AMR, US Airways merger clears hurdle
FORT WORTH, Texas, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- US Airways and American Airlines said the pilots' union has agreed to terms for integrating pilots into a new company if the two airlines merge.
In a statement, the airlines said they were "pleased" that leadership of the US Airline Pilots Association had approved a memorandum of understanding on the matter.
AMR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tom Horton told employees Thursday a decision on a merger will be made "within a matter of weeks."
In the meantime, pilot and flight attendant unions are taking proactive measures in anticipation of a decision to proceed with a merger.
US Airlines pilots would have to vote on the memorandum of understanding its leadership approved.
The Allied Pilots Association, which manages affairs for American Airlines pilots, has already approved its own memorandum of understanding, The Dallas Morning News reported Saturday.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American flight crews, has also approved an outline to cover a merger with US Airlines.
Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents US Airways flight attendants, said in a statement it was "watching these proceedings closely, and we will enforce our collective bargaining rights, seniority rights and any other rights in the event of a merger."
Nebraska review OKs Keystone XL route
LINCOLN, Neb., Jan. 5 (UPI) -- A state of Nebraska review said the northern section of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would have little affect on the environment.
An environmental review of the project, first proposed by TransCanada Corp. in 2008, concluded that the pipeline running through an alternative route would have "minimal" risk involved, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The company's first route, which put the pipeline through the environmentally delicate Sand Hills region, was rejected. The second route, which won state approval this week, circumvents the region, although it crosses an important aquifer that is the source of water for human consumption and for irrigation.
Environmental groups are now lobbying for Republican Gov. Dave Heineman to reject the state's environmental review. He has 30 days to reject or approve the report and said this week he would take several weeks to review it.
"We have made significant strides to work with Nebraskans to identify the safest route possible for this pipeline project," TransCanada spokesman Grady Semmens said.
Work has already begun on the southern section of the pipeline, which will supply the Gulf State region with Canadian tar sands oil that is so thick it must be diluted to flow through a pipeline.
The northern pipeline section, if approved, would start in Alberta, Canada, and end in Steele City, Neb.
Bank payouts expected
NEW YORK, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- A bank industry analyst said the U.S. Federal Reserve would grant share buyback and dividend plans across the board for the country's 19 largest banks.
"These banks are strong and have too much capital now," The Wall Street Journal quoted RBC Capital Markets analyst Gerard Cassidy as saying.
The 19 largest banks are required to submit payback plans to the Fed on Monday. A year ago, the Fed rejected Citibank Group's plan saying the bank was not strong enough to deplete its reserves with a payback plan.
The Journal reported that JPMorgan Chase is expected to submit a $6 billion plan that includes dividend disbursement and share repurchases.
Fifth Third Bancorp, which also had a plan rejected in 2012, is expected to submit a new plan for payouts this year. Morgan Stanley, however, is expected to sit tight, electing to hold onto capital to convince the Fed that it is strong enough to take full control of a wealth management unit this year.
Bank shares have recently risen as investors have flocked to financial firms in the expectation that an era of paybacks are around the corner.
A key indicator shows dividend payments among the 19 largest banks is low compare to just before the financial crisis.
The annual payout as a percentage of bank share prices averaged 1.71 percent January through September 2012, SNL Financial said.
In 2007 and 2008, that measure stood at 3.86 percent and 4.88 percent, respectively, the Journal said.
Retailer Virgin France calls it quits
PARIS, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Music retail chain Virgin France said it was closing 25 stores in France and eliminating 1,000 jobs.
The company -- once owned by Richard Branson's Virgin Group, which operates Virgin Atlantic Airways -- has declared itself insolvent, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Saturday.
Branson sold the brand to Lagardere in 2001 and Lagardere then sold 80 percent of the company to Butler Capital in 2007.
Virgin France is the latest in a succession of music retailers that have closed in recent years, squeezed out by completion from Internet downloading services and discount outlets and supermarkets that now sell CDs.
Increased piracy of intellectual property has also hurt the business, the BBC said.
Tower Records, Our Price, Music Zone, and Borders are among the music retailers that have gone under in recent years.