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Tuesday July 12th, 2005

Offshore energy workers return to rigs and platforms after Hurricane Dennis…Defense begins closing arguments in Enron broadband trial…Houston economy continues growth, according to purchasing managers… Offshore energy industry workers have been returning to drilling rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico after the weekend passage of Hurricane Dennis. The storm stayed east of the […]

Offshore energy workers return to rigs and platforms after Hurricane Dennis…Defense begins closing arguments in Enron broadband trial…Houston economy continues growth, according to purchasing managers…

Offshore energy industry workers have been returning to drilling rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico after the weekend passage of Hurricane Dennis. The storm stayed east of the heaviest production areas as it came ashore near Pensacola, Florida on Sunday afternoon. BP reports that its semisubmersible rig Thunder Horse, 150 miles southeast of New Orleans, is listing by 20 to 30 degrees. Nearly 350 rigs and platforms in the Gulf were evacuated over the weekend, cutting 95 percent of the region’s oil production and 62 percent of its natural gas output, according to the Minerals Management Service. The Gulf produces about 30 percent of U. S. oil output and 24 percent of natural gas production.

Prosecutors told jurors today that five former executives of Enron’s defunct broadband unit “lied for personal profit and professional advancement.” The statements came today in closing arguments in the federal conspiracy and fraud trial of the five. The defense has began making closing statements this afternoon. On trial are former broadband unit chief Joseph Hirko, former strategist Scott Yeager and software engineer Rex Shelby–as well as former broadband finance chief Kevin Howard and in-house accountant Michael Krautz. They’re charged with participating in two alleged schemes involving technology and finance to make the broadband venture appear successful to Wall Street and investors. In reality, the broadband unit never turned a profit or surpassed testing stages. All five have testified that they didn’t lie. The jury has spent three months hearing evidence in the trial.

A former El Paso Corporation natural gas trader who pleaded guilty to sending false data to an index price publisher will have sentencing delayed until February 17th. Todd Geiger’s attorney says he needs more time to alalyze the government’s claims of El Paso’s financial gains and losses because of the false data.

Houston’s economy grew for the 30th consecutive month in June, according to the Purchasing Manager’s Index compiled by the National Association of Purchasing Management. The Houston PMI has been spurred by accelerating sales, production, employment and purchases. The index is based on a monthly survey of some 80 purchasing executives in Houston industries, including oil and gas exploration and production, manufacturing, engineering and construction, chemicals, distribution, business and financial services and healthcare.

The Texas Business Leaders Confidence Index survey has declined 3.1 points to an overall score of 62.6–the first drop in three quarters. Contributing to the decrease in confidence are the continued increase in energy prices and unresolved state sales tax issues. Respondents report hiring as one of the weakest components of the BLCI this quarter. Panelists in the survey identify healthcare costs as a significant concern.

Grubb & Ellis says Houston’s industrial market posted 6.2 million square feet of positive net absorption during the second quarter, mostly in warehouse and distribution. Houston’s industrial inventory base increased by 5.5 million square feet with 20 new industrial facilities delivered to market in the second quarter. Only about five percent of the new properties remain vacant. There are currently nearly 1.6 million square feet under construction.

Houston’s office leasing market registered positive absorption for the fifth consecutive quarter with 551,248 square feet, according to Grubb & Ellis. The Central Business District, however, countered the gain with 374,495 square feet of negative absorption as Chevron moved out of 1111 Bagby to relocate at its new headquarters building at 1500 Louisiana.

Pogo Producing is purchasing a Canadian oil and gas subsidiary from Unocal. The Houston-based company is paying $1.8 billion to Unocal, based in El Segundo, California.

Houston-based ConocoPhillips has completed restructuring its ownership of Duke Energy Field Services that creates a 50-50 partnership. The transaction includes the transfer of Duke’s Canadian assets to Duke Energy Gas Transmission. The Canadian assets include natural gas gathering and processing facilities in Alberta and British Columbia.

El Paso Corporation has completed the sale of its 50 percent stake in Korean Independent Energy Corporation to Korea Power Investments for about $284 million. The assets include a 1,800-megawatt combined-cycle liquified natural gas-fired power generation facility in Korea that provides peak load power to Seoul.

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners has acquired two petroleum terminals in separate transactions totaling $48 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. The deal includes a refined petroleum products terminal in New York Harbor that belonged to ExxonMobil and a dry-buil river terminal in Kentucky. The Houston-based pipeline company will also invest an additional $48 million in major expansion projects at the company’s existing liquids terminal complex on the Houston Ship Channel and its Shipyard river bulk terminal in South Carolina.

A coalition of environmental and lobbying groups want U. S. consumers to boycott ExxonMobil. The groups, ranging from the Sierra Club to Political Action, accuse the oil giant of being in denial about global warming and not caring about the environment because it favors drilling in protected Arctic lands. They say Americans should boycott ExxonMobil products, refuse to invest in the company’s stock and refuse to work for the firm. ExxonMobil says the charges are groundless. A spokesman says drilling in the Arctic doesn’t have to endanger the environment and that it’s working to find solutions to climate change.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has sued a Texas-based investment fund in a fraud investigation. Megafund Corporation is accused of fraud in raising nearly $14 million from Christian ministries and nonprofit groups since June of 2004. The lawsuit was filed July 1st against Flower Mound-based Megafund. A federal judge in Dallas last week agreed to freeze the fund’s assets. The feds say Megafund promised risk-free annual returns of 120 percent by leading investors to think it had special access to restricted markets. Megafund also did not register with the SEC to sell securities. The lawsuit also names Megafund’s chief executive Stanley A. Leitner of Argyle; Bradley C. Stark of Riverside, California, owner of Sardaukar Holdings IBC, a company that the SEC said conspired with Leitner; Stark’s wife, Pamela C. Stark; and CIG Limited.

Midwest Airlines has added Houston’s Hobby Airport as a destination, beginning daily non-stop service to Milwaukee. Midwest has two daily flights to its home city, becoming the first new carrier at Hobby since AirTran began service in September 1998. The Milwaukee hub provides access to some 30 cities nationwide.

Continental Airlines is beginning weekly non-stop service from its Newark Liberty International Airport to the Caribbean islands of Curacao and Aruba in the Netherlands Antilles beginning December 17th. On that date Continental will also begin non-stop service to the Netherlands Antilles island of Bonaire from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Service from Houston to Aruba is already offered. The Hosuton-based air carrier now offers service to 20 Caribbean destinations.

Woodlands-based User-Friendly Phone Book has acquired two directories published by Heartland Publishing in Owensboror and Bardstown, Kentucky. User-Friendly currently publishes 29 yellow page directories across seven states, including Texas.

Dell Computer has come a long way since the “Dell dude.” It is teaming with singer Sheryl Crow for a series of upcoming television commercials. In so doing, Crow will also be pitching her new forthcoming single “Good is Good” before its planned August release. And Dell will be allowing computer users to access a clip of the song before the release as well. The ad campaign for Dell will feature personal computers, plasma televisions and MP3 music players.

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