Tuesday AM January 23rd, 2007

Oil producing platform roars back to life after hurricanes...National Association for Business Economics poll of economists reveals cautious optimism...Halliburton acquires Calgary, Canada-based Ultraline Services...

An ambitious repair project has brought back to life the most prolific oil-producing platform in the Gulf of Mexico after it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The 36,000, 500-ton Royal Dutch Shell Mars platform is now producing more oil than it did before Katrina. Shell's effort to get Mars back on line in just nine months with no major injuries has made the company a contender for the Offshore Energy Achievement Award for Project of the Year. Mars sustained massive destruction in 2005 when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf. The region produces one-fourth of the nation's oil and one-fifth of its natural gas. The storms destroyed 115 of the Gulf's 4,000 oil and gas platforms and damaged 52 others. Shell spent $300 million fixing its Gulf infrastructure and covering relocation costs for workers who lost their homes and possessions to the storms. The company declined to specify the costs of Mars' repairs.


The nation's business economists expect 2007 will be a good year, but their optimism is couched in caution. The latest survey by the National Association for Business Economics shows a third of those asked expect to add workers in the next six months--a higher share than in the past two surveys. Nearly half the services firms say they expect to add employees, goods producing firms expect to cut jobs. About one third expect the housing sector to slow substantially in the next six months, while about half expect a slowdown of five percent or less. Regarding overall economic growth, only one of the more than 100 economists asked expects the economy will stop growing. But only three percent expect growth in the Gross Domestic Product will exceed three percent.


Dell and Zogby International say their survey shows Texans want to expand the use of information technology to solve their health problems, according to the Houston Business Journal. Nearly three in four say electronic prescriptions could have a positive impact on the quality of health care. Almost half believe the quality and efficiency of health care will improve significantly as more technology is introduced into the system. The survey shows that nearly three in five Texans believe the state's health system needs reform.


Halliburton is acquiring the Calgary, Canada-based Ultraline Services division of Savanna Energy Services in a $177 million deal. Ultraline's 200 employees will be transferred to Halliburton.


Governor Rick Perry says the Small Business Administration has granted his request to provide federal disaster assistance to Hardin and Newton Counties because of severe flooding from severe storms in mid-October. The decision automatically makes neighboring Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Orange, Polk, Sabine and Tyler counties eligible. Homeowners, renters and small businesses in the nine counties can apply for low-interest SBA disaster loans.


Europe's largest electronics and electrical engineering company is pulling all business operations out of Sudan by mid-summer because of the humanitarian conditions. Siemens built the six-axle low-floor light rail cars used in Houston's Red Line route. The German firm also provided the power generating system for the trains. The company is ending its operations in some countries on moral and political grounds. Violence has worsened in the Darfur area of Sudan since a peace deal was signed last May. European diplomats said its decision to pull out of Sudan does not exclude possible involvement in humanitarian activities organized by internationally recognized organizations.


Following the recent announcement by Meximerica Media that its Rumbo newspaper would shift from three days a week to being a weekly publication, it's been announced that the paper will move its headquarters from San Antonio to Houston. Edward Schumacher Matos has stepped down as chairman and CEO, and former Houston Chronicle executive Lynne Cook, based in Houston, has taken the position. Rumbo has a circulation of 100,000 in Houston, and is also published for San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley.


California-based Bethany Group has purchased eight Houston apartment complexes from Sendera Investment Group, according to the Houston Chronicle. The properties, all outside Beltway 8 and totaling 2,439 units, were sold for an undisclosed price. They include: Sendera Briargrove on Westheimer, Sendera Champion Forest on Champion Forest, Sendera Memorial on Nottingham Oak Trail, Sendera Park on Country Place, Sendera Sugar Ridge on Sugar Ridge, Sendera Westway on Hammerly, Sendera Woodbridge on Empanada and Wyndham Oaks on Kirkwood.


Deep Down of Channelview is acquiring Houston-based ElectroWave USA, an electronic monitoring/control system designer and manufacturer, according to the Houston Business Journal. Deep Down provides engineering, support and storage management services for the offshore subsea control, umbilical and pipeline industries.


Take Two Interactive Software's investigation has uncovered stock option irregularities during the tenure of former chairman and CEO Ryan Brant. Take-Two publishes the "Grand Theft Auto'' video games. Details are in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Take Two said from April of 1997 through August of 2003, Brant engaged in a pattern and practice of backdating options, and during that time--a significant number of option grants appear to have been backdated. Scores of companies have come under scrutiny for backdating stock options. Although the manipulation isn't necessarily illegal, securities laws require companies to properly disclose the practice. Take Two began its investigation in June. Brant resigned in October.


Texas Gas Transmission is proposing a 167-mile natural gas pipeline from central Arkansas to northern Mississippi as a way to get natural gas to market from the Fayetteville shale deposits. Texas Gas, which is headquartered in Owensboro, Kentucky, has begun the filing process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The commission will be the lead federal agency for conducting an environmental review of the project. The company expects the line will cost about $360 million. With regulatory approval, Texas Gas plans to begin construction in 2008 and complete the project in early 2009. The line would carry gas from the Fayetteville shale, an underground reservoir of natural gas that was first plumbed by Houston-based Southwestern Energy Company in 2004.


The owners of two horse slaughtering plants in Texas are considering whether to challenge a ruling that upheld a Texas law that banned horse slaughter for the purpose of selling the meat for food. The ruling involves two of the nation's three horse slaughtering plants--the Dallas Crown facility in Kaufman and Beltex in nearby Fort Worth. A third plant run by Cavel International in DeKalb, Illinois, is not affected by the ruling. Plants spokesman and former U.S. Representative Charlie Stenholm said that the companies are considering their options, including appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. Stenholm is also a spokesman for a coalition of about 200 organizations seeking to preserve the option for humane slaughter of unwanted horses. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned a lower court ruling on the 1949 Texas law. The lower court had said the law was invalid because it had already been repealed by another statute and was pre-empted by federal law. But a three-judge appeals court panel said the law was still enforceable.


A couple of reports on the housing sector are sure to get some attention this week following last week's report that housing starts rose in December. The National Association of Realtors has figures on sales of previously-owned homes on Thursday and the Commerce Department will update the new home sales situation a day later.


Remember when people would hang out at the store, waiting for the release of a new Microsoft operating system the way some folks would wait to buy concert or playoff tickets? Those days are long gone--but there is bound to be plenty of interest when Microsoft drops its new Vista operating system at the end of this month. January 30th, to be exact. For one thing, it's the first upgrade by Microsoft since Windows XP came into existence. And Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to promote the new software product. Even if the OS doesn't go flying off the shelves, it already promises to be a big seller. Just about every new PC sold after the 30th will be loaded with Vista and many of those sold within the past couple of months came with a coupon that entitles the buyer to an upgrade. Dallas-based Comp USA will throw open the doors of its 230 stores shortly before midnight January 29th. That's so it can start selling the first Vista-equipped desktop and notebook computers the minute it can do so under its deal with Microsoft. Best Buy plans to do the same thing at about 15 of its stores. Both chains are promising deals on PCs and notebooks to create opening-night fever. Comp USA is also offering discount installations and a money-back guarantee to customers who bring in their machines before the January 30th launch. They can pick up their machines as early as the midnight launch.


Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens has donated $5 million to the University of Texas at Dallas. The donation will create the T. Boone Pickens Distinguished Chair in Clinical Brain Science, the T. Boone Pickens Virtual Learning Center, and facilities and research programs at the Center for BrainHealth. The center is part of the UTD School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. University officials say that will support education and research in brain science.


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