Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Tue, March 27, 2012

Chinese trade delegation tours Albemarle's B.R. facilities

A delegation of Chinese government and power industry officials visited Albemarle's process development center in north Baton Rouge on Monday to learn about technologies that can remove mercury and other metals from coal-fired plant emissions. The visit was part of a "reverse trade mission" led by the U.S. Trade & Development Agency, which seeks to facilitate connections between U.S. businesses and partner countries, in hopes of generating exports for the domestic companies. "This is a really big deal for us," says William Pickrell, global business director for Albemarle's environmental division. "This is a great opportunity to lay the groundwork for commercial success between the two countries." Pickrell plans to visit China in April and will follow up with contacts from Monday's event. Mercury is considered a neurotoxin, and the United States and China are moving toward regulation of mercury emissions. The U.S. Trade & Development Agency sponsors about 50 reverse trade missions per year, Director Leocadia Zak says. The agency says it helped The Shaw Group secure work on a petrochemical facility in Egypt, and Zak says another trade mission focused on emergency preparedness is planned for Louisiana in the fall. —David Jacobs

Foreclosures in B.R. up slightly in January, but remain well below U.S. average

According to a new report out this morning by CoreLogic, 2.42% of homes in the Baton Rouge metro area were in some stage of foreclosure in January. That's up a mere 0.01 percentage points from December, but down 0.37 percentage points compared to January 2011. Local foreclosure activity remains well below the national average, while the state's foreclosure rate continues to fall closer to Baton Rouge's rate. The U.S. foreclosure rate fell by 0.17 percentage points in January, compared to the same month last year, but still remains at 3.43%, a full percentage point higher than Baton Rouge. Louisiana's rate saw a year-over-year decline of 0.49 percentage points in January, bringing it down to 2.51%. Baton Rouge's mortgage delinquency rate—that is, the percentage of home loans more than three months past due—also dipped in January to 5.79%, a decrease of 0.33 percentage points from the year previous but an increase of 0.04 points from December. Louisiana's delinquency fell 0.39 points on the month to 6.36%, while the U.S. delinquency rate slipped 0.59 points to 7.24%.

U.S. consumer confidence falls in March

After soaring in February to highs not seen in a year, consumer confidence in the U.S. economy fell back to earth in March amid higher gas prices, according to a private research group. The Conference Board says this morning that its Consumer Confidence Index fell to 70.2, down from a revised 71.6 in February. That still beat economists' prediction: Those surveyed by FactSet had expected a reading of 70. Consumer confidence has made a recovery since it fell to an all-time low of 25.3 in February 2009. But the March reading is well below the 90 reading indicating a healthy economy. The index hasn't been near 90 since December 2007. Economists watch consumer confidence closely because Americans' spending on things from clothing to health care accounts for about 70% of the nation's economic activity. In trading this morning, stocks immediately opened higher, then slipped around 9 a.m. when the Conference Board released its consumer confidence report. Around the same time, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond released a report saying regional manufacturing has also plunged this month.

FuelFact check: Has Obama really increased U.S. drilling?

With the national average for a gallon of gas continually inching towards $4, the Keystone XL pipeline debate raging on and Congress set to re-examine tax breaks for the oil and gas giants this week, domestic drilling is as hot-button an issue as it has ever been. Taking heat on all of it in recent weeks has been President Barack Obama, who has been defending his administration by saying domestic drilling has increased on his watch and remains a part of his overall energy plan for the future. "Under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That's a fact," Obama recently said. But is it? Fuelfix.com—The Houston Chronicle's website for news related to energy, oil and gas—put that question through its FuelFact filter. Inspired by fact-checking websites like PolitiFact.com and FactCheck.org, FuelFact was launched earlier this year. According to its research, Obama's claims about domestic drilling are sitting at about a half tank with regard to the facts. In short, "Oil production has risen during the Obama administration, but analysts don't give Obama the credit for the increase over the past three years," FuelFact concludes. Check out the full feature for complete analysis of domestic production and rig counts here.

Payton to meet with Parcells about coaching Saints

Sean Payton lists former NFL coach and two-time Super Bowl champion Bill Parcells as his mentor. These days, the New Orleans Saints coach may need that support more than ever. Facing a season-long suspension for his role in the Saints' bounty program, Payton planned to meet with Parcells—his former boss—today for a conversation that will include who will coach New Orleans this coming season. Speaking this morning at the NFL meetings, Payton says he talks regularly with Parcells and has sought his counsel often throughout this process. He added that he, general manager Mickey Loomis—who is facing an eight-game suspension—and team owner Tom Benson are weighing a number of scenarios; and Payton says a decision whether he will appeal the suspension is likely in the next "two to three" days. "We've gone through just an early—between Mickey, myself, Mr. Benson—just an early synopsis of what our options would be," Payton says. "We'll continue to do that when we get back to Metairie. Even this morning some, we're going to have some breakfast and discuss that matter. Fortunately, we feel like we've got a number of good candidates. The trick then is what it does to affect their roles that they currently have." One role Payton is certain about: He's "100 percent" confident he will coach the Saints in 2013. Get the full story from The Associated Press here.

Today's poll question: Would you like to see Bill Parcells coach the New Orleans Saints while Sean Payton serves out his yearlong suspension?

Time running out for Influential Women in Business award noms

You have less than a fortnight to make your nominations for Business Report's 2012 Influential Women in Business Awards. To qualify for the honor, nominees must be business owners or top managers and must have a noticeable impact on their business or industry. Also, the business, industry or organization each nominee is affiliated with must fall into one of the following categories: retail/wholesale, health care, finance, professional, telecommunications/technology, manufacturing/industry, transportation, communications, nonprofits, government or education. Finally, every nominee must have a clear vision for the future, which she has communicated to her staff and demonstrated. The women selected for this year's awards will be profiled in the May 29 issue of Business Report and will be honored at a June 5 luncheon at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Additional details and ticket info for the June 5 luncheon will be announced as the event nears. Make your nominations online here. The nominating period will close at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 6. See last year's winners here.

News roundup: JPMorgan Chase continues reign as the king of capital … Harvard emails show Zuckerberg's business side … Home prices fell in January in most U.S. cities

In the vault: Several banks doing business in Baton Rouge are included on a new ranking by research firm SNL Financial of the nation's largest banks. Capital One Financial Corp., which bought Hibernia National Bank in 2005 and is now based in McLean, Va., moved up one slot, as reported by The Times-Picayune. It is now the sixth-largest bank in the country, with $328.6 billion in assets. Gulfport, Miss.-based Hancock Holding Co.—the parent company for Whitney Bank—narrowly missed SNL's top 50 list of banks. As of the end of 2011, Birmingham, Ala.-based Regions Financial Corp. remains in the No. 16 slot, with $127.1 billion in assets. JPMorgan Chase & Co. remained the nation's largest bank, with $2.25 trillion in assets. The smallest bank in the ranking is Cullen/Frost Bankers Inc. of San Antonio, with $20.3 billion in assets. Hancock, according to its annual report, finished the year with $19.77 billion in assets.

Before the flood: Emails from Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard days show the dropout-turned-Facebook CEO as a young entrepreneur losing patience with a client's delayed payments. "I contracted out my services for money, and even though I seem to continually be providing services, I don't seem to be receiving money from you guys," Zuckerberg wrote on Sunday, January 25, 2004, according to court documents filed on Monday by Facebook's lawyers. The deal, writes Zuckerberg, was for $18,000, plus a side project for $1,500; he was still owed $10,000. Zuckerberg founded Facebook the following month. The client, Paul Ceglia, sued Zuckerberg in 2010, claiming that a contract he signed in 2003 entitled him to a 50% ownership stake in Facebook. If Facebook's upcoming initial public offering goes as expected, that could amount to as much as $50 billion. Facebook's lawyers are seeking to dismiss the suit. They say the contract is a fake. Read the full story for more early Zuckerberg emails here.

The view from below: Home prices fell in January for a fifth straight month in most major U.S. cities, as modest sales increases have yet to boost prices. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home-price index released this morning shows that prices dropped in January from December in 16 of 19 cities tracked, and that prices fell in 17 of the 20 cities in January compared to the same month in 2011. The declines partly reflect typical offseason sales. The month-over-month data are not adjusted for seasonal factors. The steepest declines were in San Francisco, Atlanta and Portland, Ore. Prices increased in Miami, Phoenix and Washington. The index does not track Baton Rouge or any other Louisiana metros. Local real estate agents have said prices remain stable, and they expect them to remain so throughout 2012. You can access the full index report here.

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