- Created on 13 November 2012
Peoples Gas has boosted its requested rate hike of last July by 31 percent.
The natural gas utility, which serves the city of Chicago, now is seeking additional revenue of $102.7 million, which it says would add $8.40 per month to the average weather-normalized residential bill of $88.83. That would be a 9 percent increase.
When it originally filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission in July, Peoples sought a $78.3 million rate hike, which would have meant a $6.50 increase to the average monthly bill.
The utility says the cost of complying with new regulations from the city Department of Transportation accounts for more than half of the increase in the request.
It's also ramping up a pipeline safety program that attempts to keep gas pipes from crossing sewer pipes in order to avoid natural-gas accidents due to sewer work.
Peoples says it also has encountered unexpected costs in its program to replace the aging cast-iron gas mains underneath the city's streets. The utility plans to complete the pipe replacement program over 20 years at a total cost of $2.5 billion.
In a Nov. 6 conference call with analysts, Charles Schrock, CEO of Peoples' Chicago-based parent Integrys Energy Group Inc., said Peoples this year would replace no more than 135 miles of underground pipe rather than the 200 miles it planned. And he hinted that the rising costs could lift the project's $2.5 billion price tag.
"What we're seeing are some increased requirements from the city of Chicago as well as some changes in processes that we made for good reasons, but it increased the costs per mile," Mr. Schrock said.
A Peoples spokeswoman clarified later that the company hasn't officially changed its final price tag of $2.5 billion.
The spokeswoman says the company knew of at least some of the higher costs in July when it first filed its rate request. The utility probably would have waited to file with the ICC until it had a better idea of what those costs would be, but it was required by state law to act in July.
That law, which authorized construction of a $3 billion coal-to-gas plant in an economically on Chicago's South Side, required the state's largest gas utilities to file for rate reviews every two years if they didn't agree to purchase the high-priced synthetic gas from the project. Peoples and sister utility North Shore Gas were the only utilities statewide that refused to enter into a contract with the developer, New York-based Leucadia National Corp.
The gas plant now appears to be dead, but the rate requirement remains for Peoples and North Shore.
The ICC must act on Peoples' rate request by June.
Read more: http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20121113/NEWS11/121119957/peoples-gas-asks-for-bigger-rate-hike#ixzz2C7I2KwKI
- Created on 13 November 2012
(CNNMoney) -- There are four tech companies controlling the industry's direction: Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook. Will they still be ruling the tech field in a decade?
"At least three have established very deep moats," meaning that it's almost impossible for newer rivals to overtake them, Internet analyst Mark Mahaney (formerly of Citigroup) said Sunday during a panel discussion at the Techonomy conference in Tucson, Ariz. "Probably Apple, too."
Google and Facebook have the richest data sets on their users, but Amazon's data graph is probably the most valuable, Mahaney believes, because it tracks where customers are actually spending their money.
Apple -- the company with the highest market capitalization in the world -- has the hardest position to defend, several of the panelists said. It can't maintain its stratospheric growth without constantly pulling new rabbits out of its hat, and rivals like Samsung are chipping away at its market.
"Apple to me is the most vulnerable," said Alec Ellison, the head of investment bank Jefferies' technology practice. "It has to maintain this innovation edge."
Streaming video is shaping up to be one of the fiercest battlegrounds. Apple's long-rumored iTV could be its next game-changing breakthrough, but the cable companies are pushing back hard -- and Amazon and Google are also in the hunt.
Live sports and premium scripted programs are the video Holy Grail, according to Nielsen executive Steve Hasker. Whoever gets access to them gains a huge strategic advantage.
Which brings us to the industry's dark horse: Microsoft.
Microsoft has been left out of discussions of the Internet's Big Four because it dominates in the enterprise, not the home. Consumers don't have the same deep engagement with Microsoft's products as they do with their Facebook page or their iPhone. But Microsoft is finally, belatedly, trying to claw its way in.
It cannonballed into the gadget market with Surface, and it's using Windows 8 as a "one platform" link to tighten the ties between products in its vast lineup. Microsoft is quietly striking content deals that morph Xbox from a video-game console into a home entertainment hub -- one that could go head-to-head with Apple.
"We share Microsoft's excitement about Xbox," Nielsen's Hasker said. "Can they segue to own the consumer across all kinds of different experiences? That to us looks like the most interesting piece of real estate they have in the home."
Microsoft has another advantage: It's no longer in the U.S. government's crosshairs. Microsoft's consent degree -- the set of restrictions that emerged from its bruising late-'90s antitrust battle -- expired last year.
Google has taken Microsoft's place as the antitrust lightning rod. The Department of Justice is preparing what looks like a sweeping case against the company, which could end up curbing some of Google's expansion plans. Apple, too, has faced some antitrust rumblings, while Facebook risks getting smacked down for its caviler privacy practices.
Even with those threats, Techonomy's panelists agreed that it's hard to see any of the current big four losing its leadership spot. But they also acknowledged that predicting the future of tech is a fool's game.
A decade ago, Mark Zuckerberg hadn't yet dreamed up a little venture called Facebook.
- Created on 12 November 2012
(CNNMoney) -- Target announced Monday it will open at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving evening, the earliest it's ever started its Black Friday sales.
Last year, Target opened at midnight on Thanksgiving night.
"We heard from our guests that they look forward to kicking off their holiday shopping with deal-hunting on Thanksgiving night," said Kathee Tesija, executive vice president, merchandising, for Target. "Opening at 9 p.m. gives Target's Black Friday guests a more convenient way to create an after-dinner shopping event that the entire family can enjoy."
But Target, the nation's No. 2 retailer, won't be beat by it's larger rival Wal-Mart, which this year has moved its opening to 8 p.m. from a 10 p.m. last year.
Not only are stores opening earlier, but they're coming up with different sales to keep shoppers at their stores longer, according to Brad Wilson, editor in chief of BlackFriday2012.com. For example, Target will have some specials that won't start until 4 a.m. on Black Friday, including a Samsung 50" LED HDTV for $699, a Canon A3400 Camera Bundle for $89.99, Fisher-Price Doodlepro Classic for $10, Leapfrog Explorer Software for $15 and a $10 gift card for shoppers who spend $50 or more on clothing.
Wal-Mart is adding another twist to its Black Friday sales, guaranteeing that everyone in its stores between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Thanksgiving night will receive one of the three big deals: an Apple iPad2 and a $75 Wal-Mart gift card, for $399.99, an LG Blu-Ray player for $38, or a 32-inch Emerson HD TV for $138.
Stores generally only have a handful of their big sale items online, which means that many customers that come in with the hope of scooping them up miss out, but end up buying other items.
"Wal-Mart is taking items they're going to lose money on and not limiting the inventory like every store has forever," Wilson said. "I doubt anyone else will try to match that. It'll hurt Wal-Mart less than anyone else because their scale and margins are better."
While Target doesn't offer same type of in-stock guarantee, some of its sale prices are nearly as competitive. Its iPad2 is also $399.99, and comes with a slightly less generous $60 gift card. (On Apple's web site, the iPad2 starts at $399).
Related: Holiday shopping deals shaping up as the best in years
Over the weekend, toy retailer Toys R Us announced it too will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. But not every store is moving their opening up. Electronics giant Best Buy still plans to open its stores at midnight, said spokeswoman Erin Bix.
"Black Friday offers will be available online on Thursday. We wanted to have the balance to give our employees time with their loved ones on the holiday," said Bix.
Best Buy's deals include deep discounts on flatscreen TVs, as well as a Toshiba WiFi Blu-ray player for $39.99, a Samsung Galaxy tablet with a $20 Best Buy gift card for $179 and a Nikon Coolpix 12.1 megapixel camera for $129.
- Created on 12 November 2012
(AP) — The mayor says United Airlines will repay $5.6 million in tax incentives the company received from Chicago to redevelop its downtown headquarters.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office said Monday that United also will forgo nearly $10 million in additional city grant money because it is leaving the site and consolidating its premises at Willis Tower. United is no longer eligible for that money. Emanuel called United's announcement "an incredible act of corporate citizenship."
United recently extended its lease at the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, through 2028. The lease includes more than 800,000-square-feet of space in the skyscraper. The company says it will have more than 4,000 employees at Willis Towers by the second quarter of next year.
- Created on 09 November 2012
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- America has added 5 million jobs since February 2010, when employment hit its Great Recession low. But the nation still needs to add another 9 million jobs just to get back to pre-recession unemployment levels, according to data crunched by the Economic Policy Institute.
While that is a pretty big number, the jobs gap is starting to shrink as the economy picks up steam. A year ago, the deficit was 10.3 million jobs. And in September 2010, it was 11.3 million.
"We've reduced the gap, but it's still massive," said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
The improvements in the economy shouldn't mask the continued weakness of the labor market, Shierholz said.
There is still a lack of demand for workers, with 3.8 million fewer jobs in the labor market now than before the recession. On top of that, the labor market should also have added another 5.2 million jobs by now just to keep up with the growth in the working-age population over the past five years, Shierholz said.
To eliminate the jobs deficit over the next three years, the economy would have to add 330,000 jobs a month -- twice the rate it is today. At the current pace, it would take until mid-2020 to get back to an unemployment rate of 5%, which is where it was in December 2007. The unemployment rate was 7.9% last month.
"Let's not forget how far we have to go," she said. "We're in a big hole."