Thursday PM May 3rd, 2007

Venezuela threatens holdout ConocoPhillips while taking control of country's most promising oil fields...BP internal report on deadly 2005 Texas City refinery explosion recommends dismissal of four top managers...Harris County jury convicts former Texas Southern University finance chief of misusing public funds...

Venezuela's oil minister said today that Houston-based ConocoPhillips will be thrown out of the country if it keeps resisting the government's takeover of its multi billion-dollar oil operations. President Hugo Chavez's government took control of Venezuela's most promising oil fields and refineries from foreign oil companies processing crude in the Orinoco River basin. ConocoPhillips has yet to recognize the move, even though other companies have agreed in principle to state control and are negotiating new terms under which they might still stay involved. Oil minister Rafael Ramirez likened ConocoPhillips to Italian oil company Eni, which had a separate oil field seized last year after opposing tougher terms. Eni is suing the Venezuelan government for compensation. The government is taking a minimum stake of 60 percent in the Orinoco projects. But it's inviting ConocoPhillips, BP, Irving-based ExxonMobil, Chevron, Total and Statoil to remain as minority partners. It's given them until June 26th to negotiate the new terms, including compensation and the sizes of the stakes. ConocoPhillips says it remains in talks, too.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is threatening to nationalize the country's banks and its largest steel producer. Chavez is accusing them of unscrupulous practices. Of the banks, he says they should make it a priority to finance the country's industrial sector at low cost. He says if private banks don't agree, then ''it's better that they go.'' Chavez says under his direction, the nationalized banks would "work for the development of the country.'' He says they should get out of the business of financial speculation and profit-making.

A BP internal report on its deadly 2005 Texas City refinery explosion recommends the firings of four top managers. The report says the four failed to perform their jobs and demonstrated poor judgment. The report had been confidential but was released by court order in Houston. The four managers singled out in the February report are: Mike Hoffman, BP's group vice president for Refining and Marketing; Pat Gower, BP's U.S. refining vice president; Don Parus, the Texas City refinery manager; and Willie Willis, a plant supervisor. Hoffman has resigned. The three other managers are still employed by the company. The report also concludes that the accountability of top BP refinery executive John Manzoni should be reviewed, saying he failed to implement his duties. The March 2005 explosion killed 15 people and injured more than 170 workers.

A Harris County jury convicted former Texas Southern University finance chief Quintin Wiggins of misusing public funds. Wiggins was accused of misusing $286,000 in university money for himself and former TSU President Priscilla Slade and her home. Wiggins' attorneys told jurors he was a dedicated employee who had done nothing wrong. Slade still awaits trial on charges of misusing university money for her private benefit. Jurors began deliberations Tuesday night and reached their verdict this morning. Now, Wiggins faces a punishment range of five years probation to life in prison. Slade was TSU president for more than six years before she was fired last June.

Attendance of the 2007 Offshore Technology Conference reached a 25-year high of 67,155 this week at Reliant Park. That's a 16 percent increase from last year's attendance. Offshore professionals from 110 countries met to learn about the latest technology to develop more oil and natural gas resources from beneath the ocean. More than 2,500 companies from more than 30 countries were included in the show. OTC's exhibit space expanded for the first time into the adjacent Reliant Stadium and added more outdoor exhibit space in 2007.

A U.S. House panel has endorsed a bill to allow up to 1,000 Mexican trucks and buses to use American roadways for the next three years. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted to restrict the U.S. Transportation Secretary to opening the border to 100 carriers based in Mexico. They would be allowed to use a maximum of 1,000 vehicles under the pilot program. The bill next goes to the full U.S. House. The measure says an independent panel would have to evaluate the program. Certification would have to be secured, from the inspector general, that safety and inspection requirements have been met. The bush administration in February announced it would soon let 100 Mexican trucking companies travel beyond the current 20-mile limit from the border--for a one-year pilot project.

Texas Instruments says it plans to invest about $1 billion over ten years in a new test and assembly facility in the Philippines. The new facility would be the Dallas-based semiconductor maker's second in the country. It'll be built on a 19-acre site in Clark Freeport Zone. That's the site of a former U.S. Air Force base northwest of Manila. Construction will start in the second half of this year and initial production will begin later next year. Texas Instruments already operates a production complex in the northern city of Baguio. The plant has undergone at least four expansions since it was opened in 1979 and accounts for 40 percent of TI's global output. The new investment will generate 3,000 jobs and boost Philippine electronics exports, which account for two-thirds of country's goods shipment.

IBM has announced what is potentially one of the most significant advances in chip manufacturing in years. The company says chips with minuscule holes in them can run faster or use less energy. To create these tiny holes, IBM has harnessed a plastic-like material that spontaneously forms into a sieve-like structure. The holes have a width of 20 nanometers, or billionths of a meter, placing the method in the much-vaunted field of nanotechnology. IBM says the technology could be added to existing manufacturing lines and applied to current chips, boosting performance by 35 percent or cutting power consumption by the same percentage. It expects to start using the technique in 2009.

General Motors says its first-quarter profit was down 90 percent from the same period a year ago. The culprit was trouble in the mortgage business. GM suffered losses in the home lending operations of its former financial arm. Even so, it was the second straight quarterly profit for the automaker, locked in fierce competition against Japan's Toyota. The profit was $62 million, down from a gain of $602 million a year ago. GM cites losses in the residential mortgage business of GMAC Financial Services. GM sold a 51 percent stake in GMAC to private equity investors last year, but still has exposure through its 49 percent stake. While the automaker's North American performance improved, the company says it still lost an adjusted $85 million on its core operations. Excluding special items, GM's net income was $94 million--well short of expectations.

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