Wednesday PM January 16th, 2008

Enron investors learn details of $7.2 billion settlement...OSHA investigates latest BP Texas City refinery death...Houston-area home sales fall four percent in 2007, but still the second-best year on record...

Enron investors who sued the company more than six years ago are learning this week what they'll salvage from their investment. A mailing approved by a federal judge says Enron investors will get an average of $6.79 per share for their common stock. Those who owned preferred stock will get $168.50 per share. The lawsuit has become known as the Newby case after shareholder Mark Newby. It covers those who invested in Enron stock from September 9th, 1997 until December 2nd, 2001, when the company declared bankruptcy. The class comprises about 1.5 million buyers of stocks and bonds. They could have purchased common shares as high as $90 when Enron was soaring in August 2000 or as low as a dollar just before the bankruptcy. This week's mailing was approved by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon. It officially tells shareholders about the $7.2 billion settlement fund and a February 29th hearing on how it will be disbursed.

The attorney for the family of a worker who was killed at BP's Texas City refinery says "a lot of questions need to be answered'' about the accident. Fifty-six-year-old William Joseph Gracia was the third worker to be killed at the refinery since a massive explosion there killed 15 people and injured another 170 nearly three years ago. The company says Gracia died Monday when a metal lid flew off of a water filtration vessel and hit him in the head. A state district judge signed a temporary restraining order at the request of Gracia's family requiring BP to preserve evidence from the scene. The company says it's already preserving the scene as part of its own investigation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also investigating. A BP spokesman says the company is deeply saddened by the death of Gracia, who worked at the plant for 32 years.

Houston-area home sales fell four percent in 2007, but that's still the second-best year on record, according to the Houston Association of Realtors. Home prices rose slightly last year. Total dollar volume for 2007 reached its highest level ever with year-end sales of 83,432 properties totaling $16.6 billion. The median sales price of a single-family home was $152,000, or an increase of 1.6 percent compared to 2006. Throughout the year, home sales were up for properties costing $250,000 or more. But area sales have been declining for four consecutive months. Sales fell 18.3 percent last month—the biggest monthly drop last year. December's average price rose 5.7 percent from last year to $216,433. Total property sales for December registered 5,957—a 23.5 percent decline compared to December 2006.

Schlumberger says it will eliminate several hundred jobs in North America, according to the Houston Chronicle, as customers shift exploration spending to the Eastern Hemisphere. The company plans to eliminate fewer than 500 jobs, although it is not saying how many of those would be from the 5,000 workers employed in Houston.

Former Shell Trading Gas and Power employee Anthony Dizona has been found guilty in a Houston federal court of attempting to manipulate natural gas prices. But the jury cleared him of knowingly sending publishers of monthly price indexes false price information. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission says Dizona participated in a scheme with five other defendants of Shell subsidiary Coral Energy by circulating e-mail giving instructions on reporting prices that would benefit their trading positions.

President Bush is hoping OPEC will authorize an increase in oil production to ease pressure on prices following private conversations with Saudi Arabia's king. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino says Bush brought up the subject after dinner last night. Perino says the Saudi leader understands the situation and that he's worried about high oil prices and how they can negatively affect economies around the world. Perino declined to provide more details.

OPEC stepped up its oil production last month. A Platts survey of cartel and oil industry officials shows OPEC produced an average of just over 32 million barrels of crude per day during December, compared with November's rate of 31.65 million barrels a day. The bulk of the December increase came from higher production by the United Arab Emirates, which pumped an estimated 2.5 million barrels a day, 350,000 barrels more than in November. Smaller increases came from Indonesia, Iran, Kuwait, Libya and Saudi Arabia.

State transportation officials are trying to ease the fears of people in the projected path of a proposed toll road through east Texas. More than 150 people attended a forum in Texarkana last night addressing the proposed Trans Texas Corridor. The forum moves to Carthage tonight before going on to Lufkin on Thursday. All are communities that would be directly affected by a major leg of the superhighway along the Interstate 69 route long sought by east Texas officials. Governor Rick Perry first proposed the TTC six years ago. While embraced by many, it's being fought by some who describe it as unneeded and improper. If completed as much as 50 years from now, the TTC could crisscross the state with up to a quarter-mile-wide stretch of toll roads, rail line and pipeline and utility lines. Cost of the project has been estimated at approaching $200 billion. It also could require the state acquire nearly 600,000 acres of private land, much of from farmers and ranchers. The town hall sessions move next week to outside Houston, then to south Texas, before winding up February 6th in Robstown, outside Corpus Christi.

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