Wednesday AM November 15th, 2006

Enron’s Richard Causey to be sentenced this afternoon…CERA contradicts peak-oil theory…Continental’s chief executive speaks against extended use of cell phones on aircraft in flight… The last of Enron’s top officers learns his punishment this afternoon for helping perpetuate fraud at Enron. Richard Causey, Enron’s former chief accounting officer, was going to be tried with Enron […]

Enron’s Richard Causey to be sentenced this afternoon…CERA contradicts peak-oil theory…Continental’s chief executive speaks against extended use of cell phones on aircraft in flight…

The last of Enron’s top officers learns his punishment this afternoon for helping perpetuate fraud at Enron. Richard Causey, Enron’s former chief accounting officer, was going to be tried with Enron founder Ken Lay and former CEO Jeff Skilling, but pleaded guilty to securities fraud about a month before that trial began. Causey signed a deal in December 2005 with an agreed-upon sentence of seven years. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake could reduce that sentence to five years upon the recommendation of prosecutors. But because of his plea deal, Causey could get a longer sentence than former Enron CFO Andy Fastow, who is serving six years for his part in Enron’s collapse. Unlike Fastow, Causey didn’t testify against his former bosses or in any other trials. Skilling was sentenced to over 24 years in prison, but Lay died before being sentenced. Later this week, former Enron investor relations chief Mark Koenig and Michael Kopper, Fastow’s right-hand man, are also to be sentenced.

Oil production should increase for at least another quarter-century because of technological innovations, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates analysts. A CERA analysis shows a global oil resource base three times as large as the estimations of many peak-oil theorists. CERA Chairman Daniel Yergin says this is the fifth time the world is said to be running out of oil. Their position is in contrast with that of Matthew Simmons, chairman and CEO of Simmons International and author of Twilight in the Desert: the Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. CERA says technology can help extract oil from oil-soaked sand, oil shale, in deep waters, natural gas liquids associated with expanded gas production and growth areas in the Gulf of Mexico, Brazil and Angola.

Enterprise Texas Pipeline is building a new $400 million, 178-mile pipeline to transport natural gas from North Texas to Boardwalk Pipeline Partners’ Gulf Crossing expansion project to multiple delivery points in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The pipeline is expected to be online in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Falling prices for new cars and gasoline led to a record monthly decline in the government’s Producer Price Index. The gauge of prices at the wholesale level fell 1.6 percent last month. The Labor Department gauge ties the record decline seen in October 2001. It is also the second straight large drop, following the 1.3 percent move in September. Core inflation, which excludes energy and food, fell nine-tenths of one percent, the biggest one-month drop in 13 years.

The government reports retail sales fell two-tenths of one percent in October. Analysts caution against putting too much emphasis on the drop. Much of the weakness in the Commerce Department report reflects falling gasoline prices. Excluding sales of both cars and gasoline, retail sales otherwise rose three-tenths of one percent.

Continental Airlines Chairman and CEO Larry Kellner says he is against extended use of personal cellular telephones on aircraft in flight, and backs only limited use on planes. Federal agencies are considering whether to relax bans on in-flight use of cell phones. The Federal Communications Commission and Federal Aviation Agency have said cell phone signals could interfere with aircraft instruments, but recent government tests found the calls cause little apparent interference. Kellner’s remarks about limiting calls during flight were met with applause by many attending the International Trade Summit and Expo 2006.

Meanwhile, Apple computer says it has pacts with six airlines to provide connectivity to its iPod music player. Starting next year, it will be integrated into in-flight entertainment systems of Continental, as well as United Airlines and Delta, as well as foreign based carriers Emirates, KLM and Air France. Passengers will be able to power and charge iPods during flight. They’ll also be able to watch their own videos on carrier seat-back displays, if they have a video iPod. The service is to become available on the airlines beginning in the middle of next year. The announcement comes on the same day the Microsoft’s entry into the digital player market, called Nune, is for sale for the first time.

Recruiters for Military Sealift Command are taking part in Career Fair on Wednesday at the Westin Galleria on Alabama. MSC transports equipment and supplies to U.S. forces worldwide, and hopes to fill several vacant Civilian Mariner positions in the coming months.

Cookware manufacturer Tramontina USA plans the second expansion this year at its Sugar Land headquarters. The U.S. subsidiary of the Brazilian firm is constructing two new buildings with a seven-year tax abatement from the Sugar Land City Council. Tramontina is also receiving an $800,000 direct incentive from the Sugar Land Development Corporation. Additional space is needed to assemble products made at the firm’s Wisconsin plant, as well as for warehousing and distribution. Another 80 employees are to be hired. That’s in addition to 60 workers needed for an earlier expansion project for new cookware lines.

The Holiday Inn Houston Hobby Airport has opened on Airport Boulevard, following a $1 million renovation of guestrooms, the restaurant and public spaces. The 194-room hotel was formerly known as the Ramada Plaza Hobby Airport/Houston.

Dallas-based Myers, Crow & Saviers has begun construction on a fifth office building in the Greens Crossing business park in northwest Houston, according to the Houston Business Journal. The two-story Northbelt Office Center V is scheduled to be finished in June 2007 on 11 acres at Beltway 8 and Greens Crossing Boulevard just west of Interstate 45.

Construction begins in December on a 14-story office building in Westchase on Richmond. The Granite Westchase II tower is to be completed by spring 2008, with Houston-based Petrobras America and others leasing.

Wolff Companies and Dienna Nelson Augustine have completed the acquisition of a nine-acre property in Westway Park at the Sam Houston Tollway and Clay Road between Interstate 10 and U.S. 290. DNA will break ground on a 144,000 square foot, three-story multi-tenant office building on the property in mid-November.

Virginia-based Sunrise Senior Living is building the 27-story Sterling at Memorial Villages on the west side of Voss between San Felipe and Woodway. The high rise will feature 166 residences priced from the high $400,000s, and is slated to open in June 2010. Three floors will accommodate seniors requiring assistance with daily living and memory care.

A fourth generation of the Finger family has been named president of Houston-based Finger Furniture. Rodney S. Finger assumes the position formerly held by his father, Robert S. Finger, who will remain chairman of the board and CEO. Finger was founded in 1927 by Robert Finger’s grandfather, Sam Finger. The family owned-and-operated firm operates six stores in the Houston area. In May 2007, the company will consolidate its two warehouses and distribution centers into a new facility in the Sugar Land business park.

Webster-based Spacehab subsidiary Astrotech Space Operations has been awarded a $20 million contract to design and build a payload processing facility for the U.S. government’s Office of Space Launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Construction begins in March 2007, to be completed by September 2009. Astrotech Space Operations will maintain ownership and operation of the facility.

Houston-based EV Energy is acquiring $28.5 million in oil and gas properties in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma from Five States Energy of Dallas. The properties include 273 wells.

D.R. Horton said its fiscal fourth-quarter profit fell 51 percent as fewer homes closed in a sagging market. Quarterly net income for the July-through-September period sank to $277.7 million. Revenue fell four percent to $4.9 billion. But the Fort Worth-based home builder says results still came in ahead of Wall Street expectations. Homes closed fell seven percent to 17,261, while net sales orders for the fourth quarter dropped 25 percent to 10,430 homes. For the year, earnings fell 16 percent to $1.23 billion. Revenue grew eight percent to $15.1 billion.

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