Tuesday PM November 4th, 2008

Centerpoint's Ike damage repairs could reach about $750 million…September factory orders drop for second straight month…AT&T tests limits on uploads and downloads…

Centerpoint Energy has revised its estimate of repairing damage from Hurricane Ike to about $750 million. The estimate was raised after seeing the full extent of devastation to poles and wires around town and bills arriving from out-of-state utility workers who helped with repairs. About $180 million is being used to make permanent repairs to equipment fixed temporarily in the storm’s aftermath. Repairs continue.

The Commerce Department says September factory orders dropped for a second straight month, with a decline of 2.5 per cent. That follows an even steeper revised August drop of 4.3 per cent. Businesses were cutting back on purchases of steel, computers and other equipment. Excluding autos and aircraft, orders were down 3.7 per cent in September. That’s the largest decline since the department began keeping track of individual sectors in 1992.

The Federal Communications Commission has opened an investigation into the pricing policies of major cable operators and Verizon Communications. Cable companies the agency plans to look into include Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems, Bright House Networks, Suddenlink Communications, Bend Cable Communications, GCI Company, Harron Entertainment and RCN, according to a letter the agency sent pay-TV operators October 30th. At issue is the companies’ practice of moving analog channels into digital tiers to free up bandwidth for other uses, such as high-definition channels. Analog customers will have to rent a digital set-top box from the operator or buy the digital TV plan to watch those channels. Verizon offers services that compete cable company offerings.

Logistics provider EGL will pay the federal government $750,000 to to settle charges that it paid kickbacks to prime contractor KBR. The Justice Department says the offerings by Houston-based EGL were so it could perform services in Iraq and Kuwait. EGL allegedly provided various meals, sporting event tickets and other gifts to KBR between March 2003 and March 2005. The gratuities came while the company was working under a subcontract with KBR, a former division of Halliburton, which was once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. Both EGL and KBR performed work under the Army’s Logistics Civil Augmentation program. It’s a program to provide a range of services including food and shelter for U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Representatives from EGL and KBR could not be immediately reached for comment.

EU finance ministers have told France that it was going too fast, too soon with plans to push for concrete global financial reforms at a Washington summit next week. France is trying to create a consensus within the EU to push a finance summit in Washington to adopt stricter financial regulation. But diplomats present at the EU ministers’ talks said there was no support for an ambitious push for global financial regulation when the crisis may not yet have peaked. Despite other countries’ reservations, the French finance minister said there was “massive support” in general from EU nations for more worldwide financial supervision and for boosting the powers of the International Monetary Fund in containing the financial turmoil. A crisis of confidence in the banking sector has hiked the cost of borrowing, sent shares plummeting and caused massive swings in currencies in recent weeks.

AT&T’s testing the idea of limiting the amount of data that subscribers can use each month. The Dallas-based telecom giant is the nation’s biggest Internet service provider. It will initially try out the limits in Reno, Nevada. The results will determine whether the practice will be extending elsewhere. Increasingly, Internet providers across the country are placing such limits on the amount of data users can upload and download each month. That’s as a way to curb a small number of “bandwidth hogs” who use much of the network capacity. AT&T says five per cent of its subscribers take up 50 per cent of its capacity. Starting in November, AT&T will limit downloads to 20 gigabytes per month for users of their slowest, 768 kilobits-per-second DSL service. The limit increases with the speed of the plan, up to 150 gigabytes per month at the ten megabits-per-second level. To exceed the limits, subscribers would need to download constantly at maximum speeds for more than 42 hours, depending on the tier. In practice, e-mail and web surfing wouldn’t threaten the limit but streaming video services like Netflix’s could. For example, subscribers who get downloads of three megabits per second have a monthly cap of 60 gigabytes, which allows for the download of about 30 DVD-quality movies.

The U.S. hospitality industry expects leisure travel will drop by 1.3 per cent in 2009 and business travel will decline by 2.7 per cent. That’s according to the Travel Industry Association, which found that travelers are cutting back on food, beverages, entertainment and souvenirs. They are shortening length of stays. Overseas travel—not including Mexico and Canada—is expected to slide three per cent. But international traffic will finish 2008 up 9.1 per cent from 2007.


Continental Airlines says its revenue rose by 11 per cent in October for each seat-mile. That’s as traffic slowed by 7.6 per cent nationally.

Hospital operator Tenet Healthcare says an investment sales gain pushed it to a third quarter profit, but the results fell shy of Wall Street expectations and the company expects a weakening economy to cut into 2008 results. The Dallas-based company said it earned $104 million after a loss of $59 million a year earlier. Revenue rose six per cent to $2.16 billion. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected revenue of $2.21 billion. Those estimates normally exclude one-time gains. Tenet has revised its full-year profit outlook to break-even at $75 million.