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Monday AM March 31st, 2008

Continental Airlines begins twice-daily, nonstop flights directly into London's Heathrow…Texas breeding cattle able to cross into Mexico for first time in more than four years…Halliburton opens manufacturing center in Malaysia…


Continental Airlines launched twice-daily, nonstop flights to London’s Heathrow Airport on Saturday from its Houston hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Direct flights to Heathrow also began from its Newark hub. The new Heathrow flights have been made possible by the new Open Skies agreement between the U.S. and the European Union. The airline had been prevented from operating to Heathrow by the restrictive U.S.-U.K. bilateral air services agreement. It previously connected only at Gatwick Airport, south of London.

The proposed Clear Channel Communications buyout continues to run into heavy traffic. In a regulatory filing, the radio station operator says the private equity firms were not able to close the $19.5 billion deal by Monday’s deadline because their banks will not provide financing. A warning came last week–a day after a Texas judge issued a restraining order effectively preventing the banks from backing out of their commitment to finance the transaction. Clear Channel says the prospective buyers had indicated they were “ready, willing and able to consummate the merger.” But they also said, according to Clear Channel, they would not be able to consummate the merger on time, “due to the failure of the banks to provide the required financing.”

The operator of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, whose millions of customers had their credit card information hacked, is having its information audited. The discount store giant agreed to settle charges with the Federal Trade Commission that it “failed to provide reasonable and appropriate security for sensitive consumer information.” TJX said last March that at least 45.7 million cards were exposed to possible fraud in a breach of its computer systems. Court filings by banks that sued TJX estimated the number of cards affected at more than 100 million.

The Federal Reserve will auction another $100 billion in April to cash-strapped banks as it continues to combat the effects of a credit crisis. The central bank said it would make $50 billion available at each of two auctions on April 7th and April 21st. Through the end of March, the Fed has provided $260 billion in short-term loans to commercial banks through an innovative auction process. It also has employed depression-era provisions to provide money to investment banks. All the moves are designed to cope with a financial crisis that has roiled U.S. and global markets and caused the near-collapse of Bear Stearns, the nation’s fifth largest investment bank.

Liverpool Football Club co-owner George Gillett, Jr., says his partnership with Dallas businessman Tom Hicks has become “untenable.” Gillett also says his family received death threats from soccer fans. Gillett says the threats came after Hicks blocked a takeover bid for the Premier League Club by a Dubai consortium–a move that’s damaged the pair’s relationship. Gillett, who also owns the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens, is now mulling a move for overall control of the record 18-time English champions. Hicks has consistently ruled out selling his share in the club. The duo last March bought the Liverpool team for $431 million.

Texas breeding cattle on Saturday were able to cross into Mexico for the first time in more than four years. An agreement between the U.S. and Mexico restores a market worth more than $80 million to cattle raisers in Texas–the nation’s largest producer of cattle. The December 2003 discovery of mad cow in a Canadian-born animal in the state of Washington led the U.S. to work with Mexico and other global trading partners. The goal was to re-establish beef and live cattle trade consistent with international standards. The new agreement establishing consistent trade relationships for breeding cattle between the U.S., Canada and Mexico was announced by the Texas Department of Agriculture. The reopening of the Mexican border to breeding beef cattle is consistent with the guidelines of the World Organisation for Animal Health.

A new Rooms To Go outlet opened this weekend in Houston. The chain hopes to have stores in Baybrook, The Woodlands, Stafford and Willowbrook within 90 days. Long-range goals include six to eight stores and a large distribution center by 2010. The chain has more than 130 retail locations in nine states.

Halliburton has opened a manufacturing center in Malaysia for making completion equipment and cementing tools. About 100 are employed at the facility northwest of Singapore, but about 250 are expected to be employed by the end of the year. Halliburton will open a combined manufacturing and technology center opens in Singapore later this year.

NASA has awarded Air Liquide Large Industries of Houston a gaseous nitrogen supply and services contract. The contract has an estimated value of $47.5 million over five years. Air Liquid will supply personnel, materials and the production facilities necessary to support current and future launch programs at Kennedy and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

California air regulators have gutted rules seeking to place tens of thousands of zero-emission vehicles on the road. Regulators forced automakers to produce a fleet of cleaner-burning hybrids. The decision is expected to affect 12 other states that had adopted California’s target for zero-emission vehicles, defined as those powered solely by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. The California Air Resources Board voted to lower by 70 percent the number of zero-emission vehicles automakers must sell. Instead, the air board said the six largest automakers must sell nearly 60,000 plug-in hybrid vehicles in California while they develop the more advanced technology that will allow mass production of pure zero-emission vehicles. Board chairwoman Mary Nichols described the move as a major step toward putting cleaner cars on the road. The plug-in hybrids envisioned by the air board have yet to be produced but are in development by several automakers.

Another former Starbucks employee is suing over the way the coffee chain store divvies up tips. Starbucks is already planning to appeal a California judge’s order that it pay $100 million in tips and interest because supervisors shared in the tips given to baristas. And on Wednesday, another state lawsuit was filed in Massachusetts. Now a Minnesota lawsuit accuses Starbucks of the same thing. It says Starbucks broke a Minnesota law that prohibits employers from requiring employees to share tips. The lawsuit claims that some of those who shared in the tips were supervisors. Starbucks says its baristas and shift supervisors share tips because they all provide the same customer service. The Minnesota case seeks class-action status.

Department store operator J.C. Penney says it expects first-quarter earnings below its previous forecast, as consumer demand wanes. The Plano-based company said weakening consumer confidence has hurt its results as well as lower-than-expected sales through Easter.