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Aug. 4, 2012 at 12:26 PM
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NASA to spend $1.1 billion on spacecraft

HOUSTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. companies should gear up for a return to the business of making spacecraft, NASA said.

"By investing in American companies and American ingenuity, we're spurring free-market competition to give taxpayers more bang for the buck," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, while announcing $1.1 billion in new NASA contracts for Boeing Co., Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Sierra Nevada Corp, which is developing a shuttle-like space plane, only smaller.

NASA awarded Boeing a $460 million contract, while Space Exploration Technologies was granted $440 million in new business, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Sierra Nevada was granted $212.5 million in new business.

"We're also making important progress toward ending the outsourcing of American aerospace jobs and bringing them right back to Florida and other states all across this country," Bolden said.

Currently, sending an American into space means paying a $63 million fare to send the astronaut up in a Russian Soyuz rocket, as the space shuttle fleet has been retired.

JPMorgan Chase seeks return of $20 million

SACRAMENTO, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- A California energy market intermediary unlawfully held back $20 million from investment bank JPMorgan Chase, the firm said in a regulatory filing.

The California Independent System Operator, which newspapers in the state call a "quasi-state agency," believed it had the authority to withhold funds from JPMorgan Chase, even though a regulatory case against it for energy trading manipulation has yet to reach any conclusions, the Sacramento Bee reported Saturday.

Online, the California ISO calls itself a "non-profit public benefit corporation ... that operates the state's wholesale transmission grid."

The non-profit corporation has accused JPMorgan Chase of market manipulation that resulted in $73 million in ill-gotten gains.

The case was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

But the bank denies it manipulated the market, calling the argument against it feeble. In its own filing with the federal agency, JPMorgan Chase also said there has not been any official conclusion concerning the case, "let alone (a conclusion that JPMorgan) has engaged in any inappropriate conduct."

California ISO should "immediately return all unlawfully withheld payments with interest," the bank said.

The non-profit said it would return what acknowledges was withheld if the federal agency rules against it.

Chick-fil-A aside, many firms court gays

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- Corporate America, one controversial restaurant aside, is busy courting gay and lesbian customers, said an assistant business professor in California.

"Corporate America is definitely following the trends, reading the tea leaves," the Los Angeles Times quoted University of California, Los Angeles, assistant professor Jason Snyder as saying.

"It's more symbolic of what's happening in society -- that supporting gay marriage is becoming a less risky or taboo position," said Snyder, who teaches in the Anderson School of Management.

While the same-sex marriage controversy rattles around in state legislature and dinner table debates, some brand name corporations are going out of their way to woo gay and lesbian customers.

J.C. Penney not only hired lesbian comedienne Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman, it has also slipped a few photographs of same-sex partners into its sales catalogs.

The Times said nearly 40 companies, including Bank of America, offer tax relief to employees who are gay. In addition, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and his wife, Microsoft, Starbucks and Nike have all openly supported same-sex marriage legislation.

On the flip side, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee in a recent online posting declared Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day to honor the owner's open stance against homosexuals.

On Wednesday, many of the company's outlets were packed with customers supporting the anti-gay platform.

Buffett's housing bet pays off

NEW YORK, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- The Sage of Omaha, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, has hit the mark on the housing market, data and company reports indicate.

In July, Buffett said a recovery in the housing market was a critical part of a broader economic recovery. He also said, he had noticed the market was gathering some momentum.

He then made a sizable bet in the housing market with a bid on ResCap loans, MarketWatch reported Saturday.

Buffett's investment firm Berkshire Hathaway Inc., then announced "revenues from home sales increased $40 million -- 11 percent -- in the second quarter and $103 million in the first six months," referring to the country's largest producer and financier of manufactured homes, Clayton Homes, which Berkshire Hathaway owns.

In addition, a closely-watched index on home prices, the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city index rose 2.2 percent in May.

The index also rose 1.3 percent in April, which was the first climb in seven months.

"We would like to think that housing is finding its equilibrium, that it is searching for a bottom and establishing a base," said investment manager Steven Jones at First Washington.

Berkshire Hathaway's second quarter earnings far exceeded expectations, coming in at $3.72 billion or $2.252 per Class A Share, a solid jump from the $1,640 Class A share value at the end of the second quarter of 2011.

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