Monday PM November 1st, 2010

Federal judges consider Jeff Skilling’s appeal…Consumer spending at weakest pace in three months…Texas real estate sales volume decreases…

A federal appeals court is considering whether former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling should be allowed a new trial following a high court ruling that his conviction was flawed. A hearing is underway in Houston by a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that Skilling did not violate an anti-fraud law used to help convict him on 19 counts in 2006 for his role in Enron’s downfall. He was convicted of conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors. Justices then left it up to the 5th Circuit Court to decide if any of Skilling’s convictions should be thrown out. Skilling’s attorney says as a result of the Supreme Court ruling, Skilling’s convictions should be overturned because the jury was given bad instructions. Federal prosecutors say the 2006 conviction should stand because the instructions to the jury were “harmless.”

Intuit Payroll’s monthly Small Business Employment Index shows that 44,000 new jobs were created in October. The survey shows nearly 530,000 new small business jobs created in the U.S. since October 2009. Compensation grew by 0.3 percent in October and now is $2,617 per month, compared to $2,609 in September. Monthly hours worked increased by 0.7 percent in October to 107.1 hours.

Americans slowed their spending in September to the weakest pace in three months and their incomes fell by the largest amount in 14 months. The Commerce Department says personal spending rose at an annual rate of 0.2 percent in September. That’s below the 0.5 percent gains recorded in July and August. Incomes actually fell 0.1 percent in September, following a 0.4 percent rise in August that had been pushed higher by the return of extended unemployment benefits. The weak growth in spending and incomes underscored how fragile the economy remains. Consumers facing high unemployment remain reluctant to spend.

The volume of real estate sales in Texas decreased in the third quarter, according to the Texas Quarterly Housing Report. Sales of existing single-family homes decreased 20 percent compared to the same quarter a year ago. The median home price in Texas remained virtually unchanged at $152,000, and the months of inventory of Texas homes edged upwards to eight months.

Construction spending, after having fallen to the lowest level in a decade, edged up slightly in September as a gain in residential activity and government projects helped offset weakness in commercial projects. The Commerce Department says spending on building projects rose 0.5 percent in September after having fallen 0.2 percent in August to the lowest point since July 2000. Even with the small September gain, construction activity remains 34 percent below the peak hit in 2006 when builders were enjoying a boom in residential housing. That boom turned into a bust that helped drag the country into a severe recession.

Manufacturing activity expanded last month at the fastest pace since May due to a surge in new orders and production. The Institute for Supply Management says its manufacturing index read 56.9 in October, up from 54.4 in September. It was the 15th straight month of growth. a reading above 50 indicates growth. Manufacturing has helped drive the economy out of recession last year, but growth had slowed in recent months. Meanwhile, manufacturing activity in China rose last month. A survey affiliated with the government said its measure rose to 54.7 in October from 53.8 in September. That caused the stock market to rise in morning trading.

BP’s claims chief says the number of residents being denied compensation for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is rising sharply because of a flood of new claims without proper documentation or with no proof at all. Some 20,000 people have been told they have no right to emergency compensation, compared to about 125 denials at the end of September. This is in addition to many others who say they are getting mere fractions of what they’ve lost. Others are receiving large checks and full payments. In an interview with the Associated Press, claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg denied allegations the process is beset by chaos. He said the claims facility has sent about 30 potentially fraudulent claims to the Justice Department for investigation, and hundreds more are under review.

Governor Bobby Jindal says BP has agreed to spend $48 million for Louisiana seafood safety and promotion programs. Jindal also said the oil giant has agreed to give $30 million to the State Department of Culture Recreation and Tourism to promote Louisiana tourism. Also, the governor said that $100 million BP previously committed to the state will be used to convert sand berms that were built to block oil into barrier islands.

The nation’s largest rental car company is being pressed to fix vehicles under recall before renting them out. Two consumer groups and a key lawmaker asked the Federal Trade Commission to direct Enterprise Holdings to change policies allowing vehicles under recall to remain in its rental fleet. New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer asked the FTC to end the practice, threatening legislation if it didn’t. In August, two consumer groups petitioned the FTC to prevent the company, which operates Enterprise, National and Alamo, from renting recalled vehicles that have not been fixed. Enterprise says it “parks” vehicles when recommended by manufacturers and grounded more than 30,000 vehicles in connection with the Toyota recalls.

The Supreme Court won’t reinstate a $21 million judgment against Nintendo of America, turning away a claim of patent infringement from a Texas gaming company. The high court refused to hear an appeal from Anascape. A federal jury decided that Nintendo infringed on Anascape’s existing patent of the technology used to make joysticks while designing its Wii Classic, Wavebird and Gamecube controllers. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the federal circuit overturned the award. No infringement was found with the motion-sensing technology used in Nintendo’s wand-like Wii and nunchuk controllers. Nintendo has said it no longer makes the Wavebird and Gamecube controller. The case is Anascape v Nintendo, 10-301.

The Supreme Court will decide whether patents on inventions that arise from federally-funded research must go to the university where the inventor worked. The high court agreed to hear an appeal from Stanford University. Stanford sued pharmaceutical giant Roche over the alleged infringement of technology for detecting HIV levels in a patient’s blood. The university said it owns the technology because its discoverer worked at Stanford. The 1980 Bayh-Dole act allows universities to retain the rights to research funded by federal grants. But Roche says Stanford researcher Mark Holodniy also signed a contract with it that give the company the patent to anything that resulted from their collaboration.

The Treasury Department says it will need to borrow $362 billion in the current October-December quarter, the second largest borrowing on record for this period. Treasury officials said the borrowing needed for this quarter is down by $17 billion from an estimate made a month ago. That’s in part because the government ended the 2010 budget year on September 30th with $40 billion more cash on hand than it had expected. The $362 billion in borrowing for this quarter is second only to the $569 billion borrowed in the October-December quarter of 2008. During that time, the government was raising massive amounts of money to fund a $700 billion bailout of the financial system.

The Nigerian subsidiary of ExxonMobil says the firm has discovered a rich gas condensate deposit off Nigeria’s southeast coastline. ExxonMobil says that it discovered 165 net feet (50.3 meters) of rich gas condensate at the Pegi-1 discovery well. The U.S. oil firm says that “significant additional potential remains in untested deeper targets” within that oil block and adjacent blocks. The company says the well sits about 46 miles (75 kilometers offshore) of Akwa Ibom state. The discovery comes as part of a joint venture between Exxon Mobil and the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum. ExxonMobil says the find could supply Nigeria’s growing domestic market. Oil-rich Nigeria, an OPEC member, is one of the top crude suppliers to the U.S.

Super Bowl television commercials already are a sellout this year. Fox Sports says it has sold out all of the commercial airtime available for Super Bowl XLV. The game takes place on February 6th in Arlington. This is months earlier than commercial time sold out last year. Fox spokesman Lou d’Ermilio says the improving economy spurred sales and some companies are returning after sitting out in recent years. Pepsico is putting its Pepsi brand back into the game after sitting out last year. Automaker General Motors also returns after sitting out the last two years. Fox declined to say how much ads cost. Last year’s ads ranged from $2.5 million to $3 million per 30-second slot. The news was first reported by trade publication Broadcasting & Cable.


Anadarko Petroleum is reporting a third-quarter net loss in part because of one-time charges related to losses on commodity price hedges. Anadarko says its net loss totaled $26 million for the July-September quarter. That includes one-time after-tax charges totaling $129 million. A year ago, the Houston-area oil and gas producer reported net income of $200 million. Revenue totaled $2.6 billion, compared with $2.8 billion a year ago. Anadarko has a minority stake in BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico.

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