Thursday PM February 1st, 2007

Exxon Mobil posts biggest-ever annual profit by U.S. company...Federal judge overturns former Enron Broadband executive's conviction...Dynegy selling southwestern Louisiana power generating plant to Entergy...

Exxon Mobil has posted the biggest annual profit ever by a U.S. company. The Irving-based oil giant reports a 2006 profit of $39.5 billion. That tops last year's previous record profit of $36.13 billion by 9.3 percent. That's even as earnings for the last quarter of 2006 fell by four percent. Revenue from the world's largest publicly traded oil company rose 1.9 percent to $377.64 billion for the year. That exceeded the previous year's record of $370.68 billion. Exxon Mobil's record earnings follow a year of extraordinarily high energy prices. Crude oil topped $78 a barrel last summer, driving up average U.S. gas prices to more than $3 a gallon. Prices retreated later in the year. The fourth-quarter profit fell 4.3 percent from the 2005 quarter's record to $10.25 billion. The fall reflects lower profits from Exxon's refining and marketing segment and a sharp drop-off in natural gas prices.

Former Enron executive Kevin Howard's fraud and conspiracy convictions related to the company's broadband unit have been overturned. A federal judge in Houston overturned the convictions--just days before he was set to be sentenced. Howard--former Broadband unit finance chief--was convicted in May on five counts of fraud, conspiracy and falsifying records after a month-long trial. Howard had been set to be sentenced on Monday. Former in-house accountant Michael Krautz was acquitted of the same charges in the same trial. Both men were accused of participating in a small piece of the fraud that brought down Enron in 2001. U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore vacated all five counts Howard was convicted of, saying in a 19-page ruling the convictions were tied to a flawed legal theory prosecutors used to explain the fraud and conspiracy charges.

General Motors sales fell by 16.4 percent last month on weaker demand for most of its major brands. The world's largest auto maker says sales of cars were down 22.5 percent, while truck sales fell more than 11 percent. GM also said production volume was down 19 percent in January and cut its production forecast by 3.6 percent for the rest of the year. Ford, meanwhile, suffered a sales plunge of 18.9 percent last month, surrendering its ranking as the number-two U.S. car seller to Toyota. Chrysler said its sales were up a-half percent for its best January in six years.

An Entergy unit agreed to buy a 322-megawatt power generating plant in southwestern Louisiana from Dynegy. The price for the Calcasieu generating facility is about $57 million. The plant will be totally owned by the Entergy Gulf States subsidiary of the New Orleans-based utility holding company. Beaumont-based Entergy Gulf States plans to invest about $6 million in the plant. Entergy says the addition of an estimated $3 million in purchase costs brings the deal's value to about $66 million. The natural gas-fired plant in Sulphur, Louisiana, began operating in 2000. Entergy says the deal will likely will be completed early next year. The purchases require approvals, including full cost recovery, from federal and state regulatory agencies. Houston-based power provider Dynegy says the sale follows a recent plan to evaluate its generating plants to focus on specific regions and markets. Dynegy previously said it would record a pre-tax impairment charge of $40 million for the fourth quarter of 2006 related to the Calcasieu plant.

A closely-watched report on manufacturing finds a contraction for the sector in January. The Institute for Supply Management says its manufacturing index fell to 49.3, down about two points from the previous month. Any number below 50 indicates contraction. It is weaker than expected. The group's survey chair Norbert Ore says there's been little change in the sector in recent months, but notes that it is ''less than robust.''

Whole Foods Market is recalling 6,000 jars of its 365 Everyday Value Kalamata Olive Tapenade—because they may contain glass fragments. Austin-based Whole Foods says the recalled jars are marked with the number "B.B. 14/09/2009 l 257/06'' and have a time stamp between 14:00 and 16:00. Jars with time stamps within this range should be discarded and not consumed. The recall was announced after the company said it received two reports from Texas about glass being found in the jars.

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