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Tuesday June 14th, 2005

Houston job market prospects are strong, according to Manpower…Electric deregulation discussed at UH conference…Report names former Continental CEO Gordon Bethune as considering United Airlines takeover plans… The Houston area job market is expected to be among the strongest in the nation in the third quarter, according to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey. The company says […]

Houston job market prospects are strong, according to Manpower…Electric deregulation discussed at UH conference…Report names former Continental CEO Gordon Bethune as considering United Airlines takeover plans…

The Houston area job market is expected to be among the strongest in the nation in the third quarter, according to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey. The company says from July to September, 54 percent of the companies interviewed plan to hire more employees, while only one percent plan payroll reductions. Another 38 percent expect to maintain current staff levels. Job prospects are best in mining, construction, durable and non-durable goods manufacturing, transportation and public utilities, wholesale and retail trade, finance,/insurance/real estate, education, services and public administration. Nationally, 31 percent of employers expect an increase in hiring, with six percent anticipating a decrease in employment opportunities.

Experts gave a mid-course report on the progress of electricity deregulation at the University of Houston Global Energy Management conference at the UH Hilton. Texas Public Utility Commission Chairman Paul Hudson says the focus has been on educating the public.

PUC Chairman Paul Hudson audio 1

Texas is still in the process of moving toward a fully deregulated system by 2007.

PUC Chairman Paul Hudson audio 2

TXU Energy President and CEO John Wilder is happy with the progress of electric deregulation.

TXU Energy CEO John Wilder audio 1

Wilder says despite success of deregulation in Texas, he’s not surprised that other states haven’t started efforts to deregulate.

TXU Energy CEO John Wilder audio 2

The University of Houston Global Energy Management conference panelists included electricity suppliers and marketers, industrial, commercial and residential consumers, regulators and academics.

Alabama’s state pension fund has recovered most of its losses from the 2001 collapse of Enron. Five investment banks paid $49 million to settle litigation. The settlement represented 86 percent of the money lost by the pension fund on Enron stocks and bonds when the company went bankrupt in late 2001. Details were released today by the Retirement Systems of Alabama. The five banking institutions are Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, J. P. Morgan Chase, Credit Suisse First Boston and Bank of America. None acknowledge any wrongdoing.

Former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune is mentioned as an outside investor considering takeover plans for United Airlines, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. In last week’s bankruptcy court filing, United’s creditors committee said there are investors interested in buying the airline. Possible candidates include investor consortiums led by Bethune and former United CEO Gerald Greenwald, as well as Dallas-based investment firm Texas Pacific Group, according to the article. United filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2002.

Passengers arriving late on some United Airlines flights will get extra frequent flier miles. United today says it will give 500 miles to passengers delayed by at least 30 minutes on flights to and from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and seven cities. Those other sites include Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. United will honor the offer even for flights delayed because of bad weather or air traffic control problems. United says the program–which began today–will run through the end of the year and may be extended beyond that. It’s designed to show United customers in Chicago that the airline has better service.

Continental Airlines has contributed $50 million more to its defined benefits plan. The contribution came from proceeds from a secured loan to its Continental Micronesia subsidiary. The Houston-based air carrier has made $180 million in pension contributions so far this year, as under-funded pensions at Delta and Northwest Airlines receive attention from Congress.

Continental Airlines is doubling the number of first class sets on its Boeing 757-300 aircraft because of high demand. Continental is expanding its Boeing 757-300 fleet from nine to 17 aircraft. The planes are currently fitted with 12 seats in first class and 210 in coach. Reconfiguration will provide 24 first class seats and 192 in coach.

Upscale hotel operator Wyndham International said today it’s agreed to be acquired by an affiliate of Blackstone Group. Blackstone is a New York-based private investment firm, will pay $1.15 per share in cash for each share of Dallas-based Wyndham’s common stock. That adds up to about $3.2 billion. Wyndham’s board has unanimously approved the deal and recommended approval by shareholders. In addition to its flagship brand, Wyndham operates about 20 franchised hotels under such well-known brands as Doubletree, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Hyatt and Marriott. It owns, leases, manages and franchises hotels and resorts in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe.

A company that makes class rings is closing an El Paso plant and moving the 138 jobs across the border to Mexico. American Achievement Corporation of Austin said it plans to close the ring-finishing plant by August 2nd. The jobs will shift to Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso. American Achievement, which will maintain a publishing plant in El Paso, has said no severance packages will be given–but some job search help will be available.

The state Attorney General’s office said today it’s reached a settlement with a Kentucky mental health provider over alleged false Medicaid billing. A statement from the AG’s office says Rescare Incorporated of Louisville, Kentucky has repaid $2.15 million. That includes reimbursement of $405,000 to the federal government. The statement says the case centers on alleged false Medicaid billing and fraudulent reimbursements received for mental health services not rendered. It says a Rescare subsidiary in Fort Worth made it appear employees were spending more time rehabilitating patients than they actually were. A whistleblower case began the investigation in 2001. There was no immediate comment from a Rescare spokeswoman today. Rescare is a leading provider of home-and-community-based services to the mentally ill.

A San Antonio family is suing an HMO saying the medical plan put cost savings ahead of a mother’s life. The family says they discovered that a family member had a deadly kidney disease after she died. The trial between the Smelik family and Humana Health Plan of Texas began yesterday. The lawsuit alleges that Humana was negligent in caring for Joan Smelik. It says that the HMO committed fraud for not meeting the standards in its members handbook. The lawsuit says Humana opted instead for cost savings. Humana says it acted appropriately. Family members say they began collecting Joan’s medical records after the funeral. They say they found that Joan should never have been prescribed Vioxx and should have been monitored more closely for kidney failure.

Hewlett-Packard reportedly is undoing one of former CEO Carly Fiorina’s final moves at the company. The Wall Street Journal reports that HP has separated its personal computer and printer units just five months after combining them. Chief Executive Mark Hurd is quoted in the article as saying separating the units will help the company that acquired Houston-based Compaq Computer to sharpen its competitiveness and improve its cost structures. The combination of the two units in January was part of a struggle between HP’s directors and Fiorina. It ended with her dismissal in February. Separately, the Journal is reporting that the Securities and Exchange Commission has sent letters about Hurd to both HP and his former employer NCR. The issue involves the timing of Hurd’s sales of NCR stock earlier this year. The Journal reports that in February and on March 2nd and 3rd, Hurd sold NCR shares valued at $5.2 million. HP has said that its recruiters didn’t contact Hurd until after March 3rd.

New York-based Cantor Fitzgerald has opened a new office in Houston and another one in Austin, according to the Houston Business Journal. The new outlets focus on providing fixed-income sales across a wide range of capital markets instruments, including corporate bonds, mortgage-backed bonds, asset-backed securities and municipal debt.

PNM Resources President Jeff Sterba says the utility might expand into Kansas or the midwest. Sterba also said the utility plans to build power plants in Texas sometime within the next year. PNM Resources completed its purchase of Fort Worth, Texas-based TNP Enterprises on June 6th. TNP is the parent company of Texas-New Mexico Power Company. Sterba says the $1 billion-plus deal won’t be the last for PNM resources. PNM Resources is the parent company of Public Service Company of New Mexico.

A Texas company hopes to use a 700-acre parcel of land in northern New Mexico to test ammunition and small explosives. The Rio Arriba County Planning and Zoning Commission is considering Engel Ballistic Research’s request for a land use change. The land is about 80 miles north of Albuquerque and is currently zoned as agricultural. Officials say the Smithville, Texas-based company’s planned facility could create 25 jobs in the area. But Rio Arriba County Zoning Director Patricio Garcia says many residents of the area have expressed concern about noise and safety.

First quarter sales fell off the edge at Fort Worth-based Pier One Imports. The home furnishings retailer says it swung to a loss in the latest first quarter, reversing a year-ago profit. Pier One also is warning of a possible loss in the second quarter. Quarterly losses totaled $12.5 million. That’s compared with earnings of nearly $12 million a year ago. Sales declined six percent overall and sales at stores open at least one year, or same-store sales, fell 12 percent. Chairman and CEO Marvin Girouard says Pier One has been “disappointed by slow customer response and continued weak traffic in stores.”

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