Tuesday AM January 30th, 2007

Manufacturing activity grows in Texas, northern Louisiana and southern New Mexico...$50 million Center for the Intrepid military rehab center opens in San Antonio...Tesoro Corporation buys LA-area refinery and 250 California retail stations from Shell Oil...

Manufacturing activity in Texas, northern Louisiana and southern New Mexico grew in January. That's according to a report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The Dallas Fed says the production index for its district moved to positive 13.8 from negative 5.2 in December. The bank's general activity index stood at positive 4.7 after registering a negative 8.8 last month. Readings above zero indicate positive activity--the higher the number, the more broad-based the gains. The bank says inflationary pressures faced by manufacturers in the district continued to grow. The bank reported that its index of prices paid for raw materials moved to positive 30.8 this month from a positive 19.0 the month before. Meanwhile, the prices received index hit positive 1.5, versus a positive 1.7 in December. Hiring in the Dallas Fed district expanded, with the employment index at positive 4.6 from the flat reading a month ago. Manufacturing in the Dallas Fed district represents a notable portion of total U.S. output and is concentrated in energy production and electronic goods.


Top brass and celebrities joined forces in San Antonio to salute injured U.S. troops and help open a $50 million rehab center. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace thanked the veterans during ceremonies that drew a crowd of more than 3,000. Among the celebrity guests were TV co-host Rosie O'Donnell and actress Michelle Pfeiffer. The 60,000-square-foot Center for the Intrepid was built with private donations. The complex will allow the army to move its rehabilitation program out of the Brooke Army Medical Center and into a separate facility. The high-tech center was financed by the non-profit Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, especially to help amputees and burn victims. The complex includes a rock-climbing wall, wave pool and a 360-degree virtual reality sphere. Amputee rehab programs are now being run at Brooke, Walter Reed Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Medical Center.


San Antonio-based Tesoro Corporation says it's buying a Los Angeles-area refinery and 250 southern California retail stations from Shell Oil. Tesoro's board approved the $1.63 billion deal, which is subject to regulatory approval. That cost doesn't include the value of petroleum inventory when the deal closes. That inventory is estimated to be worth up to $200 million. Shell's Wilmington, California, refinery has a production capacity of 100,000 barrels per day. The deal also includes Shell's Wilmington products terminal. Tesoro says it signed a long-term agreement that will keep the retail sites under the Shell brand. Each of the stations averages sales of 225,000 gallons per month. Tesoro says it expects the deal will be completed in the second quarter of this year.

Tesoro says robust refining margins led to a more than doubling of fourth-quarter profit, despite a drop in revenue. Net income grew to $158 million from $69 million a year ago. San Antonio-based Tesoro credits the improved results to a 16 percent jump in gross refining margin. That offset lower output from a refinery undergoing maintenance. Also during the quarter, jet fuel demand strengthened, resulting in an improved performance from Tesoro's Alaska refinery. Strong demand for diesel fuel boosted profit at the company's refineries in its mid-continent region. Full-year earnings rose to $801 million from $507 million in 2005.


Biotech firm Genetech has received a request for more information from the Federal Trade Commission regarding its proposed $919 million acquisition of Houston-based Tanox. That could delay the acquisition until sometime in the first half of the year. The companies have not indicated whether any jobs would be lost in the deal. Tanox employs about 150 people.


Houston-based Cooper Industries has acquired Canadian firm Cybertec, according to the Houston Business Journal. The acquisition of Cybectec and the recently-announced acquisition of Canon Technologies are to help Cooper broaden its range of energy automation capabilities.


Some Venezuelan lawmakers said they'll give President Hugo Chavez special powers to make changes to the oil, gas and electricity industries. National Assembly President Cilia Flores says lawmakers loyal to Chavez would approve an "enabling law.'' That would allow the leftist leader to pass measures by decree for 18 months in the "energy sphere,'' among 11 areas ranging from the economy to defense. The pending bill is expected to receive final approval later this week. It's not immediately clear what changes Chavez would make within the oil and gas industries as he moves to transform Venezuela into a full socialist state. Chavez has said BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Total and Statoil would be given the option to stay on as minority partners in Eastern Orinoco region.


Home Deport plans to hire around 15,000 new workers this spring—its key hiring season. The Atlanta-based chain added 15,000 new jobs last year. Positions will include sales, night operations, specialty departments, cashiers and lot attendants, but the home improvement chain is hiring skilled workers for its electrical, plumbing, millwork and professional contracting departments.


Kimberly-Clark said it'll outsource a range of personnel services to consulting firm Accenture. Financial terms of the seven-year deal weren't disclosed. Bermuda-based Accenture will handle recruitment, payroll administration, training and other personnel functions for Kimberly-Clark. The companies didn't say how many Kimberly-Clark employees would be affected. But an Accenture spokeswoman says it won't hire any of the Kimberly-Clark employees. The Irving-based maker of Kleenex tissues and Huggies diapers has been cutting costs since July 2005 to offset high costs of energy and raw materials such as pulp.


Some Guadalupe River businesses are working to distance themselves from new tubing rules in New Braunfels. The city council last week gave initial approval to rules for the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers meant to crack down on drunken parties and litter. Business owners upstream from the city point out the new rules will only apply to the stretch of the river within the New Braunfels city limits. They say they hope their customers aren't repelled by news of the rules. The rules would ban open alcohol containers at several riverfront parks and limit the size of coolers. They also would limit tubers to one tube per person, limit the size of tubes and require jackets for children younger than eight. The new rules must pass a second vote next week before taking effect.


The Media Rating Council has accredited Arbitron's Houston Portable People Meter, allowing the New York-based marketing and research firm to switch from diaries to measure radio ratings. Houston has been Arbitron's radio and television demonstration market for the meter since mid-2005. The system uses a passive audience measurement device to track inaudible codes embedded in cable, radio and television signals. The device can track when and where consumers watch television, listen to radio and interact with other forms of media, such as terrestrial, satellite or Internet radio.


The Federal Communications Commission is accused of misrepresenting facts while pushing through rules to open cable television to big phone companies. The nation's chief telecommunications regulator approved the policy change by a 3-2 vote December 20th. That angered local government officials. They allege the agency overstepped its authority. The vote also drew the threat of what the critics call a "legislative fix'' from a Congressman. The new rules are meant to spur more competition for cable television providers. They require local governments to speed up approvals for new competitors, cap fees paid by new entrants and ease requirements that competitors build systems that reach every home. Companies such as San Antonio-based AT&T are spending billions of dollars to lay fiber-optic cable in their service areas in the hope they'll be able to compete with the cable TV industry. Consumer groups long blamed rising cable rates and poor service on a lack of competition. But opponents of the FCC's action say the new rules amount to what they call a "federalization'' of the cable franchising process. Supporters of the policy change have cited dozens of instances in which local governments have made unreasonable demands of new competitors. Local governments are readying for a legal fight, but a court challenge can't take place until the FCC releases the final version of the new rules.


Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt says taxpayers have sent $275,867,063 in combined electronic payments for automobile registrations and property tax payments since its E-Government Web site was launched in 2000. Property tax payments have topped $240 million and over $35 million in vehicle registrations to date. Some 156,002 taxpayers have paid online compared to 138,540 registrations for 2005.


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