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Business news in brief

In the Region

Highmark board backs Blue Cross merger

Meeting in Hershey, a majority of the 154 doctors, community members and medical professionals who make up the corporate board of Highmark Inc. yesterday approved a proposed merger between Pittsburgh's largest health insurer and Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia. The boards of directors of the two insurers had voted March 28 to merge. The companies say they plan to submit separate regulatory filings on the merger to Pennsylvania's Department of Insurance soon. The combination would create the nation's third-largest health insurance company. - Jane M. Von Bergen

Cephalon shares gain after company raises outlook

Shares of Cephalon Inc. rose 6.8 percent to $80.42 after the Frazer company raised its first-quarter and full-year profit outlook. Cephalon said it expected first-quarter basic adjusted earnings per share of $1.40 to $1.45 on sales of about $420 million, compared to its previous forecast of 90 cents to $1 a share on $400 million to $410 million in revenue. Cephalon cited lower expenses and stronger-than-expected sales of pain medicines. The company also raised its full-year 2007 profit forecast by $33 million to a range of $292 million to $298 million, or $4.40 to $4.50 adjusted basic earnings per share.

- Linda Loyd

Johnson & Johnson increases quarterly payout 10.7%

Johnson & Johnson announced that it was increasing its quarterly dividend 10.7 percent, to 41.5 cents a share from 37.5 cents a share. The increase was announced at the company's annual shareholders meeting in New Brunswick. Johnson & Johnson said dividends have increased for 45 consecutive years.

- Stacey Burling

Genaera's board approves one-for-six reverse split

Genaera Corp. said its board authorized a one-for-six reverse split of its common stock, effective after the market closes May 11. The Plymouth Meeting biopharmacuetical company had 104.7 million shares outstanding as of March 31. After the split, every 6 shares of Genaera common stock will be combined into one share - cutting the total to about 17.4 million. The company cut 30 percent of its jobs in January, and made a second 30 percent cut this month. It has 23 employees. Genaera focuses on developing drugs for obesity, metabolic diseases and asthma.

- Paul Schweizer

Unisys gains 4-year extension of L.A. County contract

Unisys Corp., Blue Bell, said it received final approval for a four-year extension of a LEADER contract with Los Angeles County. The extension is worth $108 million. LEADER stands for Los Angeles Eligibility, Automated Determination, Evaluation and Reporting. The system provides an online, real-time method for determining eligibility and benefits for Department of Public Social Services assistance, including California's public assistance and Medicaid programs, food stamps and general relief.

- Paul Schweizer

Pa. approves PMA Capital Insurance dividend

PMA Capital Corp., Blue Bell, said the Pennsylvania Insurance Department had approved an extraordinary dividend of $37.5 million from PMA's former reinsurance business, PMA Capital Insurance Co. Assets to cover liabilities in PMA's reinsurance operations were set aside in in November 2003 in a way that gave the state oversight of distributions to the parent company. PMA Capital sells workers' compensation and other forms of insurance, primarily in the eastern United States.

- Harold Brubaker

8 women at Penn State medical school allege bias

Eight women who hold senior faculty positions at Pennsylvania State University's medical school have sued the institution and administrators, claiming that a decades-old pattern of discriminatory pay practices illegally favors men. Gender bias at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey produces lower pay and benefits for women, including lower pensions, according to the federal civil-rights lawsuit filed this week. The plaintiffs are seeking damages including retroactive pay and retirement benefits, and future compensation equal to men in parallel positions. - AP


Aetna posts 8% gain in first-quarter earnings

Health insurer Aetna Inc.'s first-quarter profit rose 8 percent on increased premiums, membership growth, and continued cost-cutting measures, the company said. Aetna earned $434.6 million, or 81 cents a share, for the January-March period, up from $401.7 million, or 68 cents a share, a year ago. The company has a major HMO operation in Blue Bell.

- AP

AstraZeneca may eliminate up to 950 jobs in Germany

AstraZeneca P.L.C., the British drugmaker, said it may cut as many as 950 jobs in Germany because it hasn't been able to sell some products in that country. About 400 jobs at its production site in Plankstadt are part of a plan announced earlier this year to eliminate 3,000 positions worldwide over the next three years. AstraZeneca is also reducing as many as 550 sales and administrative jobs because it hasn't been able to introduce products in Germany as expected, including its Crestor cholesterol-lowering medicine. AstraZeneca's U.S. headquarters are in the Wilmington area, where it has about 4,500 employees.

- Bloomberg News

DuPont is seeking EU approval of biotech soybean

DuPont Co., the No. 3 U.S. chemical-maker, asked the European Union to approve a biotech soybean, and said it expected the bloc, where popular opposition to modified foods has slowed approvals, to give the green light in about two years. DuPont said it expected European approval in 2009 of the "Optimum GAT" trait, which makes soybeans resistant to sprays that kill weeds.

- Bloomberg News

Siemens says bribery investigation is widening

Siemens AG said it faces a widening investigation into bribery allegations that have spurred its chief executive officer and chairman to say they would step down, and warned that the money in question could be bigger than earlier thought. Siemens has been rocked by investigations in Germany, Italy and Switzerland over whether hundreds of millions of dollars were taken from corporate accounts and used to pay bribes to help land telecommunications deals. Siemens said the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice are also investigating the allegations of bribery. Siemens Medical Solutions USA Inc. is based in Malvern, where it has 4,000 employees.

- AP

Safeway says profit was up 22% in first quarter

Safeway Inc.'s first-quarter profit rose 22 percent, with the nation's second-largest grocer off to its fastest start in six years. The Pleasanton, Calif., company made $174.4 million, or 39 cents a share, during the three months ended March 24, compared with $142.9 million, or 32 cents a share, at the same time last year. Safeway's identical-store sales - excluding gasoline - rose 4.5 percent, accelerating the growth pace. Safeway is the parent company of Philadelphia-area grocer Genuardi's.

- AP

Yield falls for taxable funds, rises for tax-free ones

The average seven-day yield on taxable money-market funds fell to 4.73 percent from 4.76 percent last week, according to iMoneyNet Inc. A seven-day yield is an annual yield that is based on the preceding seven days' level of income by the fund. The average yield on tax-free funds rose to 3.18 percent from 3.11 percent last week.

-Paul Schweizer