Thursday October 20th, 2005

New unemployment figures reflect hurricane-related job losses…Houston company to design Superdome repairs…Nine Houston firms place on Inc. magazine list; seven Houston companies place on Deloitte &Touche technology list… The Labor Department says 40,000 Americans filed claims for unemployment benefits last week related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That pushes the total storm-related job losses reported […]

New unemployment figures reflect hurricane-related job losses…Houston company to design Superdome repairs…Nine Houston firms place on Inc. magazine list; seven Houston companies place on Deloitte &Touche technology list…

The Labor Department says 40,000 Americans filed claims for unemployment benefits last week related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That pushes the total storm-related job losses reported to 478,000. The hurricanes’ impact on the workforce has been significant. The total number of Americans receiving jobless assistance is nearly 2.9 million, the highest level in more than a year. Overall, new claims for jobless benefits fell by a seasonally adjusted 35,000 to 355,000 last week. That’s the lowest level since Katrina struck in late August. Economists have been encouraged that the job market nationally appears to be holding fairly steady in the wake of the hurricanes and the sharp surge in energy prices.

Online job recruitment activity in the Houston area remained unchanged in September, according to the Monster Local Employment Index. Steve Pogorzelski with Monster Worldwide says the findings suggest a stable yet somewhat flat labor market.

Steve Pogorzelski audio 1

Monster measures job recruitment activity on job Web sites, which is where many of those displaced by the hurricanes have been searching for employment.

Steve Pogorzelski audio 2

Monster and other groups have an online job site for hurricane victims. He says Houston is in a good spot to turn the tragedies into opportunities with reconstruction efforts.

Allstate plans to scale back its homeowners coverage in the Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina caused it to take a loss of $1.5 billion in the third quarter. Chairman and CEO Edward Liddy, while pledging the company’s continued assistance to thousands of affected customers in Louisiana and the surrounding area, said Allstate must reduce its exposure in the region because of the risk of additional heavy losses. Allstate, the nation’s second-largest personal lines insurer, similarly did not renew coverage for 95,000 homeowners in hurricane-battered Florida last year and moved quickly to raise rates there. Katrina is likely to result in at least $34 billion in personal and commercial property loss claims, according to a survey of the nation’s insurers released this month.

A Houston company will design repairs to the Superdome in New Orleans, using a Louisiana architect. Leo Day was chosen by the state Architect Selection Board for the $9.4 million project, working with Blitch-Knevel and Post of New Orleans. Officials say it will cost at least $125 million to fix the Superdome, with repairs taking up to two years.

World Oil magazine honored winners of their fourth annual World Oil Awards last night at the Houstonian. Gulf Publishing Senior Vice President Alexandra Pruner says ten companies were recognized.

Alexandra Pruner audio 1

Companies were honored for innovative thinking, as well as for health, safety and environmental advancement, data management and technology. Pruner says the winning entries are nominated by other companies, individuals and government organizations from around the world.

Alexandra Pruner audio 2

Last night’s awards show benefited Oklahoma State University, a Nigerian university and a graduate school in Libya.

Thirty-two Texas companies, including nine Houston firms, have earned spots on New York-based Inc. magazine’s annual “Inc. 500” list, which ranks the fastest-growing private companies based on cumulative year-over-year sales growth. Houston firms making the list include: Sirius Solutions at #25; Pre-Cash placed 26th; PCPC Direct is #150; Veri-Center came in at #171; Data-Cert is #203 on the list; G&A Partners is #335; Rohe & Wright Builders is listed at #352; Consentino USA placed at #425; and Cardtronics is #432 on the list.

Seven Houston-area companies are on the Deloitte & Touche “Technology Fast 500,” a ranking of the fastest-growing technology companies based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth between 2000 and 2004. The firms include PreCash at #18; DataCert ranked #115; Paymetric is #124; I-Sector placed at #317; Merrick Systems software is listed at #341; Lexicon Genetics came in at #401; and ChaseCom Limited Partnership is #441 on the list.

The head of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank says the fed will continue to work toward containing inflation–despite the drag on growth by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Bank President Richard Fisher also cited higher energy prices during a speech in Houston. Fisher told business leaders with the Houston Forum he’s confident that what he calls “American moxie” will generate a recovery from the hurricanes. The storms ravaged parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. Both hurricanes battered refineries, natural gas processing plants and other oil and gas facilities, pushing high energy prices higher. The fed’s policy makers will next meet November 1st.

Natural gas prices are tumbling following word of a bigger-than-expected buildup in inventories last week. The Energy Information Administration reports 75 billion cubic feet of gas was added to stocks last week–well above the 58 billion analysts were expecting. That pushed total storage to 3.06 trillion cubic feet. While that’s about two percent above the five-year average, it’s nearly 200 billion cubic feet below year-ago levels.

SBC Communications today reports its third-quarter profit fell 40 percent as merger and hurricane-related costs at Cingular Wireless offset a slight rise in revenue. Stripping out merger and hurricane-related costs, the San Antonio-based telecom reports net income of $1.25 billion for the quarter ended September 30th. Total operating revenue edged up three-tenths of one percent to $10.32 billion. SBC owns a 60 percent stake in Atlanta-based Cingular Wireless and is also acquiring AT&T. The deal has been approved by AT&T shareholders and awaits regulatory approval. It’s expected to close late this year.

Southwest Airlines today reports its third-quarter profit almost doubled as it relied on fuel hedging to offset rising oil prices that have hurt the industry. The quarterly profit rose to $227 million. That includes $87 million in one-time gains from Southwest’s hedging strategy. The Dallas-based low-fare airline locks in jet-fuel prices months in advance to protect it from price spikes. Without that gain, Southwest says its earnings would have been $174 million. Southwest is more than 70 percent hedged for 2006. Total operating revenues increased 19 percent to $1.99 billion, and operating income rose 43 percent to $273 million.

Southwest says it will serve Denver International Airport beginning early next year. The low-fare carrier is able to expand because of aircraft made available through Hurricane Katrina-related schedule changes. The resumption of production of aircraft at Boeing is also said to be a factor. Southwest says it will announce specifics on the flight schedule and fares at a news conference in Denver next week. Southwest served Denver from 1983 to 1986 at Stapleton International Airport. The airline now serves 61 airports in 31 states.

Continental Airlines has received final approval from the Department of Transportation to begin daily non-stop flights between George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Buenos Aires, Argentina. That’s Continental’s ninth destination in South America.

What’s billed as the state’s first public ethanol station is now open in San Antonio. Backers hope the station will draw consumers by offering a cheaper, cleaner alternative to gasoline. The ethanol is sold by Cleanfuel USA at a Bexar County facility. The fuel is made up of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. It’s called E-85 and costs an average of about 20 cents less than gasoline. Cleanfuel USA President Curtis Donaldson says the fuel gets about ten percent less mileage but burns cleaner and is nontoxic. Ethanol is an alcohol made from homegrown crops and wastes.

Metals USA stockholders have approved the acquisition of the company by New York-based Apollo Management. Metals USA provides products and services in the heavy carbon steel, flat-rolled steel, specialty metals and building products markets.

The U. S. Bureau of Land Management netted more than $28 million at the quarterly oil and gas lease sale. Up for bid yesterday were 110 parcels in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Bids were placed on 105 of them. The 16 parcels in Texas brought in more than $600,000. The highest bid per parcel was $1.5 million for 1,278 acres in Chaves County, New Mexico. That bid came from Chalfant Properties of Midland.

Trial has been postponed in East Texas until March in Tivo’s lawsuit against the owners of the Dish Network satellite television system. Alviso, California-based Tivo accuses Englewood, Colorado-based Echostar Communications of stealing its technology that lets viewers pause, replay or fast-forward live TV. The trial was scheduled to begin Monday in Marshall and last three weeks. But U. S. District Judge David Folsom says he’s delaying the case because the Marshall federal courtroom was only available for two weeks. Tivo is seeking lost royalties and triple damages from Echostar.

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