 merchants from 33 states.

A slump in the housing market has created some changes in the Bush administration's economic forecast. The White House has lowered its forecast for economic growth this year and into 2008. But it is still predicting that the unemployment rate will turn out to be slightly lower than previously thought. Under the administration's new forecast, Gross Domestic Product will grow by just over three percent, down from a projection of 3.6 percent in early June. However, that would still represent decent growth, especially given the strain on overall economic activity from the housing slump. The nation's unemployment rate, which averaged 5.1 percent last year, is expected to dip to 4.6 percent this year--a slight improvement from the previous forecast.

The Texas economy is growing at a healthy rate, but it may not keep that same pace, according to Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn's Fall 2006 economic forecast. She cites the state's increasing ties to U.S. performance. Home sales are falling on a national level. Strayhorn says the Gross State Product will grow five percent this year and at an average annual rate of 3.5 percent from 2007 through 2009. The years 2003 through 2006 say a 4.8 percent annual rate of growth. The comptroller says the Texas Gross State Product will outpace the national gross Domestic Product until 2009, when they will mirror each other. She says personal income in Texas will grow at an annual rate of 6.4 percent for the next three years.

Dell has beat analyst's expectations in its latest earnings--reported today, after a delay of nearly one week. But the Round Rock-based computer maker warns the results are preliminary and could change due to a federal investigation into its accounting and financial reporting. For the quarter that ended November 3rd, Dell earned $677 million on sales of $14.4 billion. That compares to earnings of $606 million in the third quarter of last year. Those figures were hurt by $442 million dollars in charges Dell took to repair a faulty computer component and costs related to restructuring. The report was filed six days later than expected and comes amid a formal investigation of dell by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Federal prosecutors have decided not to appeal U.S. District Judge Sim Lake's decision to clear Enron founder Ken Lay's name. Judge Lake had based his ruling on precedent set by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Lay died in July, six weeks after he was convicted of ten criminal counts in separate cases, but before he was sentenced. The notice came the same day Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Jeff Sessions of Alabama introduced a bill that would keep federal convictions in force when a defendant dies. Such a change in law would allow victims to continue seeking restitution.

Houston hosted the half-day 2006 Jinshan-Houston Chemical Industry Forum at the J.W. Marriott Hotel for local chemical companies interested in business in China. District Governor of Shanghai city Jinshan District Yuyi Li discussed China's business economy and the region's new petrochemical industrial park. The zone has 25 plants in operation andξanother 20 under construction. Mayor Bill White had previously met Governor Li this past July on the City of Houston trade mission in Shanghai.

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