Friday AM February 23rd, 2007

BP chief to give deposition about Texas City refinery fire...Claims for unemployment benefits decline...Upcoming Offshore Technology Conference to expand into Reliant Stadium...

BP Chief Executive John Browne is scheduled to give a deposition in London today about the Texas City refinery fire, even as lawyers in Texas worked to block the order. BP has said that Lord Browne has no personal knowledge about the March 23rd, 2005 incident that killed 15 workers and injured scores of others. Meanwhile jury selection is slated for Monday for the civil lawsuits filed by two contract workers injured in the explosion. BP has settled some cases related to the blast. Browne is expected to step down as CEO in July.

BP has paid CEO John Browne shares worth about $4 million in an annual performance bonus that covers the time of the Texas City explosion and pipeline leaks and shutdowns in Alaska. Lord Browne was granted more than 380,000 shares for the performance period of 2004 and 2005—30 percent of the maximum number of shares he could have received.


The Labor Department reports the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits declined by 27,000 last week. That puts the level of new claims at 332,000. Claims had risen by 46,000 in the previous week, in a move thought related to winter storms. The four-week moving average for claims edged up to 328,000. The job market has been seen as generally healthy, with the unemployment rate standing at 4.6 percent in January.


Concerns about the slowing housing market's impact on overall economic growth is sending mortgage rates lower. Freddie Mac says the average for the 30-year fixed-rate loan came in at 6.22 percent this week, compared with 6.3 percent last week. Last year at this time, the average was 6.26 percent. The 15-year mortgage rate stands at 5.97 percent--down six basis points from last week. It averaged 5.89 percent a year ago. Freddie Mac Vice President and Chief Economist Frank Nothaft notes that housing starts for January were the weakest since August of 1997--a sign that the housing industry continues to have its problems.


The upcoming Offshore Technology Conference will expand into the adjacent Reliant Stadium this year, adding more outdoor exhibit space in the annual offshore oil and gas resources event. OTC is set for April 30th through May 3rd. More than 185 new exhibitors are signed up for the 2007 event. OTC has also expanded the exhibition area with an enclosed pavilion adjacent to the main exhibit hall in Reliant Center with an outdoor exhibit extending the entire length of Reliant Center, as well as additional outdoor exhibits between Reliant Stadium and Reliant Astrodome. The exhibit area totals more than the equivalent of 13 football fields—an increase of 46,000 net square feet compared with 2006. The Offshore Technology Conference was founded in 1969.


A ribbon-cutting ceremony is set for Monday for the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Conroe. The Conroe community-based outpatient clinic is on Riverwood Court near the Conroe Regional Medical Center, just off Loop 336 and Interstate 45. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates more than 44,000 veterans live in Montgomery and surrounding counties north of Houston.


Plains All American Pipeline has agreed to a 25 percent joint venture stake by Dallas-based Holly Energy Partners in a Plains pipeline under construction in Utah. Holly Energy will pay between $22 million and $25.5 million in the first quarter of 2008, when the new 25-mile line becomes operational.


WCA Waste is acquiring Oklahoma-based American Waste, according to the Houston Business Journal. That's WCA's third acquisition this year. American Waste has three landfills and 50 trucks. WCA will now have 23 landfills in 11 states.


A Los Angeles judge has approved a $13.5 million settlement of a lawsuit against Boeing and three other companies. The lawsuit was filed by two soldiers hurt in a 2003 army helicopter crash in Iraq. The product liability lawsuit claimed that a gear box on an AH-64 Apache Longbow failed during a maintenance flight in Tikrit, Iraq, causing the chopper to plunge 800 feet. Former Chief Warrant Officer Juan Beltran of Los Angeles was left a quadriplegic, lost a finger and had severe head injuries. The crash shattered the spine of Chief Warrant Officer Ron Carnes, who's now stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. An attorney who represented both men said the companies did not acknowledge any wrongdoing in the settlement, and the lawsuit will be dismissed later. The longbow is the army's primary attack helicopter in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Boeing says it's still talking with Aeroflot about an order. Spokesman Randy Harrison says aircraft negotiations are in progress "as of this moment.'' An official of the Russian airline says the 22-plane order is on hold, due partly to the political situation between the U.S. and Russia. Deputy General Director Lev Koshlyakov says discussions with Boeing for the 787s may resume. The deal announced last year would be worth $3.2 billion at list prices. Aeroflot also is talking with Boeing rival Airbus.


J.C. Penney says its fourth-quarter profit fell 13 percent on higher tax expense. The Plano-based department store chain also issued a first-quarter profit forecast below current Wall Street expectations. Fourth-quarter net income fell to $477 million. Revenue grew seven percent to $6.66 billion, while sales rose 4.2 percent. Same-store sales grew 2.2 percent, helped by sales of children's apparel, fine jewelry and family shoes. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial expected revenue of $6.64 billion. For the fiscal year, earnings grew six percent to $1.15 billion. Revenue rose six percent to 19.9 billion. The company said it expects total expenses and operating profit will remain flat in the first quarter, with moderate improvement expected for the full year. Penney says total sales will increase in the mid-single digits for both the first quarter and the year. Same-store sales are expected to grow in the low single digits for both periods.


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