Friday AM November 9th, 2007

Jobless claims drop...Iraq war reservists not always getting their old civilian jobs back...Cactus Records re-opening today at new location...

Jobless claims fell last week to their lowest level in a month. The Labor Department reports 317,000 laid-off workers filed claims for unemployment benefits. That was 13,000 fewer than the week before. The improvement was bigger than expected and came despite a surge in applications in southern California resulting from the wildfires there. Four thousand layoffs are being attributed to the effects of the fires, including 3,000 last week. Even with last week's decline in overall claims, though, the four-week average has crept up to its highest level since April. Economists expect the unemployment rate to rise in the coming months as the housing recession, the credit crunch and record oil prices slow the economy.


Growing numbers of reservists back from Iraq say the government isn't protecting their legal right to get their old civilian jobs back after they return from fighting for their country. A Pentagon survey of reservists obtained by the Associated Press details increasing discontent among returning troops. Legal experts say the findings might be just the tip of the iceberg. Formal Labor Department complaints by reservists hit nearly 1,600 in 2005. That's the highest number since 1991 and doesn't include the thousands more cases reported each year to the Pentagon. More than 40 percent of the reservists polled in 2005 said they were dissatisfied with how the Labor Department handled their complaint. That's up from 27 percent the year before. And more than three-quarters said they didn't even bother trying to get assistance in part because they didn't think it would make a difference.


The outlook for the holiday shopping season is growing bleaker. Retailers have announced disappointing October sales results due to consumers' ongoing worries about the housing slump and higher energy prices. The downbeat news came from all sectors including mall-based apparel stores like Limited Brands and department stores like Macy's. Even upscale Nordstrom posted a rare sales decline while Wal-Mart posted sales that were below expectations despite its aggressive discounting heading into the holidays. Milder than normal weather also affected sales, wiping out consumers' appetite for winter wear. According to Thomson Financial, 18 retailers missed expectations, while ten beat projections. The tally is based on same-store sales or sales at stores opened at least a year and are considered a key indicator of a retailer's health.


Cactus Records is re-opening today at a new location on Portsmouth Street. Their last location on Shepherd closed in March 2006. The original location was on 11th Street in the Heights. The store's new owners include Saint Arnold Brewing Company founder Brock Wagner, as well as Cactus manager Quinn Bishop, New West Records owner George Fontaine and Rice Epicurean's Bruce Levy.


RigNet and NuPhysicia announced their partnership this week at the Offshore Communications Conference in Houston. They're launching RigNet Medical to service the health needs of offshore workers and those working in remote areas. RigNet Medical uses a portable telemedicine system holding necessary equipment to conduct real-time diagnostics.


The Center for Public History is hosting a conference called "Energy in Historical Perspective: American Energy Policy in the 1970s" through tomorrow at the University Hilton. The conference will focus on how the 70s transformed energy policy and the role it played in changing the energy industry, the politics of energy, foreign policy and environmentalism.


San Antonio-based NuStar Energy has agreed to buy twoCitgo asphalt plants from Venezuela's state oil company for $550 million. The purchase includes three asphalt terminals. The transaction makes NuStar Energy the largest U.S. asphalt supplier.


IBC Bank-Houston is opening three more in-store branches at new area H-E-B stores this month. That brings the number of locations for the banking subsidiary of Laredo-based International Bancshares to 42, including 26 in-store branches. The new outlets are in Pearland, on State Highway 249 at Louetta and in El Campo.


The IRS says a record number of taxpayers filed electronically this year. It had some 80 million tax returns sent through its e-file system, up nine percent from the same period last year. That's about 57 percent of the total number of returns filed. The agency says more people chose to have their refunds deposited directly than before, as well.


American Airlines is tweaking its telephone reservation and flight-information service by tracking customers using their phone number. Customers can register for the "remember me'' program. Then, when they call American from the phone they used to register, they'll get a speedier path to information about their upcoming flight. Executives with Fort Worth-based American say the new system would be faster than going through the current menu on the airline's flight-information number. The service is based on a Microsoft-owned system called TellMe. The service works by recognizing the caller's phone number and retrieving information about that account, the spokeswoman said.


A unit of Mexican conglomerate Grupo Mexico says it's willing to invest $300 million to finance subsidiary Asarco exit from bankruptcy. However, the company s complaining that the mining company is ignoring its offer. In court papers filed in Corpus Christi, the Grupo Mexico unit complained that Asarco has refused to respond to its financing offer. Asarco has a closed plant in El Paso, and is in the process of settling claims for environmental damages with the federal government and several states. Grupo Mexico has asked the bankruptcy court for an emergency hearing on its request that Asarco get the parent's permission before agreeing to settlements worth more than $10 million. The court set a hearing for next week.


Bob Childress was expecting a good crop from the hundreds of pecan trees that stretch across his 60-acre orchard near Abilene. A pecan tree produces cyclically--one year there's nuts bending branches, the next year there's not. So after an off year in 2006, the 66-year-old pecan grower was ready for things to get back on track. And Childress says "it definitely is an 'on year.' It's much better than average.'' The story's similar across much of the state. Good moisture at the right times this season has Texas on track to produce 70 million pounds of pecans. That's a 49 percent increase from 2006 and eight percent more than 2005. The projections would place the state at number three nationally, behind Georgia and New Mexico. The crop is extremely heavy in most areas, with numerous reports of limbs breaking from the excessive load. The good crop is also just in time for the holidays. Still, some growers were hit hard by an Easter weekend freeze. Crops suffered from Fort Stockton east to Midland and Odessa and northward to Lubbock and Interstate 40. Some trees were blooming when the cold hit and lost most of their crop.


Landry's Restaurants lost $3.2 million in the third quarter, compared to a $6 million profit a year ago. The Houston-based company blames a settlement with note holders resulting in a higher interest rate and the $4 million refinancing of the Golden Nugget hotel-casino in Las Vegas. Revenue from continuing operations were $301.9 million—up from $287.2 million from a year ago.


Reliant Energy earned $162.4 million for the quarter, compared to a $155.2 million loss in the same period last year. Revenue was $3.5 billion—up from $3.3 billion in the previous third quarter.


Dynegyreports a third-quarter profit on better-than-expected sales at its power generation unit. The Houston-based company earned $220 million in the three months that ended September 30th. That compares to a year-ago loss of $69 million. Revenue more than doubled.


Radio station and billboard advertising leader Clear Channel Communications reports third-quarter earnings surged 51 percent. San Antonio-based Clear Channel says outdoor advertising revenue continued to grow. Net income for the July-September period climbed to $279.7 million. That compares to year-ago earnings of $185.9 million. Clear Channel sold its 56 television stations in April. Excluding those operations, earnings rose 51 percent to $256.3 million. That compares to year-ago net income of $169.8 million. Shareholders in September approved a leveraged buyout offer led by Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital Partners. The deal is undergoing antitrust and Federal Communications Commission review.


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