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Monday December 5th, 2005

HISD set to receive state funds for absorbing Hurricane Katrina students…Tanox co-founder Nancy Chang to become chairman of the board, relinquishing posts of president and CEO…Texas Railroad Commission determining whether viable competition exists on Texas intrastate natural gas markets… The Houston Independent School District will soon receive the first check to help cover some expenses […]

HISD set to receive state funds for absorbing Hurricane Katrina students…Tanox co-founder Nancy Chang to become chairman of the board, relinquishing posts of president and CEO…Texas Railroad Commission determining whether viable competition exists on Texas intrastate natural gas markets…

The Houston Independent School District will soon receive the first check to help cover some expenses in absorbing more than 5,000 children into Houston schools from Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. HISD will receive $164,105 from the state of Texas to help cover some of the costs of enrolling evacuees and replacing lost textbooks. The school district estimates it may cost the district $180,000 a day this school year to educate the additional students. School officials say the additional load may cost HISD more than $20 million over the course of the year. Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra says now it’s time the federal government stepped up to its responsibility to help educate those students. The HISD board will consider the approval of the grant at its Thursday meeting.

Tanox co-founder Nancy Chang will take over as chairman of the company’s board of directors on February 1st, relinquishing her posts of president and CEO, according to the Houston Business Journal. Current chairman Osama Mikhail will become lead director of the Houston-based biopharmaceutical company. Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development Danong Chen will succeed Chang as president and CEO. Chang says after two decades of managing the company, it’s time to step into more of a strategic and governance role. Chang c-founded Tanox in 1986. Tanox develops treatments for asthma, allergy, inflammation and infectious diseases. It received European approval for its asthma drug Xolair earlier this year.

The then-head of Merck Research Labs told some colleagues he was in “minor agony” about whether Vioxx led to heart attacks. The videotaped deposition was played today for a federal jury in Houston. The case involves the 2001 fatal heart attack of “Dicky” Irvin of St. Augustine, Florida. Evelyn Irvin Plunkett is suing Merck. The company argues Vioxx wasn’t responsible for Irvin’s death. Jurors watched several depositions by now-retired Dr. Edward Scolnick. Scolnick said he initially believed a 2000 study showing Vioxx users suffered five times as many heart attacks as users of the older painkiller Naproxen. He changed his mind several months later and still attributes the disparity to Naproxen’s heart-friendly qualities–rather than a defect in Vioxx. Scolnick said he wanted Merck to do other studies–that weren’t done.

The New York Stock Exchange plans to suspend shares in Calpine Corporation from trading and will seek to delist the stock. California-based Calpine has downtown office in Houston. The Big Board says it’s acting because of the power producer’s “abnormally low selling price” and a legal ruling that could push the company into bankruptcy. A Delaware court ruled two weeks ago that Calpine must repay $313 million in improperly spent proceeds from the sale of its natural gas supplies. Calpine asked the court to allow it to defer payment because the sum could be “ruinous.” The court rejected that motion, giving Calpine until January 22nd. The NYSE says the suspension will begin before the market opens tomorrow.

Purchasing and supply executives in the latest Institute for Supply Management non-manufacturing business report say business activity increased in November. Survey committee chairman Ralph Kauffman says non-manufacturing activity increased for the 32nd consecutive month. Order backlogs increased at slower rates, but new orders and employment increased at faster rates than the previous month.

The nation’s purchasing executives say business activity in the services sector of the economy expanded last month, but at a slightly slower pace. The ISM monthly index stands at 58.5 for November. It stood at 60 in the previous month. Any number above 50 indicates growth. The group says there’s still “significant concern” about prices of energy and other materials and services.

A judge has ruled that lawyers for former Enron executives Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling failed to prove that government prosecutors intimidated potential defense witnesses to keep them from testifying. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake made the ruling late last week in Houston, according to Bloomberg. Lay, Skilling and former chief accountant Richard Causey go on trial January 17th on fraud and conspiracy charges stemming from the 2001 collapse of Enron.

Two senior judges say they were troubled by the U.S. government’s bid to extradite three British bankers on Enron-related fraud charges when the target of the alleged crimes was a London-based bank, according to Bloomberg. David Birmingham, Giles Darby and Gary Mulgrew are appealing a ruling authorizing their extradition to face seven counts of wire fraud. Lord Justice John Laws and Justice Duncan Ouseley questioned why the United States was pursuing the men when they are accused of defrauding Royal Bank of Scotland Group unit Greenwich NatWest rather than Enron. The three men are among the first defendants to fight a treaty that allows the U.S. to seek extradition of British citizens without having to produce evidence of an offense.

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether a company can be hit for damages if it moves a worker who’s complained of discrimination–to a harder job. At issue is what constitutes “materially adverse” changes in employment. Sheila White was hired as a forklift operator at the Memphis railyard of Fort Worth-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. White was the only woman working at the yard and soon complained that her foreman was sexually harassing her. When the foreman was suspended, White was transferred to work as a regular track worker–who repaired track and perform more physically demanding labor. After lodging her complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, White was fired in late 1997. BNSF eventually rescinded the decision and compensated her for back pay. A jury hearing White’s lawsuit rejected the discrimination charge, but found in her favor on the retaliation claim. She was awarded $43,000 in punitive damages.

The Texas Railroad Commission conducted a hearing this afternoon at the Hyatt Regency to determine whether viable competition exists on Texas intrastate natural gas markets. Another hearing is set for Wednesday in Dallas. Independent natural gas producers have complained that Texas gas gatherers and intrastate pipelines routinely engage in practices that artificially depress the price of natural gas at the well head. The study was mandated by the Texas legislature.

Houston-based Lyondell Chemical Company says Lyondell-Citgo Refining restarted its fluid catalytic cracking unit over the weekend. The unit was sidelined because of recent hurricane damage. Lyondell-Citgo Refining is a joint venture between Lyondell and Citgo Petroleum.

Salt Lake City-based Zions Bancorporation has completed the acquisition of Houston-based Amegy Bank and its holding company. The $1.7 billion deal makes the largest independent bank based in Houston a subsidiary of Zions, although Amegy retains its name and management team.

International law firm Greenberg Traurig has opened its 28th office in Houston. The firm has the eighth largest number of lawyers and the most extensive coverage of metropolitan areas in the United States. Greenberg Traurig’s key practice areas include energy, corporate and securities, real estate, litigation, reorganization, restructuring, public finance and governmental affairs.

Oklahoma-based America’s Incredible Pizza Company opens its second Houston-area dining and gaming venue in Sugar Land at Highway 6 South on December 15th, according to the Houston Business Journal. Up to 300 permanent employees are expected to be hired for the new location. The first Houston-area location opened in Conroe last august, and a third outlet is under construction in Champions Village.

The Seagas Pipeline subsidiary of Houston-based ConocoPhillips has purchased a 50 percent stake in the Seaway products pipeline from BP Amoco Seaway Products Pipeline, bringing ConocoPhillips’ total interest in the Seaway products pipeline to 100 percent. ConocoPhillips Pipe Line will become the operator, and the pipeline will remain a common carrier system.

Houston Community College is hosting its free Workforce Development Career Fair on Thursday, December 8th, at its Eastside campus on Rustic Lane. The Workforce Fair features professors who work and teach in various career fields, including accounting, business technology, certified nurse aide, computer science, drafting, electrocardiogram technician, electronics, massage therapy, phlebotomy, real estate and telecommunications.

Continental Airlines is launching The Travel, offering members special deals and travel credits. Free membership in the OnePass frequent flyer program is required to join the club.

Continental reports a November load factor of 78.7 percent, which was 1.7 points above last year’s November load factor.

Texas has been recognized for its leadership role in implementing clean coal technology. At the annual meeting of the Center for Energy and Economic Development in Phoenix, Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams said coal’s gasification co-product hydrogen is a valuable commodity and the energy source of the future. He predicted that coal will be a part of the next energy boom.

Citgo Petroleum is honoring Greater Houston Area Red Cross CEO Davis Henderson for the charity’s role in providing shelter and immediate assistance to thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Also recognized were Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, Mayor Bill White and Astros owner Drayton McLane. Citgo contributed $200,000 to the Red Cross for evacuees. Henderson presented the Red Cross Circle of Humanitarians Award to Citgo President and CEO Felix Rodriguez.

Some Americans are finding too little time and too much fear of ladders and lack of expertise for sometimes-elaborate holiday lighting displays. So they’re opening their wallets and hiring others do the work. Lubbock-based Christmas Decor Incorporated has 375 franchises in 48 states and Canada that will put up holiday decorations for 40,000 customers this year. Marketing Director Brandon Stephens says the company’s been adding 30 to 40 franchises each year. For a price, the company will design a Christmas display, install the lights and decorations, take them down after the holidays and store them until the next year. The average initial cost is $1,500, with the cost decreasing in subsequent years because the commercial-grade lights already have been purchased.

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