Thursday PM May 23rd, 2007

Netherlands-based firm acquiring EGL...New home sales rise as prices drop...AAA says pump prices continue rising...

Houston-based freight-forwarding company EGL is being sold to Netherlands-based Ceva Logistics in a $2 billion deal. The sale caps a five-month bidding war between the company's founder, EGL chief executive Jim Crane, who wanted to take the company private, and Apollo Management, which acquired Ceva late last year. This creates the world's fourth-largest integrated supply chain management company. Apollo plans to keep EGL's Houston headquarters. EGL has about 11,500 employees, according to Bloomberg. Apollo expects the transaction to close in the third quarter.

Drop the price and find buyers. That appears to be the lesson from a surprisingly strong surge in new home sales last month. The Commerce Department says new home sales rose more than 16 percent in April, better than expected. It was the strongest monthly showing in 14 years. But those sales came at a steep price for the sellers. A measure of home prices posted a record decline of more than 11 percent. That indicates that builders are slashing their prices to reduce their inventories of unsold homes.

AAA says prices at the pump have continued to rise. It says the national average for regular unleaded gas has topped $3.22 a gallon. That is up 37 cents from a month ago. The continued rise in gasoline prices comes just ahead of Memorial Day weekend. Oil prices have been steady in overseas trading, after the government said gasoline supplies rose nearly twice as much as expected last week.

Texas is upping the penalties for gas stations that cheat drivers with inaccurate fuel pumps at this time of record high prices. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples used a stop in Dallas to announce the tougher penalties. Starting Friday, the starting minimum fine of $25 will be quadrupled for pumps that exceed the state's tolerance for measurement discrepancies. The pump will also be tagged and closed until the operator calibrates the machine and gets it recertified with the state. Weights and measures inspectors monitor the state's 275,000 fuel pumps. Texas law calls for the pumps to be inspected at least once every four years, but the department must also follow up on consumer complaints within ten days. The department allows a variation of about six tablespoons per five gallons of gas. The agency's helpline is: 1-800-TELL-TDA.

An appeals court in San Francisco rejected ExxonMobil's request to reconsider how much damages it has to pay over a 1989 Alaska oil spill. The Valdez tanker spill fouled 1,500 miles of coastline. In December, the ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cut near half of the $4.5 billion jury award punishing the Irving-based company. But ExxonMobil sees the amount it's required to pay as being excessive--and will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling says it's time for "this protracted litigation to end.'' Lawyers for the fishermen who sued couldn't immediately be reached for comment. The environmental disaster was the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The accident prompted Congress in 1990 to pass a law banning single-hulled tankers like the Valdez from domestic waters by 2015.

A federal judge has thrown out a federal Clean Air Act lawsuit against a proposed coal-burning TXU power plant. U.S. District Judge Walter Smith of Waco ruled that he has no jurisdiction in the matter because the state hasn't yet issued a permit for the Oak Grove plant. TXU proposes building the plant in Robertson County in central Texas. Until early this year, eight coal-fired electricity projects were planned in central Texas. Although TXU scaled back its plans, it continues with a request for the Oak Grove project--which would burn the relatively dirty form of coal called lignite. In a contested case hearing, a state administrative judge recommended that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reject the permit application. A commission board is expected to hear the case next month. The lawsuit was filed by a local citizens group called Robertson County Our Land Our Lives. It joined forces with the Dallas-based Clean Coalition to sue TXU over the plant last year. The plaintiffs argued that once the permit was granted, reversing it with a federal lawsuit would be difficult.

A Honolulu circuit court jury has awarded more than $36 million in damages to a Houston businessman. Richard Foreman alleged that he was secretly cut out of the sale of one of Hawaii's largest lumber suppliers to a Cleveland-based private investment firm. Key principal partners was ordered to pay the money for leaving Foreman out of the sale of Honsador Lumber in 2004. Foreman contends that a group of investors led by him had reached an agreement to purchase Honsador for $28 million. He says key principal partners agreed to join his venture but then secretly negotiated a deal with Honsador owner James Pappas for the higher amount. Honsador was established in 1935 as Honolulu Sash and Door. It has facilities on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.

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