Tuesday PM January 23rd, 2007

President Bush to ask Americans to cut down on gasoline consumption...Anadarko Petroleum to reduce Houston work force by 500 following recent acquisitions...Texas Instruments to close Dallas digital chip fabrication plant, eliminating 500 jobs...

President Bush will be calling on Americans tonight to cut their consumption of gasoline. His State of the Union speech will include an appeal for a drop of up to 20 percent in gasoline consumption in the next decade. According to an adviser, Bush sees that goal being achieved mostly through a sharp escalation in the amount of ethanol and other alternative fuels that the government says must be produced. The rest of the reduction would come from raising fuel economy standards for passenger cars.

Anadarko Petroleum says its Houston work force could shrink by nearly one-fourth by May this year, according to the Houston Chronicle, because of asset sales after the acquisition of two companies. Anadarko's vice president for human resources told the Texas Workforce Commission about 500 potential job cuts are possible at the company's headquarters in The Woodlands and other Houston sites. The company employs around 2,200 in the Houston area and 5,500 employees worldwide. Anadarko acquired Oklahoma City-based Kerr McGee and Denver-based Western Gas Resources last year. Anadarko is selling assets to refocus operations in the Gulf of Mexico and the Rocky Mountains to help pay the $21 billion in acquisitions, and the work force will shrink with those asset sales. But the company says many workers are expected to be employed by the buyers.

Texas Instruments plans to close a small digital chip fabrication plant in Dallas among changes to increase efficiency and profitability. That would eliminate 500 jobs. The Dallas-based computer chip maker faces challenges from customers asking for less inventory and a wireless market skewing toward low-priced, basic-featured cell phones. The world's largest maker of chips for mobile phones says fourth-quarter earnings rose two percent from a year earlier. It credits stronger demand for the company's semiconductor and calculator products. While announcing the gains, TI officials also laid out streamlining measures for the coming years. The company already uses a mixture of its own factories and other suppliers to produce semiconductors. Now, executives say outsourcing would be expanded to include the development of certain digital chips.

Preliminary December unemployment rates have been released by the Texas Workforce Commission. Texas unemployment fell to 4.5 percent in December, compared to a metro jobless rate of 4.7 percent in November. The figures, which are not seasonally adjusted, weren't available last week when the state released its regular monthly unemployment update. November figures are in parentheses for Texas metropolitan areas: Austin-Round Rock 3.2 (3.7); Beaumont-Port Arthur 5.4 (5.9); College Station-Bryan 3.0 (3.6); Corpus Christi 4.5 (4.8); Dallas-Plano-Irving 4.0 (4.5); El Paso 6.0 (6.7); Fort Worth-Arlington 4.0 (4.4); Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown 4.0 (4.5); San Antonio 3.7 (4.3).

More than 8,000 teachers in Houston are going home richer this week. School administrators are handing out bonuses of up to $7,175--in the nation's largest merit pay program. The Houston Independent School District board passed the program last year. Some educators will receive rewards for improving student performance on standardized tests. Those who teach math, reading or science have the greatest bonus potential. But Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon says the program is unfair to teachers outside the core subject areas. The U.S. Department of Education gave HISD $11.8 million to support merit pay over five years. Houston--with about 12,500 teachers and 210,000 students--is the largest district in Texas and seventh-biggest in the country.

State Farm has reportedly agreed to settle hundreds of Hurricane Katrina lawsuits filed by policyholders. A person with direct knowledge of the settlement says the deal also involves Mississippi's attorney general, who filed a civil lawsuit because of State Farm Fire and Casualty's refusal to pay hurricane claims. Terms of the deal weren't immediately revealed. It would be the first of its kind involving major insurers since the storm in 2005. The source on the agreement says it's also expected to end a criminal probe of State Farm by Mississippi's attorney general.

Texas and 29 other states have reached an $8 million settlement with Bayer. The deal settles allegations the drug maker didn't adequately warn consumers about risks associated with the cholesterol-reducing drug Baycol. The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office says Bayer allegedly learned after introducing Baycol in the United States in May 1998 that the drug posed greater health risks than similar drugs. It says that was particularly so when Baycol is taken in higher doses or in combination with another cholesterol-lowering drug. Bayer informed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about the higher risks. But allegedly it didn't warn doctors and consumers about such potential problems as a severe and potentially fatal muscle reaction that could cause kidney failure. Bayer voluntarily withdrew Baycol from the market in August 2001.

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