Tuesday PM October 23rd, 2007

BP reports slump in third quarter, although profits total $4.4 billion...Competitors challenge FCC decision freeing AT&T from pricing limits for access to certain high-speed Internet lines...State Representative Rick Noriega supports public employee pay raises...

BP reports a 29 percent slump in third-quarter profits, blaming higher maintenance costs and outages at key refineries. But some analysts say the worst may be over for the British oil giant after a run of operational problems at Europe's second-largest oil company. The company posted net profit of $4.4 billion for the three months ending September 30th. Revenue rose 2.7 percent to $72.6 billion. Like most other oil and gas companies, BP faced lower refining margins and gas prices in the quarter. But that exposure was magnified by operational troubles that included temporary shutdowns at its Texas City and Whiting, Indiana, refineries. It's also still dealing with fallout from an Alaskan oil spill and the deadly 2005 blast at the Texas City refinery, which resulted in ongoing higher maintenance costs. New CEO Tony Hayward has said BP lags behind its peers because of poor management and has begun structural change that will cut the number of business units and strip out management layers. But Charles Stanley analyst Tony Shepard says the earnings are in line with low market expectations for BP. He says that "from here its operational performance should begin to improve."

Some big U.S. businesses are challenging a federal regulatory decision that freed AT&T from pricing limits. The Federal Communications Commission lifted limits on what San Antonio-based AT&T can charge competitors and businesses to access certain high-speed Internet lines. In court filings, the ad hoc telecommunications users committee contends the ruling would lead to increased rates for telecommunications services. AT&T had argued that there's sufficient competition in the market and that much of the regulation it faced was no longer relevant. The FCC agreed and ruled that the company no longer had to publish the rates it charged business customers, which made the rates available to competitors. Two AT&T competitors, Sprint Nextel and Time Warner Telecom, also challenged the FCC decision in court on Monday.

State Representative Rick Noriega says he supports the effort to raise the pay of every Houston public employee to at least $10 an hour. Members of the Houston Organization of Public Employees will introduce the wage proposal in upcoming contract talks with the City of Houston. The group says about 1,000 city workers make less than $10 an hour. A compensation study commissioned by the city found that Houston's public employees make 21 percent less than municipal workers in other Texas and U.S. cities. Houston negotiators have offered an annual across-the-board raise of two percent for four years.

Houston City Councilman Ronald Green recognized the University of Houston's C.T. Bauer College of Business Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation Day at the council meeting this afternoon. Entrepreneurship magazine and The Princeton Review have recognized the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation as the number two entrepreneurship program in the nation.

The price of college again rose faster than the inflation rate this year. The College Board puts the rate of increase at 6.6 percent at four-year public schools. That puts the average list price for four-year public universities at $6,185 this year, up $381. At four-year private colleges, tuition and fees rose 6.3 percent to $23,712. Public two-year colleges--which educate about half of American college students--again got the best marks for keeping a lid on price increases. Their average price rose 4.2 percent to $2,361. The published price is not the real price for many students, thanks to financial aid, but the net price is rising, too. The report comes as Congress is in the early stages of considering a proposal that could require some colleges with large endowments to spend more of their savings to keep tuition down.

The Dallas school district says it's saved $9.2 million by eliminating more than 150 central office jobs. But some school district officials are criticizing the restructuring efforts for being at the expense of lower-paid staff while top-dollar executives remained. The Dallas Morning News reports that nearly two-thirds of the eliminated jobs had base salaries of less than $49,000. Only five of the 163 workers laid off had salaries of $100,000 or more.

Texas Children's Hospital in Houston has gotten a record $50 million gift from Houston energy executive Dan Duncan and his wife, Jan. The hospital will use the donation to launch an institute to study and treat pediatric neurological disorders. The Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children's Hospital will use a multidisciplinary research approach to understand children's brains, development patterns and related diseases. The institute is scheduled for completion in 2010. Dan Duncan is chairman of Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners, a provider of midstream energy services. He's made a number of philanthropic donations to advance medical, education and conservation efforts. They include a $100 million donation last year to the Baylor College of Medicine to foster cancer treatment and study.

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