Thursday AM April 5th, 2007

Institute for Supply Management index drops...Factory orders weaker than expected...Planned job cuts fall to eight-month low in March...

The latest check of the nation's services sector finds slowing growth and rising price pressure. The Institute for Supply Management says its March index was 52.4, below expectations and down from the previous month. Any number above 50 indicates growth. Among the industries covered, ten had increasing activity, and four had declines. The prior month's index stood at 54.3.


New orders placed with U.S. factories for manufactured goods rose one percent in February. That is weaker than expected. Still, the increase in factory orders reported by the Commerce Department is an improvement from the 5.7 percent in January. In the latest reading, weakness in demand for construction machinery, primary metals including steel, and electrical equipment were countered by gains in cars and other transportation equipment, computers, chemical products and clothing. New orders excluding the volatile transportation category dropped four-tenths of one percent.


By one account, planned job cuts fell to an eight-month low in March. Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas says employers announced nearly 49,000 job cuts in March. That is down a sharp 42 percent from the previous month, and down 25 percent the year-ago level. Challenger says the housing market slowdown is taking a growing toll. Job cuts in real estate, construction and mortgage lending rose more than 300 percent in the first quarter from a year ago, topping 21,000.


Best Buy has extended its lead over rival Circuit City in the race for supremacy in consumer electronics retailing. Best Buy credits strong growth in areas such as video game consoles, online sales, and its Five Star electronics retail stores in China. Circuit City, on the other hand, says it was hurt by hefty restructuring charges related in part to store closings, declining flat-panel TV prices and uneven demand for computer hardware.


Houston-based nanoTox has joined Texas State University's Nanomaterials Application Center, according to the Houston Business Journal. The center is a San Marcos-based collaboration of scientists from the university and nanotechnology industry developing nanotechnology materials. nanoTox works with environmental safety issues by identifying properties in various nanomaterials. Scientists at Texas State's NAC study the fundamental properties of nano materials.


Fiber-optic network operator Level 3 Communications has acquired some assets that AT&T had to shed when it was bought by SBC. No financial details were available. Level 3 said it acquired indefeasible rights of use for dark fiber connections to more than 200 buildings. It also bought more than 1,600 metro fiber route-miles in Detroit, Hartford, Kansas City, Milwaukee, San Francisco and St. Louis. Under the agreement, Level 3 retains intermediate splice rights, enabling it to add new buildings to the newly acquired lines. AT&T is based in San Antonio.


Houston-based energy industry helicopter services provider Bristow Group has completed the $15 million acquisition of Helicopter Adventures, according to the Houston Business Journal. The flight school has been renamed the Bristow Academy. Bristow says the helicopter flight school is the only one approved for training at the commercial pilot level by the Federal Aviation Administration and the European Joint Aviation Authority.


The Houston-based non-profit Texas Institute for Genomic Medicine is aligning with California-based Myelin Repair Foundation to supply genetically altered mice, according to the Houston Business Journal. The mice are for researchers to use in their search for the causes and possible treatments for multiple sclerosis. The Myelin Repair Foundation focuses on studying myelin, the protective insulation surrounding nerve fibers of the central nervous system.


The chairman and CEO of media company Belo Corporation got 2006 compensation that the company valued at $5.3 million. Details are in an analysis of a regulatory filing. Dallas-based Belo operates the Dallas Morning News and 20 TV stations. The largest amount of compensation for Robert W. Decherd came in stock and options awards. Those had an estimated value of $3 million when they were granted. Decherd last year was paid a salary of $925,000, plus other compensation including non-equity incentives of nearly $1.1 million. Decherd, who's 56, has been Belo chairman and CEO since 1987. 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 and options awards granted during the year. The calculations don't include changes in the present value of pension benefits or the company's cost of stock and options granted before 2006, and the figures can differ from the company's total.


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