Monday AM August 13th, 2007

Former Enron employees and investors seek allies in upcoming case that could affect their issue with banks and law firms…Consumer confidence rise credited to falling gasoline prices and healthy job market…Consumer groups side with antitrust regulators opposing purchase bid by Whole Foods Market… The Center for Justice and Democracy continues holding events in states with […]

Former Enron employees and investors seek allies in upcoming case that could affect their issue with banks and law firms…Consumer confidence rise credited to falling gasoline prices and healthy job market…Consumer groups side with antitrust regulators opposing purchase bid by Whole Foods Market…

The Center for Justice and Democracy continues holding events in states with Republican Senators who may hold sway with President Bush, hoping to help former Enron employees and investors in an upcoming court case that could help decide the issue. The investors and former employees of PGE want banks that participated in Enron’s financial manipulations held accountable. According to The Oregonian, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers and a handful of Portland General Electric employees want Oregon Senator Gordon Smith to weigh in on behalf of investors by filing friends of the court briefs in a case connected with Stoneridge Capital Partners. The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear the case that turns on the same issue as the Enron case: whether investors should be allowed to recover financial damages from a third party—such as a bank of law firm–that participated in securities fraud.

Although Wall Street has been having a rocky ride, consumers are feeling a bit more optimistic. The RBC Cash Index, based on the results of the international polling firm Ipsos, says consumer confidence rose to 89.3 in August. That marked a bounceback from July’s 76.1–the worst reading in almost a year. The latest reading is the best since March. Falling gas prices and a good job market have people feeling better about the economy and their own finances. One economist says the results indicate a significant disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. One thing that may have people feeling more confident is the recent 70-cent-an-hour bump in the minimum wage.

Lockheed Martin announced it will refund $265 million for inadvertently over-billing the government on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Maryland-based company said it discovered the accounting glitch earlier this week and notified Pentagon officials immediately. The company has been assembling and testing the plane at its Fort Worth facility. A company spokesman says the errors–dating to 2002—were caused by a coding error in Lockheed’s billing system that appear to have paid award fees twice to the company. The error affected invoices from two subcontractors, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. But Lockheed stressed both companies did not cause the error and it’s working to fix problems to prevent a repeat.

NuCoastal Power, controlled by Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt, will offset all of its carbon dioxide emissions by investing in wind power or buying and shutting down a facility with similar emissions. The Houston Chronicle reports Wyatt plans a Victoria-area power plant, and says he will cut mercury output by 80 percent through improved emissions technologies. He will offset the rest with credits through a federal program. Public Citizen and the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition say they will now drop their objections to the project. NuCoastal Power signed a two-year, $15 million lease-purchase agreement with Port of Lavaca-Point Comfort for the plant site in February 2005. The 303-megawatt plant will burn petroleum coke.

Minnesota-based Independent Natural Resources has begun a three-month wave demonstration off the coast of Galveston, according to the Houston Business Journal, using a pump system to harness energy from waves. Trials began in February, with the company using a piston-like structure generating electricity with a floating disc that rises and falls with waves, pumping large volumes of sea water to be used for desalination or to create energy. Texas A&M Galveston’s Marine Engineering Technology Department is also involved.

Three consumer groups are siding with antitrust regulators in opposing a bid by Whole Foods Market to buy rival Wild Oats Markets. Critics say the move by Austin-based Whole Foods would lead to higher food prices. The brief was filed in federal court in Washington by the Consumer Federation of America, the American Antitrust Institute and the Organization for Competitive Markets. Whole Foods announced earlier this year that it agreed to buy Wild Oats for $565 million. The Federal Trade Commission sued to block the sale on antitrust grounds. A hearing was held last week. A federal judge in Washington is expected to rule soon whether to continue an injunction that has blocked Whole Foods from completing the deal.

The Agriculture Department estimates the nation’s corn harvest will reach 13.1 billion bushels. That’s a gain of 24 percent from last year and would be the largest crop since 1933. The USDA also expects yields to be up–averaging 152.8 bushels per acre, compared with its earlier estimate of 150.3 bushels per acre. Demand for corn in this country has risen sharply over the past two years, the result of rapid growth in the ethanol industry. Prices climbed to record highs earlier this year as a result but have tapered somewhat as expectations for a large crop increased. The government also predicts soybean production of 2.63 billion bushels, down 18 percent from last year.

Could we see a cut in interest rates? U.S. federal funds futures have priced in about a 100 percent chance that the Federal Reserve will reduce the rate by a half-percentage point–to 4.75 percent–when it meets next month. Fed funds futures are monthly contracts, measuring expectations for the 30-day average of overnight U.S. interest rates. They let Investors speculate on outcomes of the eight scheduled Fed policy meetings each year. The move higher in the September Fed funds futures contract indicates that the market currently believes that the central bank will take the unusual step of making a half-percentage rate cut next month. The Fed usually moves rates in quarter percentage point increments.

Former Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon has purchased 1,250 acres of undeveloped land in Chambers County near Baytown. The Houston Chronicle says Olajuwon plans to sell the land along both sides of Interstate 10 to home builders and commercial developers. Local and national builders have been adding homes geared mostly to entry-level buyers along FM 3180 just beyond the Grand Parkway construction. The property includes all four corners at I-10 and FM 3180 and three corners at the interstate and the Grand Parkway.

The operator of the Dish Network satellite television service is announcing decisions in two patent disputes. Echostar Communications won $90,000 in court costs after a Texas judge denied Austin-based Forgent Network’s new trial motion. Forgent sued Echostar in July 2005 over a patent relating to digital video recorder playback technology. A jury in May ruled the Forgent patent was invalid and a judge in Texas denied Forgent’s motion. Echostar also says the patent and trademark office last month rejected some claims in a lawsuit filed by Tivo over digital video recorder technology. Echostar says the office left intact claims stemming from software issues. A Texas jury ruled in April 2006 that Echostar made and sold digital video recorders which infringed on Tivo’s patented technology. Echostar was ordered to pay nearly $90 million in damages. Echostar has appealed. Tivo attorney Matthew Zinn says the Patent Office affirmed the majority of the claims and the company expects to win on appeal.

Affiliated Computer Services said it wants to extend the time allowed for it to solicit buyout bids. The Dallas-based data processing contractor is looking for more bids to compete with a $6.2 billion offer from its founder and private equity investors. The company’s deadline to attract new offers has come and gone–but outside directors on the ACS board say the company should get more time because turmoil in the credit markets may have kept other potential buyers from bidding. ACS said the board committee was discussing an extension with founder and Chairman Darwin Deason and Cerberus Capital Management. They’ve got exclusive rights to negotiate a buyout through November 14th. Dallas-based ACS competes against larger rivals such as Electronic Data Systems to handle technology services for other companies.

The boogie boarders at the Schlitterbahn waterpark on South Padre Island know they have a really cool summer job. Five nights a week, for a half-hour just past sunset, the park pays a team of ten- to 19-year-olds to perform loosely choreographed tricks on the park’s Boogie Bahn. That’s a fast-flowing wall of water that mimics a breaking wave. The audience cheers as they do headstands and flips, form pyramids–even hula hoop–atop boogie boards as water rushes under them at 60,000 gallons per minute. The paycheck comes with bonuses: access to the wave and pioneer status in flowboarding. Designing a better artificial wave was the obsession of Thomas Lochtefeld. He’s a California attorney and longtime surfer who felt existing surf pools weren’t worth the expense or the space. In the late 1980s, he sold his family’s beachfront house to hang out with university engineers and dabble in hydrodynamics. The result was the flowrider. It’s a machine that uses patented technology to jet a four-inch sheet of water over a soft, springy base in a large, perfect wave. Lochtefeld formed Wave Loch, which built the first flowrider in 1989 and sold the first one in 1991. It went to the original Schlitterbahn park in New Braunfels. When the South Padre Schlitterbahn opened ten years later, its flowrider was then the largest in the world. But the machines continued to grow. The Wave House in San Diego now features the biggest manmade wave in the United States. Worldwide, wave Loch has built about 70 flowriders, with about 20 more under construction. By the end of the year, there will be 100. Users found the wave it created was something like surfing, but different. Unlike roller coasters, water slides, and other amusement park features, it’s as much a skill ride as a thrill ride. About 80 flowboarders ranging in age from ten to 50 will emerge from 23 regional competitions to be at the national competition September 22nd in San Diego.

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