Monday AM December 18th, 2006

Port of Houston Authority to look at Bayport-related items...Consumer prices unexpectedly flat during November...Department of Veterans Affairs to build new VA community-based outpatient clinic near Conroe Regional Medical Center...

The Port of Houston Authority Commission will consider several Bayport-related items at its meeting this afternoon. Commissioners are being asked to approve a $1.29 million contract for design and construction with the expansion of Port Road. Other contracts are being considered related to telecommunications and security. The commission will consider five one-year contracts for state and federal government consulting services. Contract renewals will be considered for the Houston Port Bureau, Houston International Seafarers Center, Greater Houston Partnership Economic Development Council and Greater Houston Partnership World Trade Division. And the board will consider the port's 2007 media expenditures, which could be as high as $1.76 million.

Consumer prices were unexpectedly flat during November, providing evidence that the economy continues to grow with inflation remaining in check. The Labor Department says the Consumer Price Index was unchanged, as food and energy prices fell. Core inflation was also unchanged, posting its lowest reading in more than a year. The core rate, excluding the volatile food and energy components, was also unchanged. The reading on the core is the lowest since it was flat in June 2005. In October, the CPI fell a half-percent and the core inched up one-tenth of one percent. Economists had been expecting a two-tenths-of-a-percent increase in consumer prices overall and the same in the core index.

The industrial sector is chugging along better than analysts expected. The Federal Reserve says industrial production rebounded in November, led by rising output at auto factories. According to the Fed report, industrial production rose two-tenths of a percent last month, the first increase in three months and twice as much as economists expected. The rebound was led by a three-tenths-percent jump in output at factories as auto plants posted a strong 3.7 percent increase following two months of big declines. Last month's industrial capacity utilization was steady at 81.8 percent, as the October utilization rate was revised down two-tenths of a percentage point from 82 percent in the previous report.

Encysive Pharmaceuticals has responded to the Food & Drug Administration's request to reformat its application for the hypertension drug Thelin. The FDA requested that Encysive provide information in a certain tubular format, according to the Houston Business Journal. Encysive has received marketing authorization for Thelin from the European Commission, and plans to market the drug in the UK by early 2007.

The Department of Veterans Affairs will build a new VA community-based outpatient clinic on Riverwood Court near the Conroe Regional Medical Center. Opening in early 2007, the clinic will offer primary care and mental health services for the more than 44,000 veterans living in Montgomery and surrounding counties. Another clinic opened in 2005 on the Emmett F. Lowry Expressway in Texas City.

Texas United Bancshares and Prosperity Bancshares shareholders have approved Prosperity's acquisition of Texas United. The closing is tentatively set for February 2007. Houston-based Prosperity will pay $357.1 million to acquire Texas United. The deal furnishes Prosperity with 43 additional branches.

Houston-based Natural Resource Partners is partnering with Cline Group, and will acquire 49 million tons of reserves leased to active Cline mining operations in the Illinois and Northern Appalachian coal basins. NRP will also acquire transportation assets and infrastructure at those mines. The transaction is expected to close in early 2007.

Houston-based International Gas Consulting is selling its natural gas storage consulting business to Kilgore, Texas-based Martin Resource Management, according to the Houston Business Journal. MRMC will acquire the employees that had been in the natural gas storage consulting arm of IGC.

A subsidiary of Houston-based Waste Management has purchased 264 acres of property from U.S. Steel Corporation in eastern Pennsylvania in a $16 million deal. The property will be used for sand and gravel extraction for landfill use, and not as a landfill.

The University of Houston Downtown staged its 41st commencement Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, with around 1,241 summer and fall graduates. The UHD College of Business had the largest number of graduates, with 175 summer grads and 364 fall candidates. The $35 million, four-story UHD Shea Street building to house the business college is under construction and scheduled for completion next fall. UHD enrollment has grown 28 percent in the last five years.

A team of U.S. colleges led by Texas A&M University has been chosen to participate in a $5.3 million program aimed at helping restore Iraq's agricultural economy. A&M's Texas Cooperative Extension and Prairie View A&M University are among the colleges. The Iraq Agricultural Extension Revitalization Project was announced earlier this year by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. He identified the schools that will help Iraq develop training programs and marketing strategies as part of the project. The group's first focus will be developing an extension service.

The University of Texas at San Antonio has announced a plan that it hopes will encourage poor students to enter higher education. The school says it will pay full tuition and fees beginning next fall for incoming freshmen whose families make less than $25,000 a year. University President Ricardo Romo says the program can help families who are scared of taking out loans. The offer includes a work-study job on campus for ten to 12 hours per week to help cover living expenses. Participating students must take 30 credit hours per year and maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average. Lisa Blazer, head of the financial aid, says about 500 students are expected in the program next year. She says students will likely need some federal loans to pay for room and board.

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