Britain overturns Exxon’s Venezuela asset freeze

A judge in London threw out a $12 billion asset freeze that Exxon Mobil had won against Venezuela’s state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA. Exxon has asked for the freeze to prevent Venezuela from shifting assets as Exxon tried to recover damages from a joint oil field project taken over by PDVSA. (BBC News) Justice Paul Walker said he would release his ruling on Thursday. Venezuela’s U.K. ambassador reacted to the verdict with one word: “Excelente.” (Reuters) Venezuela argued that Britain didn’t have jurisdiction in the case, and that the amount locked up was excessive. PDVSA still has $12 billion in assets frozen in the Netherlands and the Dutch Antilles. (Bloomberg)

Delta pilots spurn Northwest merger

Delta Air Lines’ pilots’ union said it was unable to reach an agreement with Northwest Airlines pilots over seniority rights, throwing the proposed Delta-Northwest merger into doubt. Seniority determines pay, routes, type of aircraft flown, and who gets laid off first. (The New York Times, free registration) Delta has said it wouldn’t pursue a merger unless the seniority of its employees is protected. “Northwest is an attractive target for a number of airlines,” said Calyon Securities analyst Ray Neidl. “Delta probably would have been the best fit.” Delta is preparing to announce a “comprehensive” overhaul of its business plan, including possible service cuts, in the face of high fuel costs. (AP in Yahoo! Finance)

China’s Alibaba e-commerce site soars

Top Chinese business-to-business site Alibaba reported a 340 percent jump in profits for 2007, to $136.6 million, as the number of registered users jumped 40 percent, to 27.6 million. Sales rose 59 percent as more local businesses advertised online and the Chinese economy boomed. (Reuters) The results beat analysts’ estimates, and came a day after its shares closed down 21 percent, below its IPO price last November. China has now surpassed the U.S. as the biggest Internet market, with 210 million users. “The rapid growth in Internet access and broadband penetration has also facilitated the growth of our business,” Alibaba said. (Bloomberg)

Airfares hit the gas

Late last week, United Airlines raised fares by up to $50 for a round-trip ticket, the largest hike in recent years, and the other major U.S. airlines had matched the increase by the weekend. The successful price hike was good news for airlines, but it came in the same week that oil hit a new all-time high. Shares of United, American, Delta, Northwest, Continental, and US Airways all fell yesterday. The fare hikes might curb business travel from small and medium firms, but with the record fuel costs, airlines may have no choice. “It is an eye-popping number,” said Kevin Mitchell of the Business Travel Coalition, and “there’s no doubt that this will get the attention of a lot of travelers and a lot of CFOs.” (