Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Wed, January 02, 2013

Loupe elected mayor pro tem

Just minutes after the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council took the oath of office this morning, veteran District 3 Councilman Chandler Loupe was elected mayor pro tem. Though several council members were interested in the position, which became available when Mike Walker's term ended at the end of 2012, no one opposed Loupe's nomination by District 4 Councilman Scott Wilson. The election of Loupe as mayor pro tem—a job that entails running the council meetings and standing in for the mayor in his absence—might suggest more of the same in terms of the divisions that existed between Holden and the previous council, which was sharply divided along racial and political lines. But Loupe tells Daily Report he wants to work closely with the administration. "I think this council will work hard on their issues and do so with a good working relationship with our mayor and his administration," Loupe says. Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who was also vying for the position, is not overly optimistic that will happen, but she says for now everyone is putting their best foot forward. "My hope is that we will be able to work effectively with the administration," Wicker says. "That hasn't been their history, but we don't want another four years of contention. So hopefully they will be able to come together well and do what is best for the council and the city." —Stephanie Riegel

Bernhard sells nearly 1 million Shaw shares

Jim Bernhard, chairman, CEO and president of The Shaw Group, on Dec. 27 sold 988,247 shares of the company's stock, according to documents filed with the SEC on Monday. The value of the shares sold was nearly $46 million. Also, on Dec. 27, Bernhard transferred his remaining 143,356 shares from his Merrill Lynch account to his Morgan Stanley account. Bernhard is one of a handful of Shaw executives and directors who unloaded Shaw stock last week; check out the SEC filings here. Shaw Group shareholders voted Dec. 21 to sell Baton Rouge's only Fortune 500 firm to CB&I, a Netherlands-based company with administrative headquarters in The Woodlands, Texas. The $3.04 billion deal could close by mid-February, although it is contingent on Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval and receipt of Shaw's cash settlement for the sale of its Westinghouse stake.

'Real Estate Weekly': All Star Automotive buys 3 acres to expand Denham Springs dealership

An approximately 3-acre tract of land off Interstate 12 in Denham Springs has been purchased by All Star Automotive Group, which plans to use the land to expand its neighboring Dodge and Ford dealerships. "We just finished an over $1 million remodeling of the Dodge dealership; we're also going to remodel the Ford dealership, and we need additional parking for vehicle sales," says Dennis Carlin, All Star Automotive chief operating officer. Carlin says the auto group hopes to have the additional 270 spaces completed by the end of the year. The land sold for approximately $500,000, or $3.83 per square foot, according to Mark Hebert of Kurz & Hebert Commercial Real Estate, who represented the dealership in the sale. Doug Ferris of Re/Max First Commercial represented the seller, Jack Barilleau. Hebert says Barilleau had owned the land since 1978 and at one time had been asking as much as $900,000 for it. "It's been on the market for a number of years, but at a price that was too prohibitive," Hebert says. "Unless you're the end user, it's really hard to justify the high prices for some of these properties that front the interstate. For All Star, this was a natural fit. This was truly the best use for this property." Read the rest of the new Real Estate Weekly e-newsletter here. —Steve Sanoski

Business owners gain a measure of certainty under 'fiscal cliff' deal

Local tax experts say the "fiscal cliff" agreement Congress approved Tuesday means business owners at least know today what their tax rates will be this year, which wouldn't have been the case if negotiations had dragged into the new year, as many had feared. While the highest marginal tax rate was allowed to return to 39.6%, the threshold was set at $450,000 for joint filers rather than at $250,000, as had been discussed. "I would say that $450,000 is a lot better than $250,000 for small business," says CPA Michael Choate. "That takes care of a tremendous amount of small business owners." The agreement extends many tax provisions that had lapsed on Dec. 31 and revives others that had expired a year earlier. For example, the availability of 50% bonus depreciation for new equipment purchases was extended for a year. "I think people are happy to have some certainty," says Ralph Stephens with the tax service group at Postlethwaite & Netterville. "I have clients tell me all the time: If I know what the rules are, I can live with them." Keith Tillage of Tillage Construction, which does a lot of defense contracting work and recently opened a second office in Dallas, would have been hit hard by the defense cuts that were averted Tuesday. Tillage says he's pleased with the deal that was struck, adding that he believes lawmakers have more work to do. —David Jacobs

Taxes will increase for most Americans despite fiscal deal

While the tax package that Congress passed New Year's Day will protect 99% of Americans from an income tax increase, most of them will still end up paying more federal taxes in 2013, analysts say. That's because the legislation did nothing to prevent a temporary reduction in the Social Security payroll tax from expiring. In 2012, that 2-percentage-point cut in the payroll tax was worth about $1,000 to a worker making $50,000 a year. The Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington research group, estimates that 77% of American households will face higher federal taxes in 2013 under the agreement negotiated between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans. High-income families will feel the biggest tax increases, but many middle- and low-income families will pay higher taxes, too. Households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will face an average tax increase of $579 in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center's analysis; households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will face an average tax increase of $822. "For most people, it's just the payroll tax," says Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center. However, the tax increases could be a lot higher for some. Read the full story here for more details.

Gulf of Mexico will be strongest offshore market in coming years, analysts say

The deepwater Gulf of Mexico is poised for a strong comeback, with the number of floating rigs growing from about 36 today to 60 in 2015, analysts at the International Strategy and Investment Group forecast. In its recently released report, "U.S. Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Outlook: Rising Up from the Ashes," the investment firm projects that companies will drill about 70 development wells in 2015—triple the number drilled this year and the highest level since 2002. The activity surge would mark a rapid rebound from the catastrophic rig explosion and oil spill at BP's Macondo well in 2010, which temporarily crippled drilling activity in the region. "After essentially being left for dead following the devastating Macondo blowout, we believe the deepwater Gulf of Mexico is in the early stages of an extended growth cycle and is poised to be the strongest offshore market in the world through 2015," the ISI researchers say in the report. As The Houston Chronicle reports, the total number of rigs in the Gulf of Mexico plummeted from 55 to 12 in just two months following the oil spill. The total rig count has since rebounded to 48, according to the most recent Baker Hughes rig count.

News roundup: Microsoft renews plea for regulators to rein in Google … DOT says Exxon delay worsened Montana oil spill … Obama, N.Y. and N.J. lawmakers press for Sandy aid

Making the case: Microsoft is making a last-ditch effort to convince government regulators that they need to crack down on Google to preserve competition on the Internet and in smartphone markets. Microsoft laid out its arguments in a blog post today by Dave Heiner, the software maker's deputy general counsel. You can get the gist of it in the full story here.

One thing leads to another: Delays in Exxon Mobil Corp.'s response to a major pipeline break beneath Montana's Yellowstone River in July 2011 made the spill far worse than it otherwise would have been, federal regulators say. Department of Transportation investigators examining the spill say pipeline controllers in Houston could have reduced the volume of the 1,500-barrel spill by about two-thirds if they isolated the rupture as soon as problems emerged. The full story is here.

Feeling all washed out: Republicans and Democrats from New York and New Jersey lashed out at House Speaker John Boehner today for pulling legislation on Hurricane Sandy aid, demanding that he reverse course and allow a vote as their constituents continue to struggle with the aftermath of the devastating storm. President Barack Obama called for an immediate House vote, and governors of the two states called House inaction a "dereliction of duty." The full story is here.

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