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Monday AM March 10th, 2008

British judge to issue ruling on ExxonMobil’s attempt to freeze PDVSA assets…NATCO Group wins contracts for Motiva Port Arthur Refinery Expansion Project…PLx Pharma initiates Phase 1 human testing clinical trial of Aspirin-PC…

British judge Paul Walker says he will likely issue a ruling by the end of this week on whether to uphold a freeze sought by ExxonMobil on as much as $12 billion in assets belonging to Petroleos de Venezuela. The Irving-based oil firm is seeking compensation for Venezuela’s seizure of its interests in a joint venture last year. PDVSA’s English barrister, Gordon Pollock, says his client may ignore a ruling confirming the asset freeze.

Mayor Bill White will give an update on the city’s Houston Hope program at Avenue CDC’s Open House today. Avenue CDC is a non-profit organization working to revitalize Houston’s Washington Avenue and Near Northside community with affordable housing and economic opportunities. In the past eight years, the group has leveraged more than $35 million in investments and the development of 63 single-family homes and 325 rental units.

Houston-based NATCO Group has won contracts to provide equipment and technology for the Motiva Port Arthur Refinery Expansion Project, according to the Houston Business Journal. NATCO’s Midland subsidiary, Linco Electromatic, also recently received a purchase order related to the Motiva expansion.

Houston-based PLx Pharma has initiated Phase 1 human testing clinical trial of Aspirin-PC, according to the Houston Business Journal. The drug’s formulation includes a gastro-protective agent that could help reduce GI tract complications, including ulcers and bleeding. PLx Pharma co-founder Lenard Lichtenberger with the University of Texas Health Science Center is the inventor of the PL 2100 Aspirin-PC technology.

The Federal Reserve is increasing efforts to try to stem the credit crunch. With businesses and consumers finding loans harder to come by, the central bank says it will auction $100 billion to banks this month alone. The auctions are meant to serve as short-term loans to the banks to keep vital cash flowing. Fed officials say they plan to continue the auctions for at least six months, and could go to larger auction amounts if needed. The Fed has been working to pump billions of dollars into the banking system in response to the slowdown caused initially by the subprime mortgage crisis and severe tightening of credit. The central bank started the auctions in December.

The White House Office of Management and Budget is looking into a lawmaker’s request to investigate a plan to exempt overseas contracts from a crackdown on fraud. The proposed exemption would let companies working on U.S. government projects abroad avoid having to report contract abuse. Vermont Congressman Peter Welch says the loophole would keep the Justice Department from going after waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars. A spokeswoman for the White House OMB declined comment on the matter. But she did say the office is taking letters from Welch and Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill into consideration. The government spends an estimated $350 billion a year on contracts.

The head of a Congressional committee investigating airline inspections says the Federal Aviation Administration isn’t doing its job. Representative James Oberstar says complacency has set in at the highest levels of management of the FAA. He was speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference. Oberstar is chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The committee has been investigating allegations from whistleblowers of safety problems at Dallas-based Southwest Airlines. The Minnesota Democrat says he and his staff observed the most serious lapse in safety he’s seen in 23 years. His comments came a day after the FAA said it would seek a civil penalty of $10.2 million–the largest ever. Southwest has said it will fight the penalty.

Sharper Image has resumed honoring gift cards suspended last month when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Cards will be redeemed if used during one transaction that is applied toward items costing double the value of the cards.

Circuit City is accepting returns of HD DVD players within 90 days of purchase, as high-definition rival Sony Blu-ray assumes market supremacy. Toshiba has stopped making HD DVD players and discs.

The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau is welcoming 22 conventions, trade shows, events and meetings to the city in April. More than 30,520 attendees will spend an estimated $29.7 million in Houston during the month. Mary Kay’s Career Conference will be held April 4th and 5th at the George R. Brown Convention Center, drawing an expected 2,000 attendees. More than 20,000 delegates are expected at the Austin Juniors Volleyball 2008 Mizuno Lone Star Classic national qualifier April 11th through the 13th at Reliant Park. Also, the International Pump Users Symposium and Short Courses will be held for some 2,000 attendees April 21ast through the 24th at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The IRS says people who don’t normally have to file a tax return can use the agency’s free file program to ensure they get their economic stimulus rebate check. Some 97 million taxpayers with incomes of $54,000 or less are eligible for free file, under which 19 companies offer free preparation and electronic filing to the IRS. To qualify for the rebate checks, individuals and families must have made at least $3,000 from a combination of earned income and other sources such as social security. Most people will be getting checks of $300 to $600 for individuals and $1,200 for couples starting around May. But people do have to file to receive a payment. The IRS is offering a list of companies that offer the free filing service on its Web site.