Wednesday AM September 5th, 2007

Airlines match Southwest fare increases…Rice University and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore form $2.6-million Institute for Sustainable Nanoelectronics…International Labor Organization says United States leads world in labor productivity… Southwest Airlines’ rivals say they have increased fares in response to the low-cost carrier’s boost to one-way ticket prices. Southwest cited increased fuel costs in increasing one-way […]

Airlines match Southwest fare increases…Rice University and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore form $2.6-million Institute for Sustainable Nanoelectronics…International Labor Organization says United States leads world in labor productivity…

Southwest Airlines’ rivals say they have increased fares in response to the low-cost carrier’s boost to one-way ticket prices. Southwest cited increased fuel costs in increasing one-way ticket prices by up to $10 over the weekend. It was Southwest’s fourth fare increase this year, and other airlines quickly followed suit. United matched the increase in markets where it goes head to head with Southwest. United says it wants fares to stay competitive and help offset the rising cost of fuel. Rising fuel costs are among the problems the industry still faces as it emerges from several years of difficult losses. US Airways, Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines also matched the fare increase. Southwest is the only major U.S. carrier to remain profitable through the recession and terror attacks of 2001.

Houston-based Teamsters Local 747 has reached a pilot collective bargaining agreement with New York-based World Air subsidiary North American Airlines, according to the Houston Business Journal. The agreement raises wages 13 percent across the board. World Air offers air transportation services for U.S military and commercial customers. Teamsters Local 747 represents more than 3,500 airline cockpit crewmembers flying for 12 airlines.

Computing researchers at Rice University and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University are forming the $2.6-million Institute for Sustainable Nanoelectronics, hoping to slash design and production costs for embedded microchips. The institute will partner with Rice’s new Value of Information-bases Sustainable Embedded Nanocomputing Center. A major goal of the collaboration is to tie costs for design, energy consumption and production to the value that the computed information has for the user. For example, in a cell phone streaming video, it’s unnecessary to conduct precise calculation, because the small screen and the brain’s ability to process less-than-perfect pictures, results in a picture that’s just as good with calculation that’s only approximately correct.

Brazoria County Disposal alleges Houston-based Waste Management and a Florida-based company tried to take land it owns by making false claims and forging documents, according to the Houston Business Journal. The case stems from a series of contracts to sell several tracts of land and an affiliated landfill to Brazoria County Recycling Center. The center paid royalties that extended to any companies which might purchase the recycling center. The center’s parent company merged with Waste Management in 1995, which sold the landfill to Republic Services in 1998. A trial is set to begin today in the 23rd District Court in Angleton.

The Commerce Department says construction spending fell four-tenths of a percent in July. The decline reflects the pullback in residential construction. Spending on home building fell for a record 17th straight month. At the same time, there was strength in nonresidential building, surging to an all-time high. Construction of shopping centers, office buildings and hotels all were on the rise. Some economists believe the downturn in housing may not hit bottom until the middle of next year.

A trade group reports the nation’s manufacturing sector expanded in August at a slightly slower pace. The Institute for Supply Management, representing corporate purchasing executives, says its index came in at 52.9, down nearly a point from the previous month. August marked the seventh straight month of expansion for manufacturing. It was the slowest pace since March. Any reading above 50 indicates growth.

A new U.S. report says the United States “leads the world in labor productivity.” According to the International Labor Organization, American workers stay longer in the office, at the factory or on the farm than their counterparts in Europe and most other rich nations. And it says they produce more per person over the year. Also, the ILO reports they get more done per hour than everyone but the Norwegians. The average U.S. worker produces nearly $64,000 of wealth per year, more than their counterparts in all other countries. Ireland comes in second at about $56,000, followed by Luxembourg, Belgium and France.

The energy industry is experiencing a dizzying demand for engineers. Bustling oilfield activity and retiring baby boomers, among other factors, have petroleum outfits trying to hire thousands of engineers. Experts say the trend is expected to extend into the next decade as worldwide energy demand grows. Roughly eight in ten global oil and gas companies forecast a shortage of petroleum engineers through at least 2011. The American Petroleum Institute said U.S. energy companies will need at least another 5,000 engineers by decade’s end. Energy executives acknowledge the hiring challenge and some say it could impede investment in new oilfield projects. The industry is aggressively touting the potential for challenging work, exotic postings and starting annual salaries at $70,000 or higher.

Houston-based Copano Energy is acquiring Colorado-based Cantera Natural Gas from Metalmark Capital in a $675 million deal. Copano plans to expand its operations into the Rocky Mountains region.

Houston-based Vantage Energy Services is acquiring Offshore Group Investments in a $331 million deal, according to the Houston Business Journal. Vantage will assume $517 million in payments owed for four ultra-premium jack-up drilling rigs being built in Singapore for Offshore Group.

Houston-based EquaTerra and London-based Morgan Chambers are merging under the EquaTerra name. The two companies, who together employ about 300, will provide advisory services for businesses in human resources, finance and accounting, procurement and customer care industries.

The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau is welcoming 19 conventions, trade shows and other events to the city in October. More than 43,450 attendees will spend as estimated $42.3 million in Houston during the month. The Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society holds its 2007 Expo at Reliant Park October 2nd through the 4th. The Produce Marketing Association stages its Fresh Summit International Convention and Exposition October 12th through the 15th at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Colin Powell will speak at the opening lunch and General Session. The International Quilt Market is coming to the George R. Brown Convention Center October 27th through the 29th.

A 93-year-old engineering marvel is getting a major overhaul–and it could lead to cheaper goods in the United States. Crews have blasted through the hillside next to the Panama Canal, marking the start of the waterway’s biggest expansion since it opened in 1914. Former President Jimmy Carter, who signed the 1977 treaty giving Panama control of the U.S.-conceived canal, was at the celebration for the $5.25-billion project. It’s expected to double the 50-mile canal’s capacity. The improvements could lower the price of goods on the East Coast, because the U.S. accounts for two-thirds of the cargo that passes through the canal. China is the second-largest user. Panama also hopes the improvements will increase revenues, allowing it to pay back some of its debt and battle poverty that affects some 40 percent of the population.

CytoGenix has broken ground on a new $3.8 million synthetic DNA manufacturing plant, according to the Houston Business Journal. The facility on North Course Drive in the Westchase District will house the company’s headquarters and its laboratory and DNA production plant. The facility is expected to employ about 200 scientists, technicians and other professionals.

Ameriquest Mortgage Company, once the nation’s largest sub-prime lender, is closing with barely a whimper, after the other assets of its parent company were sold Friday to Citigroup. Ameriquest saw its fortunes soar during the housing boom by lending to people with less than stellar credit. It’s the latest victim of a mortgage crisis that has left bankrupt companies and cash-strapped borrowers in its wake. Along with shuttering Ameriquest, Orange, California-based ACC Capital Holdings also said it was selling its wholesale mortgage origination operation and a mortgage servicing business to Citigroup for an undisclosed sum. Under the agreement with ACC, Citigroup acquires servicing rights for $45 billion worth of loans.

Toyota and Ford are both reporting August sales declines, while General Motors has posted a surprising increase. Ford’s 14 percent drop, coupled with Toyota’s 2.8 percent decline, are seen as signs of a troubled U.S. auto market contending with rising mortgage payments and turmoil in financial markets. GM, however, was fueled by rising pickup truck sales. It saw a total increase of six percent. Nissan had a similar August gain. Industry analysts have predicted a slowdown in overall U.S. car sales for August and for the rest of the year.

El Paso Corporation expects to carry forward a net operating loss for taxes of around $2.4 billion at the end of 2007. That’s up from a previous estimate of $1 billion. The Houston-based pipeline operator and natural-gas producer disclosed the increased carry-forward in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It says the carry-forward is mainly due to several factors: the filing of the company’s 2006 federal tax return, the carry-over of capital losses from the sale of power assets that offset the gain on the sale of ANR Pipeline and related assets, and a plan to expense intangible drilling costs for a production segment that are expected this year. Net operating losses represent the excess of business expenses over income for a given tax year. A tax loss carry-forward is a tax benefit that allows a company to apply losses to reduce tax liability. The company expects the projected carry-forward increases to be offset by the expected gain on the proposed initial public offering of its master limited partnership, which is scheduled for the fourth quarter.

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