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Friday June 9th, 2006

Jailed former Merrill Lynch executives to be released pending appeals…Texas and Houston gasoline prices up again…ConocoPhillips withdraws bid for LNG terminal off Alabama coast… Two former Merrill Lynch executives convicted in connection with Enron’s bogus sale of power barges to the brokerage can post bond and be released from prison pending their appeals in the […]

Jailed former Merrill Lynch executives to be released pending appeals…Texas and Houston gasoline prices up again…ConocoPhillips withdraws bid for LNG terminal off Alabama coast…

Two former Merrill Lynch executives convicted in connection with Enron’s bogus sale of power barges to the brokerage can post bond and be released from prison pending their appeals in the case. That’s what a federal appeals court has ruled. Daniel Bayly and Robert S. Furst were two of five people convicted of helping push through Enron’s sale of power plants mounted on barges to the brokerage in 1999. The deal helped Enron appear to have met earnings targets. Bayly of Darien, Connecticut was serving a two-and-a-half sentence. Furst from Dallas was serving a sentence of three years and a month. A three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ordered that Bayly and Furst be released from prison and have bond hearings.

A federal judge ruled that Enron investors cannot pursue fraud claims against Deutsche Bank over the 2001 collapse, saying their allegations are too general and lack facts necessary to prove fraud. U.S District Judge Melinda Harmon said, however, that investors can press ahead with claims against other Enron lenders such as Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse Group.

Students at Davis High School heard from a juror in the trial of Enron founder Ken Lay and former CEO Jeff Skilling. Seniors enrolled in a government course heard from Enron juror #3–HISD Principal Freddy Delgado.

“Ben Glisan–the witness that was in for the prosecution–when he was testifying, when he was accusing them, he said ‘they did this, they did this,’–eye contact, and that, to me, kind of gave them more credibility of all of the witnesses. But it wasn’t a done deal until we went into deliberation. That’s when you go into looking at all of the notes that you wrote and ‘this person remembered it this way and that way,’ and you go into those boxes and you pull that evidence, and let the evidence always guide you. So that’s how we came up to say they’re guilty.”

Delgado is principal of Golfcrest Elementary School.

Texas retail gasoline prices rebounded sharply this week after two straight weeks of declines. That’s according to the weekly AAA Texas gas price survey. The survey released today shows retail prices for regular, self-serve gasoline averages $2.82 per gallon. That’s up nearly six cents from last week. The national average rose four cents to $2.89 per gallon. But auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says the death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is prompting speculation that attacks on Iraq’s oil output will ease. That and other factors are causing price fluctuations in crude oil prices. The survey finds the costliest retail gas prices in the Galveston-Texas City area, where they average $2.93 per gallon–up seven cents. The cheapest gas was in Corpus Christi, where the prices averaged $2.66. That’s up 12 cents. Houston’s average prices are at $2.91–up 5.7 cents.

ConocoPhillips is withdrawing its bid for a liquefied natural gas terminal off the Alabama coast. Alabama Governor Bob Riley issued a statement yesterday, saying ConocoPhillips is withdrawing its application in a letter to federal regulatory officials. A spokesman for the Houston-based company was not immediately available for comment today. The terminal would have used technology that critics say could cause massive harm to fisheries and marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. Riley has until Sunday to veto or permit the application for an LNG terminal south of Dauphin Island using what is known as an “open loop” vaporization system. Riley previously indicated he opposed that kind of system. Environmental and conservation groups urged Riley to reject the project, as Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco did last month on a similar application. Riley supported Blanco’s veto.

Some 850 volunteers from the Houston office of Deloitte & Touche on Friday helped area food banks, parks and schools, helping move computers and other equipment from George Sanchez Charter High School. Deloitte’s Oscar Garza says the original structure will soon be replaced.

“These are actually the–my understanding–the original NASA engineering offices. That’s what these buildings are. And they’ve been around since the early 60’s. So they’re being torn down sometime during the summer, and we hope to break ground around September 1st, for a 36,500-square-foot building which will house classrooms for the high school. We also have adult education mostly serving the immigrant community. And so we will have a three-story building here–brand-new–to serve, again, the school and adult education.”

Ann Taylor with Deloitte says this is the company’s annual nationwide day of public service.

“Absolutely nationwide–we have 34,000 Deloitte people all going into the community today. Almost always what they take away is the desire to do more. I mean, the most amazing thing is that they actually say ‘this was so great, how do we continue it?’–particularly in the schools. I mean, most people who work in these organizations year-round have such a passion for what they’re doing. And our people tend to catch that in just one day! So, one thing we’re trying to do here is be able to continue it year-round. So for example in this school, we’re going to be doing a number of things throughout the course of the year, so that this can just be really kind of a spark plug to a lot of the things we do later on.”

Sanchez High School is part of the educational component of the Association for the Advancement of Mexican-Americans. This is Deloitte’s seventh year of of its Impact Day community service.

A former employee of a Saudi company has been indicted in Illinois for allegedly giving kickbacks to a Halliburton manager for U.S. military dining subcontracts in Iraq and Kuwait. Mohammad Shabbir Khan was charged with 16 counts of giving $133,000 to a former procurement manager at Houston-based Halliburton’s KBR unit. KBR’s Stephen Seamans pleaded guilty in March to wire fraud and conspiracy for taking the kickbacks and warding $21,8 million in contracts to Saudi Tamimi Global Company. He is scheduled to be sentenced on August 4th.

A woman who protested outside Halliburton’s shareholders meeting last month in Duncan, Oklahoma has been acquitted of violating a city protest permit. Municipal Judge Carl Lamar says he could not find cause to convict 45-year-old Joni Leviness of Tulsa on the charge. However, the judge said he believed Leviness violated certain laws and could have been charged with trespassing or disrupting a police officer. Fifteen others who were arrested outside the meeting pleaded guilty or no contest and paid an $89 fine. The Houston-based military contractor held its shareholders meeting in Duncan three weeks ago. Halliburton was founded in Duncan, which is in southwestern Oklahoma.

The International Business Opportunity Conference at the George R. Brown Convention Center today was a chance for foreign business owners to promote their nation. The Tri-County Black chamber of Commerce is helping members in Harris and surrounding counties become trading partners with colleagues in the Caribbean, Africa and other regions.

Michaels says it’ll delay filing its first-quarter report to federal regulators pending an internal review of its options-granting processes. The Irving-based retailer says it decided to proactively review its options-granting procedures between 1990 to 2001. That’s after recent media reports regarding historical stock option practices at other publicly traded companies. More than 30 companies have said they are reviewing their options granting process. That’s after the Wall Street Journal reported last month that several companies exhibited highly improbable patterns of options grants to executives. The grants were allegedly backdated to establish strike prices on days when the companies’ stocks hit lows in price. Michaels said in a press release last month that it posted first-quarter net earnings of $50.6 million. That’s after reporting a net loss a year before of $35.9 million. Revenue for the first quarter ended April 29th rose 1.4 percent to $832.5 million.

Semiconductor maker Texas Instruments is raising its financial outlook. That’s some good news for Wall Street, which has been in a grim mood over the past month. Dallas-based TI makes chips for about half the world’s mobile phones. The improved forecast for second-quarter profit and sales came after receiving money from a lawsuit settlement and a tax benefit. A TI executive says concern about the direction of the U.S. economy doesn’t seem to be affecting consumer demand for products with the company’s computer chips. The more upbeat outlook came a day after a semiconductor trade group predicted that chip sales would rise nearly ten percent this year because of demand for electronic communications and entertainment devices. Personal computers remain the biggest market for semiconductors. Texas Instruments isn’t in that market. Sales of PC chips, however, are growing much more slowly than for TI’s target markets of mobile phones and other devices.

Workers at International Truck and Engine have rejected a proposed four-year labor deal that the United Auto Workers had tentatively agreed to earlier this week. That’s the word today from Warrenville, Illinois-based parent Navistar International. The vote involved about 4,000 employees in Texas, as well as in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Georgia and Pennsylvania–or close to a quarter of Navistar’s worldwide work force. The UAW employees work in manufacturing plants in Indianapolis; Melrose Park, Illinois; and Springfield, Ohio; parts distribution centers in Dallas, Atlanta and York, Pennsylvania; and a truck technical center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The proposed contract agreed to on Wednesday would have replaced one that expires in October. Contract details and a vote count were not released. A UAW spokesman didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

A Little Rock law firm has filed a federal lawsuit seeking millions allegedly billed to federal Medicare program to correct mistakes made by hospitals. The lawsuit alleges Plano-based Triad Hospitals billed Medicare for mistakes its hospitals caused that harmed patients. The Wilkes and McHugh law firm filed the suit under a new law that allows a private citizen to sue on behalf of Medicare. If the plaintiff prevails, that person is entitled to part of the award. The firm sued three insurance companies and a company that operates hospitals in Arkansas. The lawsuit is similar to one filed by the firm against Catholic Health Initiatives, which also has hospitals in the state. Wilkes and McHugh lawyer Ken Connor says insurance companies are getting off the hook for paying for mistakes and the government is subsidizing it.

Looks like we’re in for more red ink on the nation’s trade ledger. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC are forecasting an increase in the deficit to $65.5 billion during April. That’s up 2.5 percent from the previous month. It came in at $62 billion the month before–below what economists had expected. Analysts say the March figure may have been held down by the effect of the Chinese Lunar New Year on freight loadings in Asia. The nation’s foreign oil bill rose by nearly $1.5 billion. Crude oil hit a high of 75 dollars a barrel late in the month. Analysts say even with the lower-than-expected increase in the April deficit, trade will still act as a drag on the economy in the current quarter.

The already-grim outlook for the nation’s drought-ravaged winter wheat crop just got worse in the latest forecast from the Agriculture Department. With much of the harvest in full swing, production has plunged to lows not seen for decades. The production forecast is down 16 percent from last year’s crop to about 1.25 billion bushels of winter wheat. For the other major crops, corn, cotton, rice and soybeans, the forecast is unchanged. At the same time, the outlook is improving somewhat for the nation’s beef, pork and poultry producers, according to the report. While worries about bird flu have dampened chicken exports to some countries, low prices are encouraging higher exports. Analysts lowered the forecast for beef production, raised the forecast for pork production and left the forecast for poultry production unchanged.

Bionumerik Pharmaceuticals today withdrew its registration for an initial public offering. The San Antonio-based cancer-drug developer disclosed the move in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Bionumerik had filed for its IPO with the SEC in June 2004, saying it planned to raise around $75 million. UBS Investment Bank; Needham and Company; Leerink, Swann and Company; and Punk, Ziegel were listed as underwriters for the IPO.

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