Thursday AM April 12th, 2007

BMC Software lays off 21 employees…Texas House gives preliminary approval halting Trans-Texas corridor and other private toll roads…Centerpoint Energy and IBM create global coalition to promote development of digital utility network… Houston-based BMC Software has laid off 21 U.S. employees this week, according to the Houston Chronicle. It’s not clear how many cuts were made […]

BMC Software lays off 21 employees…Texas House gives preliminary approval halting Trans-Texas corridor and other private toll roads…Centerpoint Energy and IBM create global coalition to promote development of digital utility network…

Houston-based BMC Software has laid off 21 U.S. employees this week, according to the Houston Chronicle. It’s not clear how many cuts were made at the Houston office or the type of jobs affected. BMC makes software to improve how businesses manage their technology resources. The firm employs about 6,300 workers worldwide. Despite the job cuts, the company currently has more than 250 job openings.

The Texas House might have put the brakes on the Trans-Texas Corridor. A two-year moratorium on private toll roads won preliminary approval in the House. It would halt eight near-term projects in the state, including the Trans-Texas Corridor, a superhighway that a private firm received a contract for earlier this year. Brenham Republican Lois Kolkhorst says this is a matter of lawmakers “looking before we leap into contracts that last 50-plus years.” Her proposal requires the state to create a commission to study the effects of private equity toll roads and present findings to the state next year. Round Rock Republican Mike Krussee says without private toll roads, the state would need to raise the gas tax to pay for roads. Governor Rick Perry has urged the state to reject a two-year toll road moratorium.

Centerpoint Energy and IBM are creating a global coalition of utility and technology companies to promote development of an “intelligent utility network.” Those are digital interconnections of power transmission and distribution infrastructure. CenterPoint says that will digitize the electric grid and deliver power more efficiently. The intelligent grid will enable users to have real-time information on their energy consumption which can be used to reduce consumption. A test of residential meters is planned for this summer.

The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized plans to boost the use of renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. The EPA says refiners will have to use at least 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel in gasoline by 2012. The EPA is also requiring that just over four percent of gasoline sold to U.S. motorists in 2007 be renewable fuel. That’s a one percent increase from last year’s requirement. The regulations were authorized in an energy law signed by President Bush in 2005. The EPA says the rules should reduce carbon monoxide and greenhouse gas emissions. Still, environmental groups want the Bush administration to ramp up fuel economy standards for vehicles. They say cars using ethanol blends get 20 to 30 percent fewer miles per gallon than with gasoline.

The Austin environmental group Save Our Springs Alliance has filed for bankruptcy in the wake of a court ruling that strained its finances. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in February that the alliance must pay $294,000 in attorneys’ fees to the Lazy Nine Municipal Utility District. That’s a taxing entity encompassing the 1,700-home Sweetwater Ranch development near Austin. Since the city of Austin passed the SOS ordinance in 1992, the group has helped shape the city’s environmental policies and political landscape–often using lawsuits to try to stop developments. SOS sued Lazy Nine in 2004, arguing that the legislature created it without providing notice to Travis County and the public as required by the state constitution. The nonprofit organization also argued that Lazy Nine poses grave environmental risks in the Hill Country. A lower court said the case lacked legal standing and ordered SOS to pay the attorneys’ fees. The State Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

Companies will find less office space for lease in Houston this year, according to the Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services 2007 National Office Report. The Houston Business Journal reports the survey from the California-based firm attributes the changes to a positive economic outlook and robust tenant demand. It says companies can expect to pay around 3.6 percent more for leases. The report also says Houston will gain 73,700 jobs this year—an increase of three percent. Developers are expected to open 1.5 million square feet of new office space in 2007.

Redi-Clinic and Memorial Hermann are joining forces to expand the number of RediClinics in Houston-area H-E-B stores. The partnership means physician oversight by doctors affiliated with Memorial Hermann Healthcare System. RediClinics are in H-E-B stores in Houston, Katy, League City, Tomball, Spring and The Woodlands. Clinics are planned for Conroe, Friendswood, Pasadena and Sugar Land in May and in Pearland this fall.

A new survey shows that while a large percentage of workers is aware that the retirement system is changing, many are not doing anything to adapt. The latest Retirement Confidence Survey, sponsored by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, says pension-plan changes by employers have left nearly half of workers less confident about the future. At the same time nearly two in five of those who have had their benefits cut indicate that they have done nothing in response. Financial services experts recommend that workers take full advantage of workplace savings opportunities, such as automatic enrollment in company 401(k) programs.

Royal Dutch Shell is offering to settle damage claims from its 2004 oil reserves miscalculation with investors outside the United States for ?263.8 million, or $352.6 million. The company hopes to settle with U.S. shareholders for an additional ?60 million, or $80 million. The settlement is subject to approval by the Amsterdam Court of Appeals. About 20 percent of Shell shares are held by U.S. investors.

The International Monetary Fund looks for the global economy to put in a strong performance this year and next. That is despite what is expected to be the weakest growth in five years for the U.S. In its World Economic Outlook, the IMF forecasts global growth of 4.9 percent this year and next. The U.S. economy is expected to grow 2.2 percent this year, which would be the slowest since 2002. It notes that the downturn in the U.S. housing market has been ”deeper than projected.” The IMF looks for U.S. growth to rise to 2.8 percent next year. The outlook will figure into discussions this weekend during the spring meetings of the 185-nation fund and the World Bank. Finance officials from the world’s richest countries gather Friday.

A power company interested in bidding for part of TXU Corporation says it withdrew after the electric utility threatened to sue it. Sharyland Utilities told the State Public Utility Commission last week of its plans to bid for TXU’s electric-delivery business. But it says it reconsidered two days later. In a letter obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, PUC Chairman Paul Hudson calls the development “troubling.” Sharyland’s interest in part of TXU was disclosed at a hearing of the State House Regulated Industries Committee. The panel is considering legislation that could have a bearing on the TXU sale. Sharyland–which is controlled by the Hunt family of Dallas–operates in Mission and McAllen along the Mexican border. Dallas-based TXU has agreed to be bought out for $32 billion by investors led by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Texas Pacific Group. New York-based KKR and Fort Worth-based Texas Pacific would also assume about $12 billion in TXU debt. TXU has until Monday to solicit other bids.

A group of New Braunfels business owners is suing the city to block rules intended to control alcohol consumption on the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers. Their lawyer says more ten river outfitters, beer distributors and other individuals make up the group calling itself “Stop the Ordinances Please.” The lawsuit seeks to stop four ordinances approved by the city council in the past year to clamp down on rowdy tubers. The group is challenging rules that limit the size of coolers allowed on the rivers, prohibit alcohol consumption in some riverside parks, and ban jello shots and beer bongs on the rivers. The lawsuit claims the city’s ordinances violate the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, which says only the state can govern the transportation or possession of alcoholic beverages. Paul Isham, interim City Attorney for New Braunfels, said the ordinances are legal and the city will defend them.

ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson had a 2006 compensation package valued by the oil giant at about $18.4 million. Details are in an analysis of a proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Irving-based ExxonMobil last year had a $39.5 billion profit—the largest ever by a U.S. company. Tillerson, who’s 55, succeeded Lee Raymond as chairman and CEO last year. Tillerson received a salary of $1.5 million and a $2.8 million bonus. The bulk of Tillerson’s package is a stock award that ExxonMobil valued at roughly $13.6 million when it was granted November 28th. The Texas native also received other compensation, including nearly $215,000 for personal security. The Associated Press calculations of total pay include an executive’s salary, bonus, incentives, perks, above-market returns on deferred compensation and the estimated value of stock and option awards granted during the year. They may vary from totals listed in the summary compensation table in the company’s proxy filed with the SEC.

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