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Monday PM November 23rd, 2009

BAE Systems awaits GAO decision about Army's military vehicle contract award to competitor…Home resales exceed expectations in October…Newspaper advertising revenue plunges 28 per cent in third quarter…


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The Sealy FMTV Task Force joined political and business leaders in Houston today to address a U.S. Army decision to award a military vehicle contract to a competitor of BAE Systems. Lance Lacour with the Katy Economic Development Council says the task force was formed to find ways to reverse the decision to give the contract to a Wisconsin competitor.

“The Task Force feels Oshkosh underbid the contract to buy the business and cannot deliver on what they have promised. It would be a tragedy to put 10,000 people out of work because of a poor decision. We’re at war. Contracts aren’t usually competed at war. Oshkosh is not tooled for the FMTV and does not had the e-code facilities in place to handle the project. They have to build a 150,000-square foot facility which will take over a year to build.”

Greater Houston Partnership President and CEO Jeff Moseley says the Houston region would take a $1.8 billion economic hit each year if the FMTV contract goes to Wisconsin.

“So today, what we’ve done, we have 17 of these vehicles here to symbolize each year that this truck has been built in Sealy by the 3,100 employees. On the other side of the parking lot, it’s empty–symbolizing the number of vehicles built by the company that was awarded this bid up in Wisconsin. The important thing is to ask the question ‘is it really in the interest of the men and women that serve America to go back and change this technology?’ and the answer is ‘no, this is a dangerous time for our men and women that are serving and we don’t need to make it more dangerous by revisiting this contract when they know that this technology works for them.'”

The Government Accountability Office is reviewing the Army’s decision, promising a report by December 15th.

Home resales far exceeded expectations last month, surging to the highest level in two-and-a-half years as first-time buyers rushed to take advantage of an expiring tax credit. The National Association of Realtors says sales rose 10.1 per cent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.1 million in October, from a downwardly revised pace of 5.54 million in September. It was the highest sales level since February 2007. Sales, which were nearly 24 per cent above last year’s level, had been expected to rise to an annual pace of 5.65 million, according to economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters. The median sales price was $173,100 down 7.1 per cent from a year earlier, and off 1.6 per cent from September.

A real estate industry group says October home sales in the south vaulted 23 per cent from last year as buyers scrambled to grab an expiring tax credit and wrestled for lower-priced homes. The National Association of Realtors says real estate agents from Texas to Maryland credit sales increases to low mortgage rates, affordable prices and the tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time buyers. The incentive was set to die November 30th before Congress extended it into next spring and added a $6,500 credit for current homeowners who move into another property. Median sales prices in the south did fall to $151,100, a six per cent decline from last October. Realtors President Vicki Cox Golder says strong demand from first-time buyers in Florida and Washington D,C. led to some bidding wars over low-priced homes, including foreclosures. Nationally, October sales of existing homes were up by one-fifth compared with last year, without adjusting for seasonal factors. the median sales price dipped seven per cent to $173,100. Re-sales of houses and condominiums increased in all 18 southern metro markets covered by the Associated Press-Re/Max housing report.

A top industry analyst says the U.S. auto industry will recover only a little next year because of a weak economy. Fitch Ratings analyst Mark Oline predicts sales of 11.1 million cars and trucks in 2010, up 7.8 per cent from 10.3 million vehicles he expects this year. Oline says in a note to investors that high unemployment, lost wealth from lower housing prices and a higher consumer savings rate will limit a stronger recovery. Even if sales grow to 11.1 million, Oline says, many automakers and parts suppliers will spend more cash than they take in. He says a double-dip recession or a spike in gas prices is still possible, and that could limit any recovery.

General Motors is looking for some additional government help–in Europe. The company is asking European governments to help pay most of the cost of restructuring its struggling operations in Europe. The cost is expected to reach nearly $5 billion. The head of two European units of GM says it would be very hard for the company to supply most of the funding because it’s also facing restructuring costs in the U.S. and elsewhere. He says the level of funding that’s offered by each government won’t affect the company’s decision on where to cut jobs, because those decisions have already been made. But the official isn’t giving details of the plan to cut 20 to 25 per cent of the company’s car-making capacity in Europe–a move that’s likely to cost thousands of jobs.

President Barack Obama says the U.S. economy has “core strengths” that will put the nation in a good stead for the long term despite a difficult year for millions of people. Wrapping a cabinet meeting, Obama spoke in upbeat terms about the strength of American universities, workers and entrepreneurship. But the president also said that the growth of the economy is not sufficient given the double-digit unemployment that has sapped much of the nation’s spirit. Emphasizing job creation, Obama told cabinet members that they are blessed to be able to try to make a difference in the lives of millions of people. He also told them to get a little rest over the Thanksgiving holiday.


The Texas Transportation Commission has told its staff to submit plans on how to fast-track an estimated $4 billion expansion of Interstate 35 between Dallas and Denton. The commission wants details by January. The Dallas Morning News reports that the project is a prime candidate for financing similar to private toll deals nixed by the 2009 legislature. Lawmakers defeated attempts to extend the authority for so-called comprehensive development agreements with private companies to build roads, in exchange for toll revenue. Commission member Ted Houghton of El Paso said Friday that authorities have got to use all of these innovative ways of building highways “or we won’t be building.” Passthrough toll financing would have Texas promising to make payments to the firms based on the level of traffic use on the roadways.


Changing travel trends during tough economic times could explain why the numbers are up at the Texas State Aquarium. Spokeswoman Kristin Ralls says good weather and new marketing efforts also contributed to why the aquarium in Corpus Christi could have more than 500,000 visitors this year. The half-million mark would be the most since the aquarium opened in 1990. Ralls says aquarium officials have found “more folks were taking advantage of traveling closer to home during these economic times.” She says good weather throughout hurricane season, which runs June through November, also played a role. Ralls says so far nearly 483,000 people have visited the attraction this year. Aquarium CEO Tom Schmids says, through Labor Day, the exhibit had a 22 per cent increase compared with the previous year.

Newspaper advertising revenue in the U.S. plunged 28 per cent in the third quarter to $6.4 billion. The figures leave little doubt newspapers will likely have to manage through the fourth year of a slump that has already killed some publications and wiped out thousands of jobs. Advertising sales are the main source of newspaper income, and that revenue has declined year-over-year for 13 straight quarters. About the only good news to emerge from the July-September period is that the erosion wasn’t quite as bad as the previous quarter when newspaper advertising revenue dropped 29 per cent rather than 28 per cent. Still, U.S. newspapers collected $2.5 billion less in advertising revenue during the quarter than they did at the same time last year.

An airliner using a 50 per cent biofuel mix in one engine has successfully completed a demonstration flight in the Netherlands. Air France-KLM says it was the first flight using biofuel to carry passengers. Forty people flew on the 90-minute trip, including the Dutch economic affairs minister. The plane, a Boeing 747, had a 50-50 mix of biofuel derived from the Camelina plant and regular jet fuel in one of its four engines. Virgin, Air New Zealand, Air Japan and Continental Airlines have previously completed similar demonstration flights with a biofuel mix of jatropha or algae. KLM spokeswoman Monique Matze said the airline plans eventually plans commercial flights using a biofuel mix, but it is too early to set a target date.

The television retailer QVC doesn’t want to be left out on Black Friday. It’s hoping that instead of going to the malls on the day after Thanksgiving, some shoppers will stay home and watch for what the channel is promising will include special deals and a lot of new items for sale. Program host Dave James is planning to stay awake for 28 straight hours. Just like other retailers, QVC was hurt by the recession–with its fourth-quarter revenue in 2008 down eight per cent from the previous year. So far, this year’s revenue has been essentially flat. Generally, QVC offers one “special value” item to customers each day. For Black Friday, there will be three. Rival HSN, which has also seen flat sales this year, mailed a million gift guides for the first time to people who have bought things through the network in the past. It’s also offering specially-priced items over the Thanksgiving weekend, though that’s not a shift from what it’s done before.

Are you going to be ready for retirement? A retirement-plan ratings firm has unveiled an index designed to help answer that question. Fiduciary Benchmarks’ index evaluates 401(k) plans of thousands of companies. The retirement readiness index also crunches the numbers by industry, showing users whether their plans are keeping pace or falling behind their peers. For example, the index estimates that retirement funds in the agriculture and forestry industry will, on average, provide 61 per cent more than employees need to live comfortably in retirement. At the other end of the spectrum is data processing, hosting and related services. The index estimates those company plans will provide 30 per cent less than the average employee needs. A Web site offers users a free basic report showing their company’s rating and the average rating for their industry. Companies will be able to buy more detailed reports.