Tuesday PM July 3rd, 2007

Day labor center receives private funding to stay open...ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil continue negotiations with Venezuela for compensation...Former Enron employees who recovered some retirement funds were overpaid or underpaid because of math error...

Officials say a Houston day labor center that faced closure when the city pulled its funding will remain open for another year with $100,000 in private funding. The East End Worker Development Center was the only city-funded day labor site before its city contract ended Friday. Critics in city hall say the site encourages illegal immigration because it's a popular place for illegal workers to gather and seek employment. But Mayor Bill White supported a fundraising effort to keep the center open. Supporters say day labor sites provide a safe and controlled environment for workers to wait for contractors, rather than at street corners or retail parking lots.

ConocoPhillips Chairman Jim Mulva says it could take several more months of negotiations with Venezuela to reach final compensatory terms for its investment in the country's petroleum-rich Orinoco River basin. Houston-based ConocoPhillips, along with Irving-based ExxonMobil, refused to sign deals last week with the South American country to keep pumping oil under tougher terms posed by President Hugo Chavez's government. ConocoPhillips has said it's likely to write off the investments as a $4.5 billion impairment in the second quarter, and that it would reserve the right for international arbitration if talks fall apart. The Venezuelan government took majority control of the country's last privately run oil projects may first and gave the companies until June 26th to decide whether they'd accept new terms as junior partners. ConocoPhillips continues to negotiate terms with government authorities. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange commission, ExxonMobil also indicated it continues to negotiate compensation.

ConocoPhillips announced its global production likely fell in the second quarter from the first three months of 2007. But ConocoPhillips says it benefited from higher crude oil and natural gas prices for the period. The Houston-based oil giant says production is expected to be lower because of scheduled maintenance in the North Sea, its exit from Dubai and other factors. The company reports second-quarter results July 25th. ConocoPhillips earlier said it expects to write off its Venezuelan oil investments as a $4.5 billion impairment in the second quarter.

More than 20,000 former Enron employees who received a fraction of their lost retirement funds have learned some were overpaid or underpaid because of a math error, according to the Houston Chronicle. Enron blames pension fund contractor Hewitt Associates, but the Illinois-based firm blames Enron as the fund administrator responsible for oversight. Some 7,700 people received too much money, while 12,800 didn't receive enough. Ex-employees waited several years for their portion of $265 million in settlements, but a federal judge will now have to sort things out. More than $100 million yet to be distributed will remain in an escrow fund overseen by the court until the dispute is resolved. The settlements stem from the class-action lawsuit centered on Enron's 401(k) and employee stock ownership plans. A separate shareholders lawsuit has also been filed.

Encore Bancshares announced it plans to sell nearly two million shares in its Initial Public Offering. The price range will be $20 to $22 per share. The Houston-based company in May filed an IPO to sell up to $46 million in common stock. The company plans to sell 1.9 million shares in the IPO, while two of its shareholders are offering 75,000 shares. Details are in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company plans to list on the Nasdaq Global Market under the symbol "EBTX."

Not much to cheer about in the latest figures on home sales released by the National Association of Realtors. The industry trade group says its pending home sales index, based on contracts signed in May, fell 3.5 percent from a downwardly revised April index. And, it is down more than 13 percent from May of last year. The NAR does point out that the index rose in the west and northeast, but it fell in the midwest and south. An NAR economist says home sales aren't likely to change much in the coming months given what he calls "accumulating pent-up demand.''

The biggest of the big three U.S. auto makers suffered the biggest sales decline last month. General Motors reports its U.S. sales of light vehicles plunged 21.3 percent, due in part to the planned reduction in daily rental sales. GM says passenger car sales were down more than 19 percent, while sales of light trucks dropped nearly 23 percent. So far this year, GM sales are down 6.8 percent. Auto sales statistics show the market started shifting toward gas-thrifty compacts in May in record numbers, and some analysts were expecting that to continue in June. Earlier in the day, Ford reported a sales drop of 8.1 percent, while Chrysler said its June sales were down 1.4 percent.

The Commerce Department says the nation's factories saw slightly weaker demand for their products in May. Factory orders dropped by one-half of one percent. That follows a five-tenths increase in April. Analysts had been looking for a steeper 1.2 percent drop in May.

A Kinder Morgan Energy Partners subsidiary is selling its interstate natural gas liquids and refined petroleum products pipelines system to Oklahoma-based Oneok Partners in a $300 million deal. The purchase includes fuel storage facilities, truck-loading terminals and one multi-product terminal complex. Oneok last year bought underground storage of natural gas liquids at the Mont Belvieu trading hub near Houston.

While most iPhone owners couldn't wait to try out their pricey new gadgets, a few raced to break them apart. The dismantled--and in some cases, permanently busted--iPhones revealed one of Apple 's closely guarded secrets: the names of the companies that supplied the chips and other electronic components for the highly anticipated device. The findings sent all but a few of the component makers' stocks higher on the first day of trading since the iPhone went on sale in the U.S. The iPhone is a combination cell phone, music player and wireless Web browsing device. They went on sale Friday evening for as mush as $600. Among the beneficiaries of Apple's business and the teardown buzz were semiconductor heavyweights Intel Corporation, Broadcom Corporation, Texas Instruments and Infineon Technologies--as well as lesser-known companies such as Skyworks Solutions and Linear Technology.

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