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Wednesday AM November 29th, 2006

National sales of previously-owned homes up slightly as median price drops…Consumer Confidence slips…Orders for big-ticket manufactured goods fell by largest amount in more than six years… A trade group says sales of previously-owned homes actually rose last month. It is the first increase in sales of existing homes in eight months. At the same time, […]

National sales of previously-owned homes up slightly as median price drops…Consumer Confidence slips…Orders for big-ticket manufactured goods fell by largest amount in more than six years…

A trade group says sales of previously-owned homes actually rose last month. It is the first increase in sales of existing homes in eight months. At the same time, the median price of homes in October is off by a record amount. The National Association of Realtors says existing home sales gained one-half of one percent, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of more than $6.2 million. However, the median, or midpoint, price for a home sold dropped to $221,000 in October. That is down 3.2 percent from a year ago. It also marks the third straight month of declining home prices, the longest stretch on record.

A new Mortgage Bankers Association study finds different regions of the country will face a variety of demands for housing as baby-boomers age and the nation absorbs large numbers of young recent immigrants. The study says suburbs will be the fastest-graying part of the national landscape. In projections of Philadelphia and Chicago, for example, suburbs will begin to age faster than cities, even though both cities start out having older populations than their suburbs. In addition, Hispanic, Asian and other minority groups are disproportionately clustered in selected areas. In 2005, less than half of all Hispanics lived in the top ten U.S. metropolitan areas. Nearly one-third of all counties in the nation have at least five percent of their populations that are Hispanic.

A private group says Consumer Confidence has slipped this month, amid concern about the economy’s near-term outlook. The Conference Board says its November index fell to 102.9, down more than two points from last month. The latest reading is below expectations. The group’s Lynn Franco says even with the decline, ”the overall level of confidence remains favorable and continues to suggest that the economy will expand throughout the first half of next year.”

Here’s a fresh sign of a slowing economy. The Commerce Department says orders for big-ticket manufactured goods fell 8.3 percent in October by the largest amount in more than six years. The Commerce Department reports that demand for durable goods fell to a seasonally adjusted $210 billion. That reflects a big drop in demand for commercial airplanes, a category that had soared in September. It is the third month in the past four that orders have either declined or failed to show a gain. Excluding the volatile transportation category, orders were down 1.7 percent, the biggest decline in 15 months.

A judge in east Texas has rejected a bid by Echostar Communications for a new trial in its patent dispute with Tivo. Echostar owns the Dish Satellite-TV Network. U.S. District Judge David Folsom this week decided Echostar failed to raise new issues in its appeal. In April, a jury in Marshall found Echostar made and sold digital video recorders that infringed on Tivo’s patented technology. Folsom ordered Echostar to pay nearly $90 million in damages–more than the jury awarded. The case now goes to the federal appeals court in Washington, which temporarily blocked Folsom’s order that Echostar disable about four million of its set-top boxes. Colorado-based Echostar says its appeal can now proceed. An attorney with California-based Tivo said the company is pleased with Folsom’s ruling to reject a new trial.

Choicepoint announced it no longer intends to sell its direct marketing business–because it couldn’t get a fair price. Choicepoint, because of that decision and a previously announced accounting reclassification, lowered its full-year revenue and profit growth expectations. The Georgia-based company collects, sells access to and analyzes the personal information of consumers. The company had announced a plan in July to divest three businesses, including Choicepoint precision marketing. But chief executive Derek Smith says the company has been unable to obtain a fair price for the marketing business. Choicepoint precision marketing has about 670 employees and offices in Illinois, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, Georgia and North Carolina. Choicepoint said it remains in sales talks regarding the other two businesses it plans to divest.

Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex has awarded Halliburton’s production optimization division a $73 million contract to provide stimulation services in the Bay of Campeche, Mexico, according to the Houston Business Journal.

Pennsylvania-based Liberty Property Trust has acquired the Williams Port Industrial Center on State Highway 225. Liberty acquires the center’s two newly-completed warehouses from developer First Industrial. The rail-served site is close to the Barbour’s Cut Container Terminal. Liberty Property has 16 industrial buildings in the Houston area.

Houston-based pipeline firm TEPPCO Partners is seeking Federal Trade Commission approval to sell its interest in a Mont Belvieu natural gas liquids storage facility to Louis Dreyfus Energy Services, according to Reuters. TEPPCO agreed last August to divest the natural gas liquid storage assets to avert an FTC antitrust challenge.

ConocoPhillips and Anadarko Petroleum started up a second Alpine satellite oil field on Alaska’s North Slope. The new field was developed with horizontal well technology and will use gas and water injection enhanced oil recovery. The two fields represent about $675 million in capital reinvestment, and peak production is expected in 2008.

Fulbright & Jaworski is opening an office in Denver to serve energy company activity in the Rockies. It’s the firm’s 16th worldwide office. Fulbright & Jaworski has some 250 lawyers in its energy practice.

The newest branch of the Houston Firefighters federal Credit Union has opened in the Interwood business park on Heathrow Forest near George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The financial institution serves Houston firefighters, retirees and their immediate families.

There’s apparently lots of energy sources on government land. But a new federal report finds a good part of that energy can’t be reached because of environmental and other restrictions. The Interior Department looked at 99 million acres of federal land. About half of the oil found there can’t be drilled for, leaving about 743 million barrels accessible. More than a quarter of the natural gas reserves are also off limits. Energy companies say many areas that aren’t technically off limits have so many restrictions that developing them is tough to impossible.

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