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Friday AM September 1st, 2006

BP says Alaska oil production may resume to normal levels sooner than expected… Governor Perry offers to trim Texas Enterprise Fund by nearly 25 percent… Houston median household income lags behind state and national averages… BP officials are growing increasingly optimistic that Prudhoe Bay oil production may be returned to normal levels earlier than expected. […]

BP says Alaska oil production may resume to normal levels sooner than expected… Governor Perry offers to trim Texas Enterprise Fund by nearly 25 percent… Houston median household income lags behind state and national averages…

BP officials are growing increasingly optimistic that Prudhoe Bay oil production may be returned to normal levels earlier than expected. They believe a portion of the pipeline idled by corrosion concerns may be useable at least temporarily and that other sections can be bypassed. The flow of oil from Prudhoe Bay has been cut in half to 200,000 barrels a day as BP prepares to replace 16 miles of pipeline. It discovered extensive internal corrosion that resulted in spills in March and early this month. Oil deliveries resumed recently through the western half of the pipeline system by bypassing the damaged sections of pipe. But the eastern section remains idled as BP conducts extensive tests to determine whether at least some of that pipe can be used.

Stark reminders of the damage wrought by last year’s hurricanes emerge while entering the Gulf Coast refinery town of Port Arthur. Trees and utility poles are bowed. Blue tarps still cover wrecked homes. Business signs that flew away nearly a year ago still haven’t been replaced. Last year, 28 percent of the nation’s refining capacity temporarily shut down and pump prices jumped past $3 a gallon. Even with these humbling reminders of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina the oil industry is busy expanding along the Gulf Coast. Refiners expect to boost capacity by 2010 by as much as 1.9 million barrels. For example, the Motiva refinery is planning an expansion that officials say will double production by 2010 and make it the largest U.S. refinery. San Antonio-based Valero Energy is close to completing a 75,000-barrel-per-day capacity expansion in Port Arthur.

Governor Rick Perry has offered to trim the size of his pet fund used to close business deals and create jobs. His offer to trim the Texas Enterprise Fund by nearly 25 percent comes after he asked state agencies to propose ten-percent budget reductions, Perry’s offer would reduce the Texas Enterprise Fund from about $187 million in the current two-year budget to $143 million in the next two-year spending plan. While Perry exceeded the ten percent reductions he asked of other agencies, aides say he proposed no trims of his own 273-person staff. They say Perry also protected a separate $200 million fund he pushed through the legislature last year for encouraging high-tech startup companies. Advocates of higher state spending on education and social programs have said the Perry’s spending-cut request puts agency chiefs on the defensive and detracts attention from state needs. Perry’s spokeswoman has called the requirement a useful exercise in planning.

The median household income of Houston families lags behind state and national averages, standing at $36,894, according to new statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. The state’s median household income is $42,139 and the national median is $46,242. Austin’s median is $43,731.

New figures from the government show income and spending increased in July exactly as economists forecast. The Commerce Department reports that, after adjusting for inflation, personal income last month increased by a-half percent. It says consumer spending rose a stronger eight-tenths of one percent. That’s the largest amount in six months. After-tax income, also known as disposable personal income, increased seven-tenths of a percent in July, the biggest gain since nine-tenths of a percent in January. A measure of inflation watched closely by the Federal Reserve rose just one-tenth of one percent. The core Personal Consumption Expenditures, or PCE, price index grew 2.4 percent over the past year. The Fed watches the year-over-year index for signs of excessive inflation. The central bank’s so-called comfort zone for this gauge is considered to be between one and two percent.

Orders to American factories fell in July–the first decline since April–due largely to a 10.6-percent drop in the volatile category of commercial aircraft. The Commerce Department says the dip of six-tenths percent followed gains of one and a-half percent in June and one percent in May. Orders were down two percent in April. The July decrease was a little smaller than expected.

Houston-based Anime Network is now available to 40 million homes in the U.S. and Canada. That includes its linear channel, video-on-demand, subscription-based video-on-demand and pay-for-view, for both cable and satellite subscribers. Programming will be viewable through 17 service providers as of September 13th, as well as on-demand through 22 providers. The Anime Network is a subsidiary of A.D. Vision, which distributes re-voiced Japanese anime DVDs and Newtype USA magazine.

The Houston Airport System’s Small Business Development and Contract Compliance Division is inviting local businesses to participate in the first annual HAS Business Opportunity Networking Fair. At the free event at the Humble Civic Center on September 15th, participants will learn how to do business with the airport system through a series of seminars and one-on-one sessions. Representatives from several airport divisions, professional services providers, prime contractors and concessionaires will provde networking and information-gathering opportunities. Government and private sector representatives will be on hand and City of Houston certification information will be provided.

The Urban Land Institute Houston District Council hosts Urban Marketplace 2006 on September 8th at the Hilton Americas-Downtown. The event will bring together developers, builders, architects, community groups, non-profit and government organizations interested in urban redevelopment. Exhibitors will present information on services, development opportunities and initiatives for urban redevelopment. Roundtable and panel discussions will allow attendees to share ideas, examine how to gain financing and structure development deals with public and private partnerships.

The Port of Houston Authority, the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region and the Greater Houston Coffee Association are hosting the second annual Houston Port Region Coffee Symposium on October 19th and 20th at the Hilton Americas-Downtown. The two-day event will feature a guided bus tour of Houston’s coffee warehouse district, a preview of the new Bayport Container Terminal, forums, presentations and an awards dinner. The Port of Houston Authority sought the designation as a Green Coffee Port Exchange to stimulate the coffee trade.

U.S. Representative Chet Edwards was honored as the 2006 Port Person of the Year in a luncheon hosted by the port of Houston authority and the Texas Ports Association. Edwards was saluted for his advocacy on behalf of seaports throughout Texas. He’s a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

Former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune has been named chairman of the board of the parent company of Aloha Airlines. Bethune ran Houston-based Continental from 1994 to 2004. He also serves on the boards of directors of Honeywell International, Sprint Nextel, Prudential Financial and the Willis Group.

Zale says it swung to a fourth-quarter loss. The Irving-based jeweler has posted a fiscal fourth-quarter loss of $26.4 million. In the year-ago period, the company posted a profit of $4.1. Excluding one-time items, the company reported a profit of two cents a share in the most recent quarter. That’s in line with analyst expectations. Total revenue rose to $490.7 million, from $472.3 million–a slightly bigger gain than the Wall Street forecast. Fourth-quarter same-store sales increased 3.5 percent. For its first quarter that’s just beginning, the company expects same-store sales to be flat to two percent higher. For its 2007 fiscal year, Zale expects revenue growth between three and five percent, and same-store sales growth of two to three percent.

Fort Worth-based Pier One Imports says its August same-store sales fell 9.1 percent on weaker traffic trends. The home furnishings retailer’s sales declined more than Wall Street expected. Analysts had forecast a smaller 8.1 percent decline. Total sales for the month ending last week declined 7.8 percent to $114.3 from $124 million in the prior-year period. Pier One’s year-to-date sales have slipped 8.3 percent to $746.8 million from $814 million in the year-ago period. Same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least one year, are off 10.9 percent year-to-date.