Wednesday AM December 12th, 2007

AT&T raises dividends, announces share buyback, sets targets for U-verse...Governor Perry responds to criticism of Emerging Technology Fund...Postal Service extends hours during holiday season...

AT&T has raised its dividend nearly 13 percent and announced a share buyback. San Antonio-based AT&T also set a long-term target for its TV service--delivered via phone lines--to be available to 30 million customers by 2010. The TV announcement by chief executive Randall Stephenson reinforces AT&T's commitment to the service known as U-verse. Recent news reports said the company was in talks to acquire satellite TV broadcaster Dish Network, which would have given AT&T a different route to reach customers. Stephenson told analysts the new target includes customers in the southeastern states formerly served by BellSouth, which AT&T acquired late last year. The U-verse rollout has been delayed several times.

Governor Rick Perry's aides are trumpeting his Emerging Technology Fund as an overwhelming success. But one company has closed after getting a three million-dollar grand from the fund. Austin-based Nanocoolers got the grant last March. The Austin American-Statesman first reported the company's closure last week. The grant was to fund development of a high-tech cooling device. Nanocoolers was founded in 2002. It's the first firm to fail after getting a grant from the state fund. The Texas Democratic party criticized the Republican governor over the failure. A party statement says the failure proves, quote, "that his slush funds need more accountability.'' But Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle says the fund has created almost one million net new jobs over four years. In her words, "only the Democrat party could find fault with that kind of success."

A suburban St. Louis-based chain that provided fat-reduction procedures has shut down, leaving more than 500 employees out of work. Fig., formerly known as Advanced Lipodissolve, posted a message on its Web site saying that due to economic conditions beyond its control it ceased operation last Friday. In addition to St. Louis, it operated clinics in Sugar Land, the Galleria and The Woodlands, as well as in Kansas City, Dallas and in California, Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, Kentucky and Ohio. The Web site says patients currently undergoing treatment will be contacted by the company concerning treatment options and refund claims. Fig. Had grown rapidly since opening its first clinic in suburban St. Louis two years ago.

A new drug for chronic myelogenous leukemia works for patients who are resisting Imatinib, according to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Scientists report fewer side effects than other medications in its class. Bosutinib was developed by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, and is being tested in patients in the early or chronic phase. So far, 98 patients have enrolled in the relatively new clinical trial, with median duration of treatment at just over five months.

Texas and Oregon state officials have filed lawsuits against a Texas compounding pharmacy that sold prescription drugs in Oregon involved in the poisoning deaths of three people. The pharmacy owner is also named in the suit filed in a state court. This spring, Apothecure made a drug that was ten times more potent than intended. The drug was sent to a Portland clinic where it was used for the treatment of back pain. The state medical examiner said it led to the deaths of two people in Oregon and one in Washington state. The Texas and Oregon Attorney General's Offices simultaneously filed similar suits and included a retail store run by the owner of Apothecure. Compounding pharmacies make specially tailored drugs and are not subject to the same oversight as traditional pharmaceutical manufactures.

The U.S. Postal Service says about 7,000 post offices will be open for extended hours during the holiday season. It expects nearly a billion cards, letters and packages to be mailed December 17th, the busiest day of the season. That includes 275 million cards and letters. The average daily volume for cards and letters is 82 million. The Postal Service is also encouraging people to avoid lines by using automated postal centers, which are open 24 hours a day. In November it issued a deadline of December 15th for packages sent using the least expensive option, parcel post, to arrive by Christmas. For parcels sent First Class or Priority Mail, the deadline is December 20th. Customers have until December 22nd to send Christmas packages by Express Mail.

Houston-based Cooper Industries has purchased Illinois-based GS Metals and UK-based Clarity Lighting in deals worth $49 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. GS Metals makes customized metal safety grating systems, bolted framing and ladder and wire basket cable tray. Clarity Lighting designs and makes light-emitting diode architectural lighting and controls. Cooper Industries is an electrical products maker.

The European ambassador to the United States told San Angelo residents that their city's small-town feel is a strength in trying to attract businesses. Ambassador John Bruton is the former prime minister of Ireland. He is on a three-day trip to San Angelo at the behest of San Angelo businessman A. Mario Castillo, who is also president of a lobbying firm in Washington. The two men are neighbors there. On Sunday, Bruton placed wreaths on the headstones of five Irish frontier soldiers at the Fort Concho National Historic Landmark. He lectured about 175 residents at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts. Bruton said in a story in the San Angelo Standard-Times that there are some parallels between his native country and the west Texas town.

It's the time of year for giving, and that includes corporate giving. Capital One has awarded $606,000 in grants to ten Houston non-profit groups to help support local financial education initiatives. Groups receiving funds include ACCION Texas, Communities in Schools Houston, Precinct2gether, Fifth Ward Enrichment Program, Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas, KIPP: Houston, Neighborhood Centers, Prepared 4 Life, Skills for Living and Workshop Houston.

ConocoPhillips and Qatar Petroleum International have extended their agreement to develop energy projects outside of Qatar, according to the Houston Business Journal. The companies have collaborated on projects since 2003, including a liquified natural gas project.

The Securities and Exchange Commission voted unanimously to approve changes to make it faster and simpler for small companies to raise capital through public offerings. Smaller companies may seek to raise capital using abbreviated paperwork previously available only to firms with public float in excess of $75 million. The SEC will permit small firms to do the same, provided their shares are listed on a national exchange. Their financial reports have to be up to date.

FMC Technologies has been awarded a $35 million subsea contract by StatoilHydro, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Houston company will supply subsea gas compression control systems for Norway-based StatoilHydro's North Sea project.

A suburban Fort Worth hospital is agreeing to pay more than $1.9 million to settle allegations that it submitted improper Medicare and Medicaid claims. Authorities say Harris Methodist HEB Hospital in Bedford doesn't admit any wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement and still denies liability. U.S. Attorney Richard Roper says the hospital allegedly violated the Civil False Claims Act for most of 2004 and 2005 for orthopedic-related items and services. The problem came to light in 2005 after a hospital compliance review found that a doctor's contract didn't comply with federal regulations. A government investigation found that the hospital apparently was paid by the Medicare and Medicaid programs for orthopedic services referred by a physician group that had received free rent from the hospital.

Four lawmakers and the Texas AFL-CIO have asked the Texas Supreme Court to reverse its decision in a case they say incorrectly expands liability protections for employers under state workers' compensation laws. The lawmakers say the court's ruling in a case from the late summer contradicts state law. The brief is signed Representative Craig Eiland of Galveston and Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston--both Democrats--and by Senator Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio and Representative Bryan Hughes of Mineola--both Republicans. Representatives of the AFL-CIO in Galveston said that if the court's decision were in place at the time, it would have prevented injured workers from suing BP over the Texas City refinery explosion in 2005 that killed 15 people.

Frito-Lay is voluntarily recalling 41 cases of mispackaged potato chips that could pose a risk to people with milk allergies. The recall involves almost 2,500 1.5-ounce bags labeled Lay's Classic Potato Chips available in north Texas vending machines. The bags may contain Lay's Cheddar & Sour Cream Flavored Potato Chips. The Plano-based snack maker says that's because of an error that occurred in a production line. The affected bags have a freshness date of February 12th located on the upper right hand side of the package with an 11 digit code number beneath the date (12923230985). The bags are time stamped between 06:00 and 08:00. Consumers who buy the affected bags can contact Frito-Lay consumer affairs at 1-800-352-4477.

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