Thursday PM April 12th, 2007

U.S. Senate Democrats propose bailout of homeowners at risk of foreclosure..."Book of Lists 2007" goes out to Houston Business Journal subscribers...Former Secretary of State James Baker accuses TXU of mishandling dispute with state regulators by threatening power plant shutdowns...

Amid new signs that the housing slump is worsening, key Senate Democrats say a large federal bailout may be needed. Joint Economic Committee Chairman Charles Schumer says Democrats will propose "significant amounts of dollars'' to assist homeowners at risk of foreclosure. He says the statistics are "startling.'' Senate Democrats spoke out even as the National Association of Realtors forecast that the median price for existing homes will decline this year for the first time since 1968. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown says lawmakers have heard "one heartbreaking story after another of borrowers with limited incomes being sold mortgages they could not afford.'' Connecticut's Christopher Dodd says he'll call for a summit on Capitol Hill soon "to try to work out a process for providing relief to homeowners.''

Congress is being urged to make changes in the 2005 bankruptcy law to help consumers in danger of losing their homes because of what are called "abusive'' subprime mortgages. The call comes from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, the Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Responsible Lending. The groups say hundreds of thousands of American families face the loss of up to $164 billion in home-based wealth. Among the actions they urge are a change in the law to let bankruptcy judges modify home mortgage debt, an end to mandatory arbitration in bankruptcy and removing time-consuming credit counseling requirements which can delay a bankruptcy filing.

Book of Lists 2007Subscribers to the print edition of the Houston Business Journal have received their copies of this year's "Book of Lists 2007." Journal Publisher John Beddow gets reaction throughout the year about the lists.

"Some of them like where they are on the list and want to get reprints of the list so they can, you know, put them in brochures and put them on a plaque and hang them up in their office, and there are people who don't like where they are on the list. Makes them work all the harder, following year, so when they rankings come out again they can maybe move up a few notches. And then there's people who are not on the list and think they should be on the list. Now, from a readers' standpoint, the readers love this thing because again, it's a quick easy way of doing research on the top companies and the top CEOs of Houston."

Beddow says ideas for new lists come up in company meetings.

"We call it 100-mile-per-hour thinking, where we break everybody off into small groups and give them 20 minutes to come up with ideas and one of the things we ask for are list ideas. Several weeks after that we'll have a meeting with the management team plus representatives from each of the departments, and we'll look at some of the ideas. And, you know, sometimes we decide not to do a list, for whatever reasons, and sometimes we'll decide to come up with something new that might interest the readers."

The "Book of Lists 2007" includes topics ranging from the Largest Public Accounting Firms to the Houston Small Business 100; from the Largest Houston-area Hotels to Houston's Top 100 Public Companies.

Former Secretary of State James Baker accuses TXU Corporation of mishandling a dispute with state regulators last week by threatening to shut down power plants. Baker would chair a group of advisers to would-be TXU buyers Kohlberg Kravis Roberts of New York and Fort Worth-based Texas Pacific Group. He says TXU's threat last week to state regulators to shutter power plants over charges of manipulating electric prices was "unfortunate.'' He credits the investors with helping persuade the company to withdraw its threat. He says the sale would be good for consumers and an improvement over the TXU's current management. Private investors led by KKR and Texas Pacific would buy Dallas-based TXU for $32 billion and assume $12 billion in TXU debt. Baker spoke as the Texas House prepares for debate on whether to require new regulatory review of the sale and possibly force the company to sell power plants. TXU and the private buyers oppose such bills that were approved by the Senate.

BP Chairman Peter Sutherland tried to reassure shareholders that the British oil giant is making "good progress'' on safety issues. That's in the wake of its troubles in the United States, including a 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers at its Texas City refinery. BP's safety woes were a major topic at its annual meeting. One shareholder group called on the BP board to include safety measures in its three-year incentive plans for directors. The report released in January by a panel led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker recommended that the BP board appoint a separate expert to advise it on how to implement the panel's findings. Outgoing Chief Executive John Browne said significant changes had already been made and the company planned to do more. Browne is stepping down more than a year ahead of schedule in July.

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