Thursday AM April 19th, 2007

Despite job growth, media length of job search also growing...Purchase of 12 NASA-area buildings seen as important development...Report says offshore oil production rises by a third since 1991, and continues to rise; offshore gas production more than doubles, and will almost double again by 2011...

Despite an extremely favorable job market, the time it takes to find a job has not fallen much lately. Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas says the median length of the job search for those winning positions in the first quarter was 3.6 months. In the fourth quarter of last year, it was 3.7 months and in the third quarter it was 4.2 months. Company CEO John Challenger suggests that's because some job seekers may be holding out for the best offer. He says that could mean they are waiting for the highest paying offer or it could mean they are holding out for a job offering the best health benefits or telecommuting and flexible scheduling.


The recent purchase of 12 office buildings and some 27 acres from Nassau Development is being viewed as an important development in the NASA community. Houston-based Griffin Partners plans a mixed-use development in excess of $150 million directly adjacent to the NASA Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston. Retail, office, residential, public and hotel/hospitality uses are planned. Built between 1964 and 1970, the dozen buildings on NASA Parkway and on Space Park Drive were occupied by NASA and its contractors, but current tenants are real estate companies and IBM. Two buildings are vacant. Griffin plans demolition of the existing buildings and construction of a new mixed-use development.


Offshore oil production has risen by just over a third since 1991, and Douglas Westwood of Canterbury, UK, says it will continue to rise at about the same rate. Offshore gas production has more than doubled in the same period, and will almost double again by 2011. The forecasts are in the updated edition of the "World Offshore Oil & Gas Production and Spend Forecast 2007-2011," published by Douglas-Westwood and Energyfiles.


A new study says switching from gasoline to ethanol may have its drawbacks. The report says ethanol would raise ozone levels, particularly in Los Angeles and in the northeast. It finds that more smog would be created if all vehicles in the U.S. ran on a mostly-ethanol fuel blend by 2020, possibly causing 200 more people to die each year from respiratory problems. Still, the study's author acknowledges that a monumental shift to ethanol in such a short period is next to impossible. The study is based on a computer model and appears in the online edition of Environmental Science and Technology. President Bush has been touting ethanol as a green alternative to gasoline, and is pushing to reduce gas consumption by 20 percent in ten years by using alternative fuels.


Two oil companies that want to merge say a hearing is set May 7th in federal court in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Western Refining of El Paso and Giant Industries of Scottsdale, Arizona, sought the hearing after the Federal Trade Commission asked for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. The FTC wants to halt Western Refining's $1.13 billion acquisition of rival energy company Giant Industries. The FTC contends the buyout would lead to reduced competition for bulk supply of light petroleum products to northern New Mexico. The companies are direct competitors in northern New Mexico. Western agreed to buy Giant for $77 per share.


Two firms are making their headquarters here in Houston. Houston-based Southern Bay Oil & Gas and Colorado-based Chandler Energy have merged with North Dakota-based GeoResources, according to the Houston Business Journal. GeoResources remains the surviving entity, but headquarters are being moved to Houston. The new firm has assets in the Gulf Coast and the Rocky Mountains.

San Antonio-based Baseline Oil & Gas has relocated to Houston, according to the Journal. Baseline is adding administrators and technical staff in Houston. The firm recently closed on a deal for the Stephen properties in north Texas for $28.6 million.


Dune Energy of Houston is paying $320.5 million for Houston-based Goldking Energy's outstanding capital stock, according to the Houston Business Journal. Dune is an exploration and production company, and Goldking holds a mix of oil and gas properties spread over some 65,000 acres along the Gulf Coast and in Louisiana.


Houston-based Shell Trading subsidiary Coral Energy Holding is acquiring the operating assets of Avista Energy. The deal includes Avista Energy Canada, which will be integrated into Coral Energy Canada, a subsidiary of Coral Energy Holding.


Plains Exploration & Production is acquiring oil and gas interests from a private company in Colorado for $946 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Houston-based oil and gas firm will pay $900 million and issue one million shares of its common stock to cover the purchase. PXP says its operations are now concentrated in California, Colorado and the Gulf Coast region.


Houston-based Stallion Oilfield Services has filed for an initial public offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The firm hopes to sell up to $400 million in stock.


Cooper Power Systems will provide a system for peak demand reduction for Pacific Gas & Electric, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Cannon Demand Management solution will enable PG&E to gain at least five megawatts of energy capacity for June 15th, and can be expanded to more than 300 megawatts by 2010. Cooper says the project will be worth from $28 to $40 million in revenue, depending on capacity.


American Airlines' parent posted a first-quarter profit--reversing the loss of a year ago. Fort Worth-based AMR Corporation says it earned $81 million in the year's first three months. That's compared to a $92 million loss a year earlier. AMR says it was able to overcome stubbornly high fuel prices and winter-storm disruptions of its flight schedules. The latest results matched the forecast of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial. Revenue rose 1.6 percent to $5.43 billion--just short of the $5.46 billion analysts had expected. American--which is the nation's largest airline—drew strength from its international operations, which saw stronger traffic. Its domestic business was weaker. AMR Chairman and CEO Gerard Arpey says the first-quarter results built on AMR's work in 2006, when it earned its first full-year profit after five money-losing years. Those years were marred by a recession, terror attacks and tougher competition from low-cost carriers.

A Southwest Airlines union are backing American Airlines flight attendants in a dispute over management bonuses at American. Transport Workers Union Local 556 represents more than 9,000 flight attendants with Dallas-based Southwest. The union says it will blast American's executives with e-mails protesting the bonuses and asking Southwest members to join American employees on picket lines. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants represents flight attendants with Fort Worth-based American. Those flight attendants are protesting stock-based awards for nearly 900 managers and executives that could total about $165 million. The awards will be distributed based on Thursday's closing stock price of parent company AMR. Critics say American's employees aren't sharing in the gains as the airline's financial health improves.


A year after a massive reworking of bankruptcy laws went into effect, the number of bankruptcy filings nationwide has plunged. The administrative office of the U.S. courts says the total number of bankruptcy filings last year dropped by 70 percent to 618,000. That's the lowest level in almost 20 years. But some think filings could rebound. The American Bankruptcy Institute says the drop-off was almost entirely due to the after-effects of the 2005 law changes. The group's executive director says because household debt levels remain high, "most expect consumer bankruptcies to bounce back by the end of this year.''


In a sign that investors see strength ahead for the hotel sector, Lightstone Group is buying extended stay hotels from the Blackstone private equity group for $8 billion. Lightstone, one of the country's largest private real estate investors, says it will finance the deal with $1 billion in cash and $7 billion in debt. Extended Stay is one of the biggest owners of mid-priced extended-stay hotels. It has 683 properties with 76,000 rooms in 44 states across the U.S. and Canada. Brands include Extended Stay Deluxe, Extended Stay America, Homestead Studio Suites, Studioplus and Crossland.


Plano-based J.C. Penney raised its profit forecast for the first quarter. Penney also said it plans to open 250 new stores over the next five years--including its first in Manhattan one block from rival Macy's flagship Herald Square location. Plano-based Penney says the deal would let it showcase itself in the nation's fashion capital. Penney has stores in other New York boroughs, but not pricey Manhattan. Last year, the chain opened a temporary "pop-up'' store in Times Square. There, shoppers could make purchases at Internet kiosks instead of taking merchandise home with them. Penney officials told analysts at an investor meeting in Fort Worth that they've entered into a deal for space in the Manhattan Mall on Sixth Avenue between 32nd and 33rd. Company officials called it one of the most vibrant retail areas in the country. Officials also announced plans to build new stores in Houston and Chicago. Penney says it's not changing its outlook for the rest of the year. The company predicted that its earnings per share will grow at a 16 percent compound annual rate from 2008 to 2011. Penney expects to spend $1.275 billion annually in that period, building new stores and renovating about 300 of its roughly 1,000 existing stores. Chairman and Chief Executive Myron Ullman told analysts at a meeting in Fort Worth that the company plans to become the growth leader among retailers. Penney had been in retreat during the late 1990s. But it recently launched an expansion program. Many of its new locations are stand-alone stores, like rival Kohl's, as fewer new malls are built.


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