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Wednesday AM May 2nd, 2007

Port and maritime industry meets in Houston…Texas A&M scientists show off genetically engineered crop of sorghum…News Corporation offers to buy publisher of Wall Street Journal in $5 billion bid… Port executives and maritime industry leaders from around the world are in Houston for the 25th annual International Association of Ports and Harbors World Ports Conference […]

Port and maritime industry meets in Houston…Texas A&M scientists show off genetically engineered crop of sorghum…News Corporation offers to buy publisher of Wall Street Journal in $5 billion bid…

Port executives and maritime industry leaders from around the world are in Houston for the 25th annual International Association of Ports and Harbors World Ports Conference at the Hilton Downtown. Port of Houston Commission Chairman Jim Edmonds says the conference provides a forum for the industry to exchange ideas, discuss challenges and exhibit state-of-the-art technologies of the global maritime industry.

“It’s a big deal. It’s a global convention—all the ports in the world. And so it’s a nice thing for Houston. It seemed to me to be very fitting since Tom Kornegay was its president, and it’s a two-year term—this is the end of his term—for it to be here. Ed: “I was listening to some of the discussions, like preparations r aftermath of tsunami, of the hurricane–a lot of topical stuff.” “And I think there’s also, in addition to that, there’s a lot of technical discussions that go on that are global kinds of problems about ballast water and quality of air and consistencies so the world is more of a level playing field as well as a cooperative global market place.”

Edmonds is referring to Port of Houston Authority executive director Tom Kornegay, who has served as president of the IAPH for the past two years. Edmonds says the port authority is serving as conference host in its effort to plan, invest and provide efficient and economical ocean transportation.

“Well, I think what’s significant about it is that we live in a global economy now and products come from all over the globe and this region and this country are big consumers of global product, and so for all of us to be able to work together, to communicate, share common goals and work on common problems just makes the logistics chain work better. It makes the flow of goods in and out of this country work a little more smoothly.”

Conference speakers have been urging maritime leaders at the week-long gathering to confront the challenges of a growing global economy.

For those following the nation’s top central bankers in recent years, it is a familiar theme. Chairman Ben Bernanke, speaking in Montana, says a move to protect threatened American industries and workers from foreign competition would be a serious mistake. He warns that imposing tariffs, quotas and other barriers would lead to lower productivity for U.S. firms and lower living standards for American consumers. Congress and the Bush administration have come under increased political pressure to erect trade barriers against a flood of imports that critics contend have contributed to the loss of more than three million manufacturing jobs since 2001. Bernanke was in Montana, the home state of Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. That is the panel that oversees trade issues in the Senate.

Texas A&M scientists showed off–to state and federal officials–a genetically engineered crop of sorghum. The scientists believe this sorghum will be a more efficient and economical option to corn in drier parts of the country as America pushes for alternative energy sources. Corn has emerged as a biofuel alternative used in ethanol production. The cellulose from one version of the sorghum and sugar from another version similarly can be processed for fuel. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples was on hand in College Station. Staples says it’s really a matter of national security, to lessen dependence on imported oil and turn to those you can trust–the nation’s farmers. A&M hopes to have the genetically engineered crop commercially available in three years.

Natural gas has begun flowing through a new 167-mile pipeline that will transport up to 220 million cubic feet per day into Florida. Southern Natural Gas Company, a subsidiary of Houston-based El Paso Corporation, says the Cypress pipeline runs from Elba Island, near Savannah, Georgia, into north Florida near Jacksonville. It will interconnect with the Florida Gas Transmission System. Florida’s natural gas supply will jump by as much as ten percent with the new pipeline. Within the next few years, a company spokesman says two additional phases of the project will increase the available gas to 500 million cubic feet per day. El Paso Corporation owns North America’s largest natural gas pipeline.

Two of the big three U.S. auto makers are reporting sales declines for April. In fact, it was such a bad month that even Toyota posted a decline. Industry leader General Motors says its April sales were down 9.5 percent from April of last year, while Ford’s sales were off almost 13 percent. Chrysler, the third of the U.S. auto companies, posted an increase of 1.6 percent. Toyota, which has been challenging GM for supremacy, posted a 4.4 percent drop.

News Corporation, parent to Fox News Channel, is offering to buy Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, for $5 billion. The bid, confirmed by Dow Jones, sent its long-languishing stock up more than 50 percent as word of the offer was first made public. In a statement, Dow Jones says its board and the controlling Bancroft family is reviewing the bid, said to be either in cash or cash and stock. Dow Jones says there’s no assurance of a deal. Like other newspaper publishers, Dow Jones’ shares have been beaten down over the past few years amid sluggish advertising and as more readers and advertising dollars have migrated to the Internet. News Corp. owns the Twentieth Century Fox movie and TV studio, the Fox broadcast network and Fox News Channel, MySpace, several satellite broadcasters and a large group of newspapers in the United Kingdom and Australia.

About 100,000 New Jersey customers of Rent-a-Center could get an average $800 for claims that they were charged illegal interest. The proposed settlement with Plano-based Rent-a-Center still faces review by a judge. Rent-a-Center is not admitting liability for its past business practices in New Jersey. The deal would provide nearly $86 million to the customers, who sued and won a 2006 ruling from the New Jersey Supreme Court. That decision said the rent-to-own industry must observe the same 30 percent interest rate cap that other retailers charge. Rent-a-Center appealed, but the U.S. Supreme Court in January declined to hear the challenge. The settlement would reimburse excess interest charged to customers who got contracts with Rent-a-Center from April 23rd of 1999, to March 16th of 2006.

Leaders of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of east Texas are urging legalization of limited casinos on American Indian land–to spur economic growth. Council chairperson Jo Ann Battise says money generated by gambling would help provide better health and education services for tribal members. A measure by Representative Norma Chavez of El Paso goes before the Texas House on Wednesday. The bill would create a defense to prosecution for gambling activities on federally recognized Indian lands–essentially allowing it to resume on the Rigua reservation in El Paso and the Alabama-Coushatta reservation near Livingston. The Kickapoo tribe in Eagle Pass already operates a limited casino. The conservative Texas Eagle Forum and the Baptist lobby’s Christian Life Commission have lobbied against the casino bills.

Anadarko Petroleum says its first-quarter net income fell sharply from a year ago. That’s as the suburban Houston independent oil and gas producer incurred a variety of charges related to ongoing restructuring and an unresolved tax issue in Algeria. Anadarko–which is based in The Woodlands–says the profit for the January-March period fell 84 percent from the previous year’s quarter to $104 million. Revenue, however, rose almost 59 percent to $2.7 billion. Anadarko has been selling off assets to reduce its debt since buying Kerr-McGee and Western Gas Resources for more than $22 billion in separate deals in August.

Two executives of Clear Channel Communications–sons of co-founder Lowry Mays–each earned more than $5 million last year. The San Antonio-based company’s annual filing was notable for what it left out of the mandated tables meant to help shareholders determine how much executives took home. The company listed just under $582,000 in salary and $4.3 million in incentives for Chief Executive Officer Mark Mays in the summary table of its proxy. But the footnotes disclose that his salary was actually $895,000 and his incentive pay was $6.6 million. In a summary table, the company subtracted the contribution to salary and incentive pay provided by the billboard holding company even though Clear Channel owns more than 90 percent of that business. The rest trades as a separate stock. President and Chief Financial Officer Randall Mays earned just over $868,000 in salary and $6.6 million in incentive pay. The table lists just over $564,000 in salary and $4.3 million in incentive pay. The filing lists additional pay for Mark and Randall Mays for items such as use of the corporate jet and dividends on stock options not yet vested. Clear Channel’s proxy failed to disclose the value of the stock options and grants received by them. The company said it could not value the grants because they were earned but not given before the proxy was filed. Other companies filing under new Securities and Exchange Commission rules have listed the value on the grant date, making no distinction between the granting and awarding of stock. The Associated Press calculates total pay including salary, bonus, incentives, perks, above-market returns on deferred compensation and the estimated value of stock and options awarded during the year.