Monday PM October 12th, 2009

Economists striking more upbeat tone about end of recession…Two Americans share Nobel economic prize…Houston Police say almost $8.5 million in red light camera violation proceeds being distributed to local hospital trauma centers…

More than 80 per cent of private economists surveyed believe the recession is over and an expansion has begun. Even so, they expect the recovery will be slow amid continuing worries over unemployment and federal debt. The survey was released by the National Association for Business Economics. They look for the U.S. economy to expand at a rate of nearly three per cent in this second half of the year and about the same in 2010. The economists say that the housing market recovery will gain momentum next year. They look for housing prices to rise two per cent in 2010.

The Houston Purchasing Managers Index improved for the sixth consecutive month in September, according to figures from the Greater Houston Partnership. It returned to neutral following ten months of negative readings, based on reports from the local branch of the National Association of Purchasing Management. All eight components of the Houston PMI improved, with Sales and Purchases returning to positive territory. The weakest component was Employment, with 23 per cent more reporting reductions than gains.

Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services is hiring 120 customer care agents in Houston. Training classes start in the middle of the month. Applications are being accepted at ACS on the Southwest Freeway, as well as online. ACS employs some 6,000 Texans, including 1,450 in Houston. It has more than 34,000 agents in 150 customer care centers around the world, handling more than a million customer interactions daily in 20 languages.

The pace of announced workforce reductions is about 40 per cent ahead of last year, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The report says, however, employers have already announced plans to hire more workers than in 2008, although workers are being added slowly. Through September, employers announced plans to hire 88 per cent more workers that in the first three quarters of 2008, and in fact have already added more workers so far this year than in all of last year.

Two more Americans share in the Nobel economic prizes to be awarded this year. Americans Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson won the Nobel economics prize for their work in economic governance. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says Ostrom’s work demonstrated how common property can be successfully managed by groups. Rice political science director Rick Wilson studied and worked with Ostrom at Indiana University. He says she taught him a great deal about how to conduct research and how to ask questions.


“What she has done—and in fact, the co-winner, Oliver Williamson, have done—is question a bit of some of the foundations of contemporary economics. One of the things that Lynn was instrumental in doing, and has always done, is to push her students and her colleagues to go beyond their own narrow discipline to think more broadly about questions. She thinks that the question is paramount, and the way that you approach it is you pick the tools that you need no matter where you find it.”

Ostrom is the first woman to win the prize since it was founded in 1968, and the fifth woman to win a Nobel award this year—a Nobel record. The academy says economic theory has focused on markets and “traditionally paid less attention to” other places where economic transactions take place. Nobel prize winners receive $1.4 million, a gold medal and diploma from the Swedish king on December 10th, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.

The Houston Police Department says almost $8.5 million in red light camera violation proceeds is being distributed to local hospital trauma centers. Nineteen hospitals are recipients from proceeds of the City of Houston’s red light camera funds, with Ben Taub General Hospital receiving more than $4.75 million. Memorial Hermann Hospital received $2.27 million of proceeds initially paid to the State of Texas. The state and city equally share proceeds, after operating and maintenance costs, from red light camera fines.

The Southern Union Gas Company has appealed an $18 million penalty for illegally storing hazardous mercury waste. The Texas company was convicted last year of storing liquid mercury without a permit at a neglected and rundown building in Pawtucket. The material was exposed to the public after vandals broke in five years ago and dumped it on the ground of a nearby apartment complex. U.S. District Judge William Smith this month fined southern union $6 million and ordered an additional $12 million in community service payments. The company has submitted a notice of appeal to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. It wants the conviction and the penalty overturned.

Initial public offerings in the third quarter recorded the highest quarterly proceeds and number of deals wince the first quarter of 2008, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Twenty offerings raised $5.8 billion, which is four times the money raised in the third quarter of 2008 and more than double the number of IPOs. The report says IPO volume appeared to have hit bottom in the first quarter of this year.

With the 2010 census looming, major U.S. cities whose residents are at high risk of being missed are struggling with a shortage of money and manpower to prepare for an accurate count. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts examined preparation efforts in 11 major cities. It found only five cities had committed public funds to census outreach _ Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Baltimore and Houston. When cities had allotted funds, most were at significantly lower levels compared to 2000. City officials expressed concern about a possible poor turnout in the high-stakes count that begins April 1st. They cited difficulties of finding residents due to home foreclosures and skittish immigrants wary of filling out government forms.

Amtrak says ridership dropped by about a million passengers over the past year, but it was still the second-highest year in the railroad’s history. Figures released by the nation’s intercity rail operator show Amtrak carried 27.2 million passengers during the 12 months ending September 30th. Amtrak’s record was 28.7 million passengers during the previous year. Still, ridership was up over two years ago by 5.1 per cent. Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman blamed the decline in ridership to the weakened economy. Business ridership was off in the popular northeast corridor, although travel on some short distance routes and the railroad’s 15 long distance trains was up.

The next big thing in green building design might be to turn an existing idea on its side. PNC Financial Services Group recently installed a green wall the size of two tennis courts on one side of its headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh. Green walls are like green roofs. They’re covered in vegetation and provide the benefits of natural insulation and removal of air pollutants. PNC estimates it will be 25 per cent cooler behind the wall than the ambient summer temperatures. Its wall features more than 15,000 ferns and other plants that create a swirling pattern of varying hues of green above the company’s logo. The wall was designed by the Rochester, New York, company Green Living Technologies, which also has installed walls in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.

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