Monday AM September 10th, 2007

Opening statements set for this morning in Oscar Wyatt’s UN Oil-for-Food trial…Job search hints offered by Five O’Clock Club CEO…Houston consortium to develop new methods and treatments for nanotechnology… Opening statements are set for this morning in New York in the conspiracy trial of Houston oilman Oscar S. Wyatt, Jr., charged with offering millions in […]

Opening statements set for this morning in Oscar Wyatt’s UN Oil-for-Food trial…Job search hints offered by Five O’Clock Club CEO…Houston consortium to develop new methods and treatments for nanotechnology…

Opening statements are set for this morning in New York in the conspiracy trial of Houston oilman Oscar S. Wyatt, Jr., charged with offering millions in kickbacks to Iraqi officials in the UN Oil-for-Food program. Prosecutors say they will present evidence that Wyatt encouraged opposition to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and bragged about his influence to Iraqi officials to win oil contracts. Defense lawyers plan to portray Wyatt as a victim of a prosecution that came about after his outspoken criticism of President Bush and his administration. Twelve jurors and six alternates were selected for the trial last week. Wyatt has been free on bail since he was charged with conspiring with others to gain favored status for oil contracts.

The CEO of career counseling and outplacement firmFive O’Clock Club says there are signals that can let you know your job is in jeopardy. Richard Bayer says it’s best to mount a job-search campaign before the shoe drops.

“So if you find that you don’t fit in or your values don’t match, this is a possible red flag.” Ed: “A lot of people need challenges to keep interested in a job, and if the sort of ‘choice’ assignments go to other people, is that a sign?” “Yes, that’s a sign. If you just get assigned to do what you can call the ‘grunt work,’ then it doesn’t seem like they’re valuing your higher talents. Ed: “A lot of it is sort of your gut feeling, isn’t it? I mean, if you feel good about your job, likely things are going well. If there’s something unsettling in your mind, maybe it’s time to look at things.” “That’s right! If going to work is something that upsets your stomach or, you know, gives you sleepless nights—you know, some people get anxious or even physically sick—it’s possible that you have a misfit, if you’re unhappy, and why would you want to stay there anyway? You want to be happy, you want to be somewhere where you’re approaching your long-run goals. This is a possibility that your job is in jeopardy, and it’s also a positive thing, that ‘hey, I ought to be looking for something else’.”

Bayer says searching for a job is a full-time job in itself.

“What we say is you ought to be spending a full 40 hours a week job searching, full-time if you’re unemployed. If you employed, the five O’Clock Club recommends you spend at least 15 hours a week job-searching. Spend a portion of those hours directly contacting people who you have no other connection to.” Ed: “In the oil industry—big part of Houston—we’ve got a lot of mergers going on quite a bit. That can be a good thing, I suppose, but it also means some downsizing.” “And that’s why it’s so important to join associations, and why it’s so important to read the literature in your particular area. The worst thing, I would say, that can happen to you is what we call skills obsolescence. Take advantage of every opportunity that your employer gives you to better yourself. If your employer doesn’t give you very many opportunities to improve your skills or broaden yourself, then no one’s hurt but you. Just keep on top of your skills. That way, if you’re hit with a reduction in force, then you’re ready.”

New York-based Five O’Clock Club is a career program in which members meet with professional coaches and peers on a regular basis in a club-type format.

A consortium of seven Houston and Galveston institutions is proposing a public/private partnership to help develop new nanotechnology treatments, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Alliance for NanoHealth is asking the Food & Drug Administration to approve the partnership of federal agencies such as the FDA and the National Institutes of Health with researchers and businesses to promote nanohealth initiatives. Alliance members include the University of Texas Health Science Center-Houston, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas A&M Health Science Center.

ExxonMobil is planning to more than quadruple its natural gas production in northwest Colorado. The company has begun construction on its newest development phase in the Piceance basin. That’s expected to boost production from 55 million cubic feet per day to about 250 million cubic feet per day. Irving-based ExxonMobil is the world’s largest publicly traded oil company.

A lot of issues are still unsettled in contract talks between the United Auto Workers and the big three automakers. As a result, the talks could run past a September 14th deadline. A person briefed on the bargaining says one issue is the companies’ desire to pay the union to take over retiree health care. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler want to narrow what they say is about a $25-an-hour labor cost advantage enjoyed by their main Japanese rivals. Toyota, Honda and Nissan have fewer retirees in North America. About $10 per hour of that difference is attributed to higher health-care costs for thousands of retirees and their spouses. The union in the past has been willing to extend its existing contract beyond the deadline if progress is being made in bargaining.

It’s a new sign that the credit crunch is putting a strain on the economy. The Labor Department says employers sliced payrolls by 4,000 in August, the first drop in four years. That’s a much weaker report than economists were expecting. They were forecasting payrolls to grow by 110,000. Job losses in construction, manufacturing, transportation and government outnumbered gains in education and health care, leisure and hospitality, and retail. Employment in financial services was flat. The unemployment rate held steady at 4.6 percent, mainly because hundreds of thousands of people left the work force for various reasons. The weakness in payrolls reflects fallout from the deepening housing slump, a credit crisis and financial turbulence that has made businesses more cautious in their hiring.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says it will take time for financial markets to work through the current credit problems and some companies won’t make it. Paulson says he has seen some “modest improvement” since the credit crunch hit with full force in mid-August, but he cautions there will be more bad news to come. Paulson was the head of investment giant Goldman Sachs before joining the administration a year ago. He says he’s seen a number of periods of market turbulence stemming from increased fears about credit quality, citing those in 1987, 1994 and 1998. He says the biggest surprise may be how long it has been since the last such turbulence. That came in 1998 as part of the Asian financial crisis and the near-default of Long Term Capital Management, a big U.S. hedge fund.

Analysts say they’ll get a better idea on whether the consumer is truly holding up, once they see September’s retail sales. August same-store sales, reported by major chains, were surprisingly robust. Analysts say the results got some help from some special factors. Many schools have been starting their classes later, helping to delay back-to-school purchasing. Last month’s business was also given a boost by a shift in a tax-free sales week to August in key states Florida and Texas, finally, cooler weather in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions helped fuel sales of fall fashions.

After dropping for a couple of weeks, rates on 30-year mortgages rebounded a bit last week. Mortgage company Freddie Mac says 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 6.46 percent this week, up from 6.45 percent last week. Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, a popular choice for refinancing, averaged 6.15 percent this week, compared with 6.12 percent last week. Rates on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages, which had risen steeply last week, dropped to 5.74 percent from 5.84 percent. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported that homeowners got hit with a record number of foreclosure notices in the spring as the crisis in sub-prime lending worsened. Problems were most severe in the industrial midwest and former housing boom areas such as California and Florida.

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