Tuesday AM November 14th, 2006

The Tube sold to USFR Media Group…Enron sentencing hearings set for Wednesday and Friday…BioVenture Consultants founding partner says biotech industry in Texas better positioned for innovative business strategies… USFR Media Group is acquiring Houston’s KTBU-TV Channel 55 for an undisclosed price, which the trade publication Broadcasting & Cable puts at $30 million. The station was […]

The Tube sold to USFR Media Group…Enron sentencing hearings set for Wednesday and Friday…BioVenture Consultants founding partner says biotech industry in Texas better positioned for innovative business strategies…

USFR Media Group is acquiring Houston’s KTBU-TV Channel 55 for an undisclosed price, which the trade publication Broadcasting & Cable puts at $30 million. The station was sold by Channel 55 Broadcasting. Programming on “The Tube” ranges from classic television series to high school sports and a newsmagazine called “Wild About Houston.”

More Enron sentencing hearings are set for this week. Former Chief Accounting Officer Richard Causey is to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake on Wednesday. Former Enron investor relations chief Mark Koenig and Michael Kopper, former right-hand man to convicted CFO Andy Fastow, are to be sentenced on Friday. Causey, Koenig and Kopper are among 16 ex-Enron executives who pleaded guilty to crimes. Causey was bound for trial with former Enron Chairman Ken Lay and former CEO Jeff Skilling until he pleaded guilty last December to securities fraud about a month before jury selection. Unlike Fastow and Koenig, Causey did not testify against his former bosses in court.

Some 18 biotechnology and life science companies gave presentations to venture capitalists and corporate executives at the recent BioHouston-sponsored 2006 Texas Life Sciences Conference. The conference heard from BioVenture Consultants founding partner Cynthia Robbins-Roth, who says the biotech industry in Texas is better positioned to be innovative in its business strategies as much as in its science. She notes changes that are coming, such as drug pricing.

“Drug pricing is coming. I mean, let’s not get silly—by the time you get to the point where you’re asking cancer patients to spend a $100,000 to gain maybe a couple extra months of life, and you have patients, you know, saying, ‘You know what, I’m not going to bankrupt by family to do that,’ you know that drug pricing has become an overwhelming issue. Right now, the way the biopharmaceutical industry is structured, its huge returns are based on the idea that they can basically price their drugs however they want. Biotech, because these companies tend to be much younger and significantly smaller than the big pharma companies, they’re in a better position to restructure, to not have that huge infrastructure that requires all that feeding.”

Robbins-Roth says more is spent on drug marketing than research and development. But she says those in the industry are interested in making things better for mankind.

“There’s a very interesting opportunity to build a new kind of company that will be much more cost-effective in how it runs itself. If you look at ‘where is the innovative R&D happening?’ it’s happening in the small companies that don’t have that revenue. They don’t have access to all of that–they haven’t built the huge infrastructure yet, which suggests that you can do exciting innovative work that leads to important products. They want to be the company that’s curing cancer, that’s treating diabetes, you know, helping people avoid the tragedy of mental illness, Alzheimer’s. You know, that’s what they want. And they are becoming disillusioned with the reality that a growing number of regular folk in this country can’t afford health care.”

The 2006 Texas Life Sciences Conference names ThromboVision of Houston as recipient of the first annual Michael E. DeBakey, M.D., Life Science Award.

Anadarko Petroleum continues its post Kerr-McGee acquisition divestitures with the sale of its interest in the Gehghis Khan oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico. New York-based Hess is acquiring the discovery in a $1.35 billion deal.

Oil and gas producer EV Energy Partners has signed agreements to buy properties in Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma for $28.5 million. The seller is Dallas-based Five States Energy Company. The two deals are expected to close in late December and are the company’s first since its initial public offering in September. The properties consist of 273 wells, with estimated proved reserves as of October 1st of 14.4 billion cubic feet of equivalent–of which 62 percent is natural gas. Net daily production is about 3.1 million cubic feet of equivalent. EV Energy Partners will finance the buys with its existing credit facility and plans to hedge a substantial portion of the acquired production volumes at closing.

A new report by the Consumer Federation of America says fuel efficiency is moving the wrong way. Using manufacturer’s reported miles-per-gallon averages, the consumer group found that nine of the 13 major automakers had lower fleet mileage averages in 2005 than they did in 1996. Only three actually increased and one stayed the same. The greatest improvement was at Toyota, with an increase of 1.5 miles per gallon. The greatest decline was at Hyundai with a loss of 4.8 miles per gallon. In a survey of consumers, the federation found that people want to buy the same type of vehicle they now drive, but they want it to get better gas mileage.

The Democrats’ return to power is increasing pressure on House Republican leaders to accept a limited expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling. Supporters of such exploration say the next Congress probably will not tamper with the long-standing drilling bans that have protected most coastal waters for a quarter-century. A stubborn standoff has festered for months between the House and Senate over developing more of the oil and gas resources in the outer continental shelf. The proposal is of great importance to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. They stand to reap hundreds of millions of dollars under changes to the way the government shares royalties from oil and gas taken from the Gulf of Mexico. House Republicans pushed through a bill that would open coastal waters for drilling everywhere unless a state objects. That essentially would end a ban on such drilling. House Republicans, however, have refused to consider the Senate version–until now, after last week’s election that drove the GOP from power.

Two regulatory agencies–one government and one private sector–are trying to resolve differences over how to change a corporate anti-fraud law. Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley law four years ago in response to a wave of corporate scandals. But businesses have complained it’s burdensome and expensive, and federal regulators say they intend to improve it. The chairmen of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Independent Public Company Accounting Oversight Board met Sunday to discuss their agencies’ differing approaches. They disagree on a requirement that companies file reports on their internal financial controls. In a recent letter, SEC Chairman Christopher Cox urged the Oversight Board to adapt audit rules to the size of the company. The SEC will discuss the matter at a public meeting next month.

Record spending and revenues pushed the federal budget deficit a bit higher last month. The Treasury Department says the red ink entry for the first month of the new fiscal year rose to $49.3 billion. That’s an increase of 4.3 percent from the $47.3 billion tallied a year ago. The deficit for all of fiscal 2006, which ended on September 30th, fell to $248.2 billion–the lowest in four years. However, the deficit is expected to resume rising in fiscal 2007.

Americans give their banks high marks for technical services but not for emotional support. A study being released by IBM’s consulting division this week says most customers don’t believe their banks take the time to understand their goals or show appreciation for their business. And some feel downright hostile. IBM Global Business Services surveyed 3,000 U.S. bank customers and found that 52 percent felt that their banks did a good job on “rational attributes,” such as providing plenty of ways to bank, correcting errors and making good use of information. But the rating dropped to 26 percent for “emotive attributes,” including statements such as “values my business,” “employees listen and follow up” or “makes relevant offers.” And the study found 37 percent of respondents to be “antagonistic” toward their banks.

When Elizabeth and Robin Wood decided to rent out their new vacation home in Florida, they hired a local real estate agent to hunt for renters. But they also paid $300 to list the house on specialized Web sites. The Woods agreed to pay the agent a 25 percent commission on any rentals they got, even ones that they found online. One of the companies that wood used was Austin-based HomeAway. HomeAway has obtained $160 million in venture capital. It says it’ll pay an undisclosed sum for an older and leading provider of U.S. listings,, or Vacation Rentals by Owner. HomeAway is less than two years old, but it’s moved quickly to consolidate the infant industry. The company launched when Austin ventures officials teamed with the chief executive of another company they’d backed to search for a new technology investment. HomeAway charges $300 a year to list a home in the United States whether the property is rented out once or 20 times. There’s no charge for using the site to rent a place.