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IN BRIEF

Utilities commission will start hearings on resource plan

The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada will begin hearings Monday on local power company NV Energy’s integrated resource plan.

The hearings are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. inside the commission’s offices at 101 Convention Center Drive, Suite 250. The commission will allow public comments before the session starts.

The commission will hear testimony from NV Energy, consumer advocates, commission staff and other companies intervening in the case. On tap for discussion is NV Energy’s $301 million Advanced Service Delivery initiative, a program that will include new digital “smart meters” for every NV Energy customer in the state. The meters are designed to let ratepayers track their power use, and could eventually allow NV Energy to charge separate rates for electricity used during peak hours.

Future resource-plan hearings will include testimony on the $510 million transmission line NV Energy wants to build to link its northern and southern grids.

The commission is scheduled to decide on the plan in late July. The plan outlines NV Energy’s 20-year strategy for obtaining, financing and delivering the power it sells to ratepayers.

To view NV Energy’s integrated resource plan, visit www.puc.nv.gov. Click on “docket info” and select “electric dockets.” Choose dockets 10-02009 and 10-03023.

Call the commission at 486-2600 for more information.

Declining revenues figure in quarterly loss for LV Hilton

The Las Vegas Hilton posted a first-quarter loss of $2.1 million driven by a continued decline in revenues and an interest payment on debt, a Friday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows.

The loss is a swing from the $3.1 million profit posted a year earlier.

Revenue declined 10.7 percent to $53.9 million from $60.4 million, and operating income dropped 80.6 percent to $1 million.

Quarterly casino revenue declined 17.4 percent to $19.6 million and room revenue declined 8.6 percent to $20.8 million. Food-and-beverage revenue slipped 2.6 percent to $16.1 million.

The property made an interest payment of $3.1 million on its $249.5 million debt, which includes a $230 million term loan maturing in May 2011.

The property is 60 percent owned by Los Angeles-based real estate firm Colony Capital; Whitehall Street Real Estate Funds controls the rest.

Vestin Mortgage Realty II posts narrower quarterly loss

Vestin Realty Mortgage II, the larger of two similarly named real estate investment trusts, on Friday said its first-quarter loss narrowed from a year earlier.

In a statement, Vestin Realty Mortgage II posted a loss of $2.5 million, or 19 cents per share, for the quarter ended March 31, compared with a loss of $6.4 million, or 46 cents per share, a year earlier.

Interest income from real estate loans dropped to $800,000 from $2.1 million in the first period last year as the total amount of real estate loans decreased $77.6 million.

The REIT counted 27 loans outstanding with a balance of $115.3 million. Of those, 12 loans for a total of $68.3 million were nonperforming. The company has $3.6 million in cash, and $86 million in assets.

A smaller affiliated REIT, Vestin Realty Mortgage I lost $300,000, or 5 cents a share, in the quarter compared with a loss of $1.5 million, or 23 cents a share, last year.

Vestin Realty Mortgage I has $25.8 million in assets.

Lake Las Vegas golf course owner sues to keep water on

The owner of two Lake Las Vegas golf courses is suing the city of Henderson to keep the water turned on. Texas-based Carmel Land & Cattle Co. claims the city is breaching its contract to supply water to the site and trying to force Carmel into signing a new agreement.

Carmel said the city has threatened to shut off the water to the Falls and Reflection Bay golf courses on June 17 if the Texas company doesn’t enter a different agreement with the city. Carmel alleges the city first temporarily cut off the water distribution to the golf courses in February, to coerce Carmel into signing the new contracts.

The existing agreements with the city were put into place in 1991, were scheduled to run 33 years, and included two options to extend by another 33 years, May 6 court filings show. Henderson’s city attorney’s office could not be reached for comment at press time.

Carmel took over both the Falls Golf Course and the Reflection Bay Golf Course through foreclosure action last year. Carmel had acquired the golf course loans from Wells Fargo in 2007. The Lake Las Vegas resort community, centered around a 320-acre man-made lake, is expected to emerge from bankruptcy in June.

WASHINGTON

Rising retail sales, stockpiles helping to boost U.S. economy

The economy is being boosted by higher retail sales, stronger factory output and a rise in companies’ stockpiles.

That picture emerged from reports Friday pointing to an economy that’s improving modestly but steadily after the worst recession in decades. Yet the recovery needs stronger job creation, and it remains under pressure from fears that Europe’s debt crisis could slow the U.S. economy.

Consumers drove retail sales up 0.4 percent last month. The gain was less than the 2.1 percent growth in March. But that surge was boosted by an early Easter holiday and auto incentives.

Industrial production also climbed in April, posting an 0.8 percent gain. Factories, the biggest slice of industrial activity, ratcheted up output by a brisk 1 percent for a second straight month, the Federal Reserve report showed. Manufacturers have played a leading role in powering the recovery.

BOSTON

Congress may soon tighten restrictions on debit card fees

Congress appears poised to tighten restrictions on the fees that merchants pay when customers swipe debit cards at cash registers.

An amendment that cleared the Senate late Thursday is a loss for card payment networks like Visa and MasterCard — whose stocks tumbled on Friday — as well as major banks that issue cards.

But even if the amendment becomes law, it’s unclear whether savings from reductions in debit card swipe fees would trickle down to consumers in the form of lower prices, or would largely be kept by merchants.

Swipe fees, formally called interchange fees, are charges that a merchant’s bank pays the issuer of a customer’s card for each electronic transaction.

The proposed change isn’t likely to produce a windfall for shoppers, according to Scott Valentin, an FBR Capital Markets analyst who follows financial company stocks.

LOS ANGELES

Judge appoints attorneys
to deal with Toyota issues

A federal judge on Friday drew upon a group of experienced attorneys who have handled some of the largest product liability cases in the U.S. to represent hundreds of consumers suing Toyota over sudden acceleration problems with its vehicles.

U.S. District Judge James Selna appointed four attorneys to be lead counsel for two committees that deal primarily with the biggest issues facing Toyota — wrongful death claims, and claims filed by those who believe their cars have lost value because the Japanese automaker has recalled about 8 million vehicles.

Among those who were selected Friday are Steve Berman of Seattle, whose firm last month earned a $200 million settlement against Charles Schwab over claims that investors were misled about the safety of mortgage-backed securities. The deal still must be approved by a judge.

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.

Officials ordered to unseal affidavit in lost iPhone case

A judge has ordered officials to unseal an affidavit used to obtain a search warrant for the home of a popular tech blogger who posted images of an Apple iPhone prototype online.

Investigators with a special high technology police unit last month searched the Fremont home and car of Jason Chen, an editor at Gizmodo.com, in connection with the suspected theft of the 4G iPhone. Chen’s company said it paid $5,000 for the device to someone who claimed to have found it in a bar.

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