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Thursday AM November 8th, 2007

Business Confidence Survey indicates expectations for higher growth rates…Worker productivity surges at fastest pace in four years…Survey finds consumers reducing spending this holiday season; concerns about all product recalls… Fifty-five percent of small business executives are optimistic about the economy heading into 2008, according to an Administaff survey. Their Business Confidence Survey says nearly 55 […]


Business Confidence Survey indicates expectations for higher growth rates…Worker productivity surges at fastest pace in four years…Survey finds consumers reducing spending this holiday season; concerns about all product recalls…

Fifty-five percent of small business executives are optimistic about the economy heading into 2008, according to an Administaff survey. Their Business Confidence Survey says nearly 55 percent of those polled expect a higher growth rate in their businesses next year, which could lead to higher salaries and employment levels. The survey found that almost half of respondents plan to increase compensation in 2008, and over half plan to add new employees.

The government reports a big surge in worker productivity over the summer. It grew at the fastest pace in four years–4.9 percent during the July-September quarter. That was more than twice the pace of the second quarter of the year. At the same time, wage pressures eased. Unit labor costs dropped at an annual rate of two-tenths of one percent. That was the best showing in more than a year.

A survey finds that many consumers are reducing spending where they can this holiday season, and an even greater number are concerned about all the product recalls. DeLoitte & Touche says 41 percent of those surveyed plan to reduce their overall spending this year, including money spent on socializing and donations to charity. The survey found that nearly six in ten say the news of product recalls will influence some of their buying decisions. The consulting firm says that provides an opportunity for retailers to promote products made in the U.S. and to inform consumers about the products that have been recalled and pulled off the shelves. The survey polled more than 14,000 consumers.

A new Protiviti survey indicates a growing number of internal audit departments are returning to business as usual, in the aftermath of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act going into effect in 2002. Some 24 percent of surveyed companies report finally balancing their traditional responsibilities with compliance activities. About 80 percent of companies that have achieved rebalancing are in their third year of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

The Rice Alliance is presenting its 5th annual Information Technology and Web 2.0 Venture Forum today at the McNair Hall Jones Graduate School at Rice University. The forum showcases the most promising IT technologies and emerging companies, bringing them together with venture capital investors.

The Education Department’s inspector general says he’ll review whether federal money is being misspent on programs by a company founded by Neil Bush. A Washington-based watchdog group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics called for the inquiry into Austin-based Ignite! Learning. President Bush’s brother founded the company about a decade ago. Inspector General John Highness, Jr., says he’ll ask an assistant inspector general to look into the complaint. The watchdog group contends school districts are using federal money inappropriately for Ignite! programs. The group argues there’s no proof the company’s products are effective and that schools are using the products due to political considerations. A telephone call to Ignite! hasn’t been returned. In a previous statement posted on the company Web site, Ignite! Learning stated that it had no control over how school districts chose to spend federal funds.

The Nasdaq stock market has agreed to pay $652 million in cash for the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. The move will give the largest U.S. electronic stock market a foothold in the rapidly growing options market. Nasdaq expects the deal for the nation’s oldest stock exchange and the nation’s third largest options market will close in the first quarter. It should start to add to Nasdaq’s bottom line in 2009. Nasdaq plans to maintain the Philadelphia Exchange’s structure–operating the electronic options trading platform alongside the options trading floor in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Exchange was founded in 1790.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has proposed a series of foreclosure prevention measures to four home mortgage lending and residential loan serving companies. By the end of next year, about $600 billion worth of subprime adjustable rate mortgages are expected to increase monthly payments for homeowners nationwide. He talked with representatives from Citigroup, HSBC, Wells Fargo and Chase. Abbott recommends lenders provide long-term solutions such as considering converting adjustable rate loans into fixed-rate products. He encourages mortgage lenders to engage homeowners before sending cases to collections. Abbott recommends the creation of in-house resolution committees and the waiving of applicable penalties and fees.

The Texas Forest Service has been notified by the Chicago Climate Exchange that it is now an authorized verifier of forestry offset projects. The CCX had been the only market that trades forestry carbon. The Texas Forest Service will now verify forestry offset projects for landowners seeking to sell their trees’ carbon offset credits on the open market by verifying the quantity of the carbon stored in a landowners’ forest.

Fort Worth-based foodservice distributor Ben E. Keith Company is building a distribution center in Missouri City in the Beltway Crossing Business Park on U.S. Highway 90A and Beltway 8. The $50 million facility will create more than 300 new jobs. The president of the food company says eventually more than 900 workers will be employed. Construction begins in July 2008.

Southwest Airlines said it will offer a new category of fares and perks to business travelers. That’s a lucrative chunk of the airline market. The new category is called “business select.” The Dallas-based airlines says those passengers will be among the first to board, will get extra frequent-flyer benefits, and will get a free drink. Business-select passengers will pay $10 to $30 more per flight than Southwest’s current top fares. The airline plans to set aside about ten percent of seats for the new category.

Houston-based SkyPort Global Communications will provide satellite connectivity for Cisco’s emergency response networks service. Cisco’s service provides emergency voice, video and Internet connectivity for first responders during disasters when terrestrial communications are disrupted. Cisco’s two command centers will transmit and receive voice, data and video communications using satellites linked through SkyPort’s operations in Houston.

Houston-based SolArc will provide a fuel management system for Japan Airlines, according to the Houston Business Journal. SolArc’s software handles fuel procurement, market price hedging, fuel inventories and the automation of Japan’s fuel tax requirements. It will consolidate fuel management information systems into a single one for fuel contracts, fuel budget, inventory management and automated supplier invoice processing.

Federal regulators have announced nearly $7.7 million in settlements with six firms. The companies are accused of calling people on the national Do Not Call list. The Federal Trade Commission says Craftmatic, maker of adjustable beds, will pay the biggest fine–$4.4 million dollars in civil penalties. ADT Security Services agreed to a $2 million settlement. The four other companies were: Ameriquest Mortgage Company, Alarm King, Direct Security Services and Guardian Communications. The registry prohibits telemarketers from calling phone numbers on the list. Companies face fines of up to $11,000 for each violation. Organizations engaged in charitable, political or survey work are exempt.

The executive vice president of Koch Industries has given the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center $18 million to create the David Koch Center for Applied Research in Genitourinary Cancers. The center is bringing together basic, translational and clinical scientists to rapidly move scientific findings to patients with prostrate cancer and other diseases. The Koch Center hopes to move discoveries more efficiently into human studies.

Baylor College of Medicine is receiving $23 million over seven years from the federal government to conduct clinical trials of vaccines and therapies for infectious diseases. Eight institutions around the country, including Baylor, will carry out more clinical trials administered by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.