Friday AM March 9th, 2007

Microsoft forum focuses on IT needs of oil and gas industry...SEC looks at spam crackdown...San Antonio officials asking for funds to repair Alamodome...

Microsoft's fourth annual Global Energy Forum at the Marriott Westchase this week focused on the oil and natural gas industry, with an emphasis on the technology that can help solve oil and gas business issues. Microsoft's Maris? Mikulis is the Energy Industry Manager in Houston.

"We've been working with the oil industry for quite a long time. We're very honored by that. And we have been growing our focus with the oil industry over the past five years, and the power of the Global energy forum is that Microsoft speaks to our customers in the language that they understand and instead of IT-speak. So we actually have a number of different industry focuses within Microsoft, such as the financial sector or the healthcare sector. In oil and gas, which is part of our manufacturing sector, we hold these events so that we can learn from our customers what their needs are in oil and gas, in particular. We can collaborate with our partners, our supplier partners."

Mikulis says the idea is to help the oil and gas industry better utilize technology.

"It is a combination of understanding what a customer's need is--in their context, not just an IT context—and be able to apply our resources and innovation in conjunction with our partners, such as a software vendor, on behalf of the customer to that particular situation or problem statement. You know, Microsoft invests more than $6 billion a year in R&D, and we really want to help this industry leverage and capitalize on that great investment in terms of oil and gas because of the challenges that we are stepping into."

Microsoft has been picking up ideas from the gaming industry and apply those ideas to the oil and gas industry. Some 30 Microsoft partners exhibited at the event, with around 300 oil and gas IT decision makers attending.


Many of the nation's retailers had a chilly start to the spring selling season. Analysts say bad weather in February may have hurt demand for new clothing. The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, is among those with less-than-hoped-for sales numbers. Rival target fared better than expected. Higher-end retailers continue to see good times, including Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. Retail expert Britt Beemer with America's Research Group says female shoppers have been particularly cautious about buying new clothing. He says that may force retailers to cut prices by Memorial Day to boost sales.


Long-term mortgage rates have fallen to the lowest level so far this year. Freddie Mac says the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is averaging 6.14 percent this week, compared with 6.18 percent last week. A year ago, the rate was 6.37 percent. The average rate for the 15-year loan, often used in refinancing, was 5.86 percent--a drop of six basis points. The 15-year mortgage rate averaged six percent at this time last year. Freddie Mac Vice President and Chief Economist Frank Nothaft attributes the decline to volatility in overseas stock markets, which raised questions about implications for the U.S. economy.


Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is continuing to urge China's leaders to open their markets. Speaking at the Shanghai Futures Exchange, Paulson said "while China's people work every bit as hard--if not harder--than people in other economies, they are not yet as well off.'' At the exchange, only a handful of commodities are traded by local brokers. Paulson noted that Chinese citizens have limited investment choices, compared to people in many other countries. Global markets were unnerved last week by a nine-percent daily decline in Shanghai-traded shares. Paulson says such volatility could be reduced if China's markets were opened to institutional investors from around the world.


Regulators have advised AT&T that shareholders should be allowed to vote on whether they want to examine executive compensation annually. The update is from the Securities and Exchange Commission. As a result, AT&T will include the motion in its proxy statement--expected in late March. A company spokeswoman says if the motion passes April 27th, shareholders will get to express their views on the compensation packages as early as 2008. Shareholders Bruce E. Beckman and the Association of Ameritech/SBC retirees want the vote during next month's annual meeting. They proposed the board of San Antonio-based AT&T adopt a policy that shareholders get a non-binding vote on executive compensation packages at annual meetings. AT&T argued, in part, that the issue wasn't proper for a stockholder vote because the compensation votes would not be binding.


A spam crackdown by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC has suspended trading in 35 companies that are hyped in spam e-mails sent by unknown market manipulators. The commission says the accuracy of information in e-mails about the "spammed'' companies is questionable. The e-mails--an estimated 100 million of them a week--show up in people's inboxes with subject line messages such as "ready to explode,'' "ride the bull'' and "fast money.'' They can produce dramatic spikes in trading and stock prices before the spamming stops and investors lose their money. The suspensions, part of an SEC effort called "Operation Spamalot,'' will last for ten business days.


San Antonio officials plan to ask the city council $10 million to repair the Alamodome. The city officials say the repairs will be necessary to attract marquee sporting events. They say the dome needs work on sideline suites, a new roof, new carpet in meetings rooms, new furniture in club-level suites and a shade for an outdoor walkway. The 65,000-seat stadium will host the NCAA's men's south regional basketball tournament this month, the men's final four in 2008 and the women's final four in 2010. Tourism officials estimate the events could generate close to $70 million. San Antonio plans to bid next summer for future final fours. Supporters say the economic benefits of tourism generated by the 14-year-old domed stadium outweigh the fact it has no tenant and operates at a loss. The dome cost $193 million to build in 1993. Since 2003, upgrades have included sideline suites, new turf, improved video walls, outdoor electronic marquees, renovated restrooms and revamped plaza entries.


Southwest Airlines is adding 18 flights in 15 cities this summer as the discount carrier continues to expand its aircraft fleet this year. That includes four new flights from Houston. Starting in June, Southwest will have daily nonstop flights between Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Providence, Rhode Island, as well as between Houston's Hobby Airport and San Diego. The Dallas-based airline says it'll begin five new daily nonstop roundtrips between Denver and Oakland, California, on June 17th. By August 4th, Southwest will have one new daily nonstop roundtrip between Baltimore and Oklahoma City, as well as an additional daily nonstop roundtrip between Baltimore and St. Louis--for a total of five daily. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly says the fleet will grow between seven and eight percent this year with the addition of 37 new Boeing 737s.

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