Thursday AM May 24th, 2007

U.S. House approves stiff penalties for gasoline price gouging...Federal Reserve proposes making credit card bills easier to understand...DataCert opens office in Frankfurt, Germany...

Stiff penalties for those found guilty of gasoline price gouging have been narrowly approved by the House. The move comes at a time when gas prices are at record highs. The bill directs the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department to go after oil companies, traders or retail operators if they take "unfair advantage'' or charge "unconscionably excessive'' prices for gasoline and other fuels. The White House says the measure is a form of price control that could result in fuel shortages, and says President Bush would be urged to veto it. The bill needed the approval of two-thirds of the members of the House because it was considered under an expedited legislative process. The bill passed by only one more vote than was necessary.


The Federal Reserve thinks you should be able to make sense out of your credit card bill. So, it is proposing changes that Chairman Ben Bernanke says would do that. Among them: giving you more than a month's notice--45 days--before hitting you with a higher penalty rate for missing payments or paying bills late. The proposed revisions also call for a table summarizing the changes on the statement above the list of the consumers' transactions. And for bifocal-wearing baby boomers, key information would have to appear in larger print, with rates and fees in an easier-to-see boldface. The proposal also aims to make language easier for people to understand.


Non-residential construction continues to be healthy, according to the American Institute of Architects April Architecture Billings Index. The Houston Business Journal reports the index shows especially healthy activity in the Midwest and West regions. The group says the forecast for non-residential construction remains favorable throughout the year, based on the lag time between architecture billings and construction spending.


League City is the first of ten Houston-area cities connected to Verizon Communication's FiOS Internet and voice service, according to the Houston Business Journal. The service is delivered on an all-digital fiber optic network. Additional fiber is being deployed in the area, and more outlying communities will be added to the network, including Bacliff, Baytown, Dickinson, Friendswood, Hitchcock, Kemah, La Marque, Mont Belvieu and Texas City. FiOS offers higher downstream and upstream Internet access speeds.


DataCert has opened an office in Frankfurt, Germany, to support corporate law departments in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg. Frankfurt is the third European office opened by DataCert, which provides legal and intellectual property management solutions. The Houston-based company opened offices in Paris in February and London in 2005.


Houston-based Berryhill Baja Grill has opened its first foreign location in a new terminal at Cancun International Airport. At least four outlets are scheduled to be built in Mexico. There are ten Berryhill locations in the Houston area, as well as restaurants in Austin and Dallas. The parent company MERA Corporation also owns the franchise rights to Outback Steakhouse, Bubba Gump and Margaritaville.


Fort Worth-based Crescent Real Estate Equities is being acquired by Morgan Stanley Real Estate in a $6.5 billion deal. Crescent is one of Houston's largest building owners, with 10.9 million square feet of space. It owns and manages some 27 million square feet of office space nationwide.


Entergy customers in Louisiana are in line to get back tens of millions of dollars this year. It's the result of a federal decision that will mean higher bills for the power company's ratepayers in Arkansas. Residential customers of Entergy Louisiana and Entergy Gulf States-Louisiana likely will see reductions of ten-to-12 percent--in the form of credits on their bills--beginning in June. The head of the Louisiana Public Service Commission—Jay Blossman--said the more you use, the more you get back. The exact amount to be distributed will be determined by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A FERC order forces Entergy to equalize rates among its regulated power units in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. The arrangement requires a "roughly equal'' share of generating costs between the units.


For millions of high school and college graduates this year the gift they get will likely come in an envelope. In its first graduation survey, the National Retail Federation finds cash and gift cards will make up a big majority of the gifts given. Other favorites include apparel and electronics. The survey also found the average consumer plans to give a gift to two graduates this year and will spend about $50 on each present. Overall, the survey says Americans will spend $4.5 billion on graduation gifts this year.


Thunderstorms that boil up in summer can leave airline passengers sitting on the tarmac, just as snowstorms in winter can. The Federal Aviation Administration is out to minimize those delays by expanding a special air traffic control system it tested last summer. The program is called "airspace flow,'' and the idea is to give airlines the choice between having pilots fly longer routes around storms or taking the delay and waiting on the ground. The FAA says last year's experiment reduced bad-weather delays nine percent in seven cities in the northeast. This summer, it will be rolled out to 18 cities.


American businessmen Tom Hicks and George Gillett, Jr., never imagined this when they bought Liverpool in March. Their team is playing for Europe's biggest club soccer title with thousands of red-shirted fans singing and partying all over central Athens. Hicks owns baseball's Texas Rangers and hockey's Dallas Stars. He says none of the fans of his other two teams "have the level of intense passion that Liverpool has.'' The Dallas businessman says he wants to see that fervor among the north Texas fans some day. Throngs of Liverpool fans descended on the Greek capital with and without tickets for tonight's Champions League Final against A.C. Milan, hoping to see the reds win their sixth European cup title. Hicks and Gillett, who owns the Montreal Canadiens, took full control of the 18-time English champions in March. Now they are in Athens to savor the atmosphere of one of soccer's greatest nights.


The 3rd annual Building a Better Business Conference is set for today at the Renaissance Hotel, sponsored by Missouri City-based Houston Networking News. Seminars, workshops and presentations are scheduled, with a business luncheon and an exhibit area for the showcasing of products and services. Houston Dynamo President Oliver Luck will speak on "Being a Champion in Your Business."


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