Tuesday PM April 3rd, 2007

Nation's manufacturing sector shows slower growth...UH to launch new Center for Industrial Partnerships...Federal authorities continue going after Hurricane Katrina fraud cases...

A closely-watched report on the nation's manufacturing sector shows growth at a slowing pace. The Institute for Supply Management index is put at 50.9, just a notch below expectations and down from the previous month. Any reading above 50 indicates growth. While production and new orders rose, the trade group notes rising prices. Investors have been nervous about the direction of the economy, given the weak housing and automobile sectors.

The University of Houston System is launching a new research and technology center in partnership with area businesses and industries. The Center for Industrial Partnerships will help solve technological challenges in the commercialization process. The practice at UHS has been to develop technologies and then try to match industry interests to what the university has to offer. The new center will gain input from industry and UH together.

More than 18 months after Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, authorities are chipping away at hundreds of fraud cases involving storm relief. By some estimates, thousands of people have bilked the federal government and charities out of hundreds of millions of dollars intended to aid storm victims. The fraud stretches far beyond the Gulf Coast. So far, more than 600 people have been charged in federal cases in 22 states--including Texas--as well as the District of Columbia. Federal authorities say the frauds range in value from a few thousand dollars to more than $700,000. Complaints are still pouring in and several thousand possible cases are in the pipeline. U.S. Attorney David Dugas of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, says the growing roster of the accused includes employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. He says they also include other public officials, business owners, and temporary workers for the Red Cross.

The state is suing RadioShack for exposing customers to possible identity theft after records were dumped in Portland. The Texas Attorney General's Office says numerous documents with social security and bank account numbers were found in a trash bin behind a store. A man who last month found the items contacted KZTV television in Corpus Christi. AG Greg Abbott's office began its investigation after the report that some employees had dumped the personal information items. Investigators are determining if any of the information has been used illegally since then. Fort Worth-based RadioShack didn't immediately return a call seeking comment. The company originally said the items should have been shredded and the incorrect disposal was an isolated incident. RadioShack is accused of violating provisions of the 2005 Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act. The company is also charged with violations under the Business and Commerce Code, which requires businesses to develop retention and disposal procedures for such personal information. The law provides for civil penalties of up to $500 for each abandoned record.

Union representatives of Greyhound drivers and other employees are urging the company to return to the bargaining table. Members of Local 1700 of the Amalgamated Transit Union have rejected a proposal that the Dallas-based bus line called its final offer. That leaves two weeks until their current contract with the bus operator runs out. The union says 77 percent of the voters opposed the contract, which called for a two percent increase in wages. Local president Bruce Hamilton says union bylaws require a separate two-thirds vote of members to authorize a strike. He says no such vote is scheduled. Greyhound president Steve Gorman says the company is disappointed in the vote's outcome--because it regarded the offer as fair. But Hamilton says the union also wants Greyhound to commit to not subcontracting union jobs. He says Greyhound offered to limit but not eliminate subcontracting.

Italian officials are defending their wish to keep Telecom Italia in Italian hands. That's after the controlling shareholder announced it was in talks to sell a majority stake to AT&T and its Mexican affiliate. Tire-to-telecom group Pirelli says it's negotiating exclusively with AT&T and Mexican affiliate America Movil over two-thirds of Telecom Italia's holding company, Olimpia. The proposal expires April 30th. The proposal would give San Antonio-based AT&T and America Movil one-third each of Olimpia, which controls 18 percent of Telecom Italia. AT&T owns eight percent of America Movil. The Italian government expressed alarm over the possible deal involving the former telecommunications state monopoly, which is considered a strategic asset. The proposed deal could prompt the Italian government to intervene after a public spat last year that led to the resignation of former Telecom Chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera. He's also Pirelli's chairman. Infrastructure Minister Antonio di Pietro also expressed concern over the possible deal, saying the government should be ready with counter measures.

Halliburton Chairman and CEO Dave Lesar received a 2006 compensation package valued by the company at about $16.5 million. Details are in a proxy statement. Houston-based Halliburton's move to a new headquarters in Dubai sparked an outcry in Congress last month. Lesar, who's 53, has led the high-profile oilfield services company and defense contractor since 2000. He received a salary of 1.3 million. The bulk of his package came in a bonus and stock options and awards. Lesar's deal, in part, included a $6.64 million bonus the company referred to as non-stock incentive compensation, plus stock and option awards. The Associated Press calculations of total pay include an executive's salary, bonus, incentives, perks, above-market returns on deferred compensation and the estimated value of stock options and awards granted during the year.

ConocoPhillips Chairman and Chief Executive Jim Mulva got a compensation package worth roughly $15 million in 2006. Last year was the most profitable on record for the Houston-based company. ConocoPhillips is the nation's third-largest integrated oil company. Mulva, who's 60, has chaired the ConocoPhillips board since October 2004. He received, in part, a salary of $1.5 million, and a non-equity incentive bonus of nearly $3.4 million. The biggest boost to Mulva's pay package was from stock options and awards, which the company valued at $9.7 million. The Associated Press calculations of total pay include an executive's salary, bonus, incentives, perks, above-market returns on deferred compensation and the estimated value of stock options and awards granted during the year.

The chief executive of money-losing hospital operator Tenet Healthcare got compensation the company valued at $9.8 million last year. That's according to an analysis of a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The bulk of compensation for Trevor Fetter came in stock and options awards. Those had an estimated value of $7.4 million when they were granted. Fetter was paid a salary of nearly $1.1 million. It also got a similar amount from non-equity incentives, along with almost $277,000 in other compensation--mostly in the use of company aircraft. The 47-year-old Fetter left Dallas-based Tenet as chief financial officer in 2000 but returned as president in 2002 and was named CEO the following year. That's after his predecessor resigned amid government investigations into Medicare over-billing. The company has lost $5.6 billion since 2002--including $803 million last year. That's as the company continued to struggle with falling admission rates and uncollected bills from uninsured patients.

Work on the Liverpool Soccer Club's new stadium will start in July. That's after the local council gave final approval for the project. Liverpool's new owners are businessmen Tom Hicks of Dallas and George Gillett, Jr., of Vail, Colorado. They'll bankroll the new venue in Stanley Park, near the 45,000-seat Anfield ground where the Reds have been since 1892. Hicks and Gillett watched Liverpool's 4-to-1 win over Arsenal in the Premier League on Saturday, then held talks with the Liverpool City Council that gave the final go-ahead. The new stadium has been designed as a 60,000-seat venue, but the club said the plans were being reviewed in "consultations with fans.'' The news ends any possibility of a new joint stadium with local rival Everton. Hicks also owns major league baseball's Texas Rangers and the NHL's Dallas Stars. Gillett also owns the NHL's Montreal Canadiens. They completed their Liverpool takeover last week.

The main campus of the Hoover Vacuum Cleaner business and its manufacturing operations in northeast Ohio will close by fall. That's the word from the North Canton, Ohio-based company's new owner. Hoover's called north Canton home for nearly 100 years Hong Kong-based Techtronics Industries acquired Hoover earlier this year from Whirlpool Corporation. It says the closings will affect about 650 union manufacturing positions, 60 salaried manufacturing employees and 40 salaried non-manufacturing positions. A Hoover distribution center and a vacuum bag assembly plant in northeast Ohio will remain open. But Techtronics says the local manufacturing will be consolidated into plants in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

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