Tuesday PM September 11th, 2007

E-mails reviewed in BP Texas City refinery fire trial...NRC approves $32 billion TXU sale...Texas Instruments to lay off 191 Dallas workers; 609 Southwest Airlines employees accept buyouts...

Attorneys for four workers blaming BP for injuries from a 2005 Texas City refinery blast reviewed company e-mails with a Galveston County jury today. The plaintiffs' attorney contend the e-mails show the British oil giant tried to downplay the severity of the deadly explosion and fire in the days afterward. One internal e-mail from BP spokeswoman Patricia Wright told others in the company to expect a lot of media coverage briefly. But she expected the media scrutiny to quickly die down. In another e-mail, former BP Refining and Marketing CEO John Manzoni told a friend that he spent the day at Texas City right after the accident "at the cost of a precious day of my leave.'' Manzoni had been on a skiing vacation in Colorado when the accident happened. BP attorney Ronnie Krist contends the e-mails are being shown only to prejudice the jury against the company. The e-mails were shown to jurors as former Texas City Refinery Manager Don Parus began his fourth day of testimony. Fifteen people were killed and more than 170 others were injured in the blast and fire.


The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved the $32 billion sale of Dallas-based electric utility TXU Corporation to private investors. The group led by the New York-based firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Fort Worth-based TPG Capital also would assume about $13 billion dollars in debt. TXU shareholders approved the sale on Friday, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also has given its blessing. The investors' group has said it hopes to complete in the next few weeks what would be one of the largest leveraged buyouts ever. Some analysts say there's a small risk the deal could still falter if the banks impose higher interest rates.


Texas Instruments will lay off 191 workers whose manufacturing jobs in Dallas are being eliminated. Those workers couldn't find other positions at the semiconductor company. The layoffs will begin in early November and be spaced out until the end of January. Dallas-based TI made the comments in a letter released this week by the Texas Workforce Commission. Texas Instruments in January announced that it planned to end production at its K-Fab manufacturing plant by year's end.


Southwest Airlines says 609 employees have accepted buyouts to leave the Dallas-based carrier. That's about seven percent of the 8,500 eligible workers. Most who took the offer worked in reservations or ground operations. Buyouts weren't offered to many higher-paid employees, including pilots and mechanics. Southwest in July said it would offer early-out packages to about one-fourth of its work force--in an effort to cut costs as it heads into a period of slower growth. The airline offered $25,000 in cash, plus health and dental benefits to flight attendants, baggage handlers and some other workers.


The latest survey from employment firm Manpower finds U.S. employers expect to maintain a firm and cautious hiring outlook through the end of the year. The survey of 14,000 U.S. employers finds that 27 percent plan to increase their payrolls during the fourth quarter. Some nine percent expect to reduce their workforces. Fifty-eight percent see no change and six percent are undecided. The national outlook is most positive for services employers and weaker prospects were seen for manufacturing and construction. Regionally, the outlook was strongest in the west and weakest in the northeast.

Manpower says Houston area employers expect to hire at a healthy pace during the fourth quarter of 2007. From October to December, 29 percent of the companies interviewed plan to hire more employees, while two percent expect to reduce their payrolls. Another 47 percent expect to maintain current staffing levels and 22 percent are not certain of their plans.


Apple says it sold its millionth iPhone over the weekend. The mark was reached just days after it slashed the price by a third to spur sales. It also came weeks earlier than expected. It took just 74 days for the combination cell phone-iPod to hit the million mark, which Apple had said it would achieve by the end of September. By comparison, it took two years for the company to sell one million iPods. Last week, Apple knocked $200 off the price of the eight-gigabyte iPhone, bringing its price to $399, and discontinued the four-gigabyte version.


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