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Tuesday AM October 16th, 2007

Fox Business Network debuts…Dell layoffs prompt new legislation…Greater Houston Partnership and UK Trade & Investment group at British Consulate host day-long conference on future of liquid fuels… Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has launched Fox Business Network. It is a challenge to General Electric’s highly profitable CNBC. Murdoch is no stranger to targeting established leaders. Fox […]


Fox Business Network debuts…Dell layoffs prompt new legislation…Greater Houston Partnership and UK Trade & Investment group at British Consulate host day-long conference on future of liquid fuels…

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has launched Fox Business Network. It is a challenge to General Electric’s highly profitable CNBC. Murdoch is no stranger to targeting established leaders. Fox News Channel is a powerful rival to CNN. CNBC’s audience of affluent professionals is one of the most sought-after advertising targets. CNBC commands premium prices from advertisers. The network collected $250 million in ad revenue last year, for an estimated operating profit of $60 million, despite average daytime viewership of 267,000. CNBC is available in 90 million of the nation’s 110 million households. Fox Business Channel will start in about 30 million households. Along with satellite distributor DirecTV, it is on the digital tiers of top cable companies Comcast and Time Warner, but is not carried on Cablevision System, serving the New York suburbs.

Dell didn’t have to give advance notice before laying off 250 tech support workers in Tennessee because of an exemption in federal law. But legislation pending in Congress could change that. The Round Rock-company announced the layoffs last week –saying they’re part of a plan to trim costs and become more competitive. Under the 19-year-old law, companies have to give workers and state officials 60 days’ notice before cutting 500 jobs or more. Dell’s cuts involved half that amount so it didn’t have to adhere to the law. However, a bill introduced last month by New York Republican Representative John McHugh would require notices to be sent if at least 100 jobs are cut. In the Senate, Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are among the co-sponsors of a companion bill.

The home furnishings stores of the Bombay Company are going out of business across the country. Bombay, which filed for bankruptcy in September, says a joint venture of Gordon Brothers Retail Partners and Hilco Merchant Resources have submitted the winning bid for the retailer’s U.S. inventory. The Fort Worth-based company says the winning bidders plan to shut down Bombay’s U.S. stores and keep its Canadian stores open. A U.S. bankruptcy court and an Ontario court must approve Bombay’s plan. If the plan wins approval, the bidders will begin going-out-of-business sales at Bombay’s U.S. stores as early as next week. Bombay’s CEO says the stores will remain open through the holiday season. There are about 400 stores in the U.S. and Canada.

Houston-based KGen Power has paid $35 million to opt out of its June 18th purchase agreement for two power plants, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Houston-based electricity provider cites prevailing market conditions and lengthy, unplanned outages at the plants for bailing out of the $1.3 billion transaction. The plants are in California and Mississippi, owned by affiliates of Houston-based power plant managers Complete Energy Holdings.

A subsidiary of the company formerly known as TXU has acted to kill permit applications for eight coal-fired power units. It’s a move that buyers of the Dallas-based electric company had promised back in February. Investors led by Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts and TPG completed last week their $32 billion buyout of TXU. The new owners changed its name to Energy Future Holdings. The company is still trying to win permits to build three other new coal-fired units. Separately, the new owners said they’re planning to sell up to $2 billion of cash-pay senior notes due in 2017 in a private placement. Also, a subsidiary called Texas Competitive Electric Holdings says it will sell up to $2.5 billion of cash-pay senior notes due in 2015, also in a private placement. Proceeds from the debt offerings will be used to repay old debt.

Fourteen Houston-area companies are included on the list of the fastest-growing companies in Texas, as recognized by Deloitte & Touche USA. The Texas Technology Fast 50 ranks technology, media, telecommunications and life sciences by percentage revenue growth over five years. The firms include: Tanox at number two, BBS Technologies at number ten, Applied Optoelectronics at 11, The Internet Services at 12, RigNet at 14, ObjectWin Technology at 19, US Dataworks at 23, DYONYX at 25, INX at 27, Paymetric at 35, DataCert at 37, Input/Output at 38, PreCash at 42 and ENGlobal at 45.

Lawsuits against businesses have dropped in the past year, according to a Fulbright & Jaworski survey. The firm’s Litigation Trends Survey notes that 17 percent of corporation in-house counsels say their companies had not had to defend any new lawsuits in the past year—up from 11 percent last year. But 65 percent say their company initiated at least one lawsuit in the past year. That’s down from more than 70 percent a year ago.

A $376.7 million surplus in the Texas Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund will lead to some $170 million in surplus tax credits next year for about 370,000 Texas employers, according to Governor Rick Perry. Perry credits to steady job growth and declining unemployment. Eligible employers filing quarterly unemployment tax reports will receive a tax credit beginning with their first-quarter 2008 return.

The head of BP America said layoffs are likely as the energy company undergoes restructuring to streamline operations. BP earlier this month announced its restructuring plan. The overhaul is at the core of a strategy by new Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward to get BP on track after several safety and operational problems. BP American President Robert Malone says there will be some layoffs–but how big, the company just doesn’t know yet. BP has been hit by a deadly March 2005 Texas refinery accident, an oil spill in Alaska and delays at its Gulf of Mexico oil and gas projects. Malone spoke during the annual meeting of the American Petroleum Institute, in New Orleans. Malone also said BP’s Texas City and Whiting refineries should be back to full gasoline production by early 2008. The Texas City facility cut back production after the explosion and 2005 hurricane damage. The Whiting refinery was damaged in an April fire.

Drivers aren’t the only ones being squeezed by record oil prices. A surprising casualty of the escalating cost of crude and sagging pump prices turns out to be the oil industry itself. Even as oil futures set a new record north of $84 a barrel last week, a number of refiners warned that their third-quarter profits won’t be as robust as once expected. That’s not to say they’re destitute. The big 3 U.S. oil companies are Irving-based ExxonMobil, California-based Chevron and Houston-based ConocoPhillips. Their third-quarter profits are expected to fall 8.8 percent from last year to $17.7 billion for the quarter that ended September 30th. That’s according to analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial. The big reason is falling refining margins, or the difference between what refiners pay for oil and what they’re paid for the products they make from it. Gasoline prices have been moving lower in recent months as supplies have grown and demand has ebbed with the end of peak summer driving season. Meanwhile, crude oil has surged on a mix of concerns about growing global demand, falling inventories and an influx of speculative investment money. Many analysts believe either pump prices will need to rise to catch up with oil’s recent advance, or oil prices will have to fall.

Schlumberger is acquiring development and distribution rights for remote access high-end 3-D graphics visualization technology from Mercury International Technology.

The Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a $92 million contract for a new battlefield medicine center. The center on Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio is designed to help integrate combat care research with other functions of the military. The award announced Monday to Gilbane Building Company is the largest so far in the San Antonio base re-alignment commission program. Local military installations are expected to add as many as 11,000 new military and federal employees in the next several years. New construction is expected to cost $600 million.

Twelve World Savings Bank branches in the Houston area have completed sign changes in their conversion to Wachovia. Four former World Savings branches are closing permanently, including the outlets at South Voss at San Felipe, West Bellfort at Post Oak, Westheimer at Dairy Ashford and in the Willowbrook Mall. Wachovia will now have 294 Texas offices and 276 ATMs.