Wednesday AM April 25th, 2007

BP earnings decline; Texas City contract workers sue over last week's oil processing unit incident...Valero places first in Fortune magazine's list of the "Best Big Companies to Work For"...Houston to celebrate 100th anniversary of discovery of oil in Argentina...

BP, Europe's second-largest oil company, reports first quarter earnings declined 17 percent from a year earlier. It saw lower oil prices and falling production. Even so, BP's net profit for the quarter topped $4.6 billion. BP is the first of the major European oil companies to report quarterly results. Most others are also expected to tell of profit declines because of dwindling output and rising costs before a recovery in the current quarter. Analysts say the results put BP at the bottom of the pack, particularly given its safety troubles in the U.S.

A contract worker with Houston-based HydroChem Industrial Servicesis suing BP to force the release of information about a possible leak at its Texas City refinery. About 100 workers complained of nausea and eye irritation in an incident last week while repairs and upgrades were made on an oil processing unit shut down since Hurricane Rita. BP says it has not been able to find any evidence of a leak so far.

San Antonio-based Valero has placed first in Fortune magazine's list of the "Best Big Companies to Work For." The article and list, largely driven by employee feedback, notes that Valero has 11 of the 23 refineries designated by OSHA as having the best safety programs. The magazine notes that Valero has never laid off a single employee.

Farmers still recovering from the devastating drought conditions of 2006 are now sizing up their losses from the latest weather calamity to hit Texas: freezing temperatures. The Easter weekend freeze damaged numerous crops, including an estimated 75 percent of this year's grape crop in the fifth-largest wine-producing state. Texas Cooperative extension agent Jed Elrod says that the freeze also caused serious losses for crops of pecans, peaches, watermelons, cantaloupe and pumpkins. But it came at an especially bad time for grape growers. They can expect two bad years out of five. That's according to Dacota Julson, executive director of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. She says "unfortunately, we've had two in row now.'' She says Texas usually harvests 9,000 tons of grapes a year. Last year's crop was only 25 percent of that.

Overweight employees cost their bosses more in injury claims than their more fit colleagues, according to a new study. The report appears in the Archives in Internal Medicine. It says the heaviest workers had twice as many workers' compensation claims as lean employees. Researchers also found that the most overweight workers had 13 times more lost workdays due to work-related injuries. Obesity experts hope the study will persuade employers to invest in programs that fight obesity. But one expert says there isn't enough information to show what kind of program would be most effective. And an employment attorney cautions bosses to be careful not to treat obese employees differently.

Houston will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of oil in Argentina at the Federal Reserve Bank on Allen Parkway, according to the Houston Business Journal. The event is being presented by the sister organization of the Instituto Argentino del Petroleo y del Gas, in association with the Greater Houston Partnership and the U.S. Commercial Service. Speakers will discuss exploration opportunities, technology and other issues of the region.

Texas Instruments says it's emerging from an inventory glut and expects stronger growth in the coming months. The Dallas-based computer chip maker credits rebounding demand for its chips, which are used in a variety of electronic gadgets such as cell phones. The upbeat prediction comes as TI handily beat Wall Street's earnings estimates despite a 12 percent drop in first-quarter earnings. Texas Instruments said it earned $516 million in the most recent quarter. That compares with $585 million a year earlier. Revenue fell to $3.19 billion from $3.33 billion a year ago.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation reported a first-quarter profit 15 percent lower than the previous year's quarter. The Fort Worth-based railroad operator blames environmental cleanup costs and higher fuel bills offsetting record freight revenue. Burlington Northern says it earned $349 million in the three months ended March 31st. Excluding what it termed special costs for clean-up jobs and the write-off of technology systems, Burlington Northern said it would have earned one dollar ten cents per share. That matched the company's announcement of three weeks ago and the forecast of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial, who usually exclude special items. Total revenue rose 5.5 percent to 3.65 billion. Freight revenue growing five percent to a record $3.54 billion. But operating expenses also rose, with the railroad's fuel bill jumping 16 percent to $652 million. Burlington Northern's BNSF railway subsidiary operates 32,000 miles of track in 28 states and two Canadian provinces.

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