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Business news in brief

In the Region

Firms settle lawsuit over artificial-sweetener ads

The makers of Splenda and Equal settled a lawsuit yesterday over Splenda's disputed advertising slogan: "Made from sugar so it tastes like sugar." The settlement came after the jury announced that it had reached a verdict following a one-month trial in Philadelphia. Merisant Co., Chicago, which makes Equal, accused Splenda of confusing consumers into thinking its product was healthier and more natural than other artificial sweeteners. Splenda's marketer, McNeil Nutritionals, Fort Washington, countered that it simply had a better product backed by superior advertising. Merisant was seeking more than $200 million from McNeil - at least $183 million for unfair profits since 2003 and at least $25 million in lost sales.

- AP

Halt foreclosures, subprime-mortgage industry urged

Pennsylvania lawmakers called on the subprime-mortgage industry to agree to a voluntary moratorium on mortgage foreclosures to give the state time to set up a refinancing fund. The immediate goal is to help borrowers who are facing rate adjustments on "hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages." Such loans often have an artificially low fixed rate for two years - known as a teaser rate - and then reset with an interest rate three or more points higher. Because of a boom in subprime lending in 2005, thousands of these loans are set to start adjusting this year.

- Harold Brubaker

Genesis HealthCare to review rival offers Monday

The board of Genesis HealthCare Corp., Kennett Square, will meet Monday to review bids from two rival suitors. The home-services provider said the Formation Capital L.L.C. and JER Partners group renewed and upped its bid late Thursday to $67.50 a share, or nearly $1.34 billion. Fillmore Capital Partners has bid $69 a share, or nearly $1.37 billion, but its offer expires Tuesday.

- Thomas Ginsberg

Hemispherx Biopharma loss narrowed in quarter

Hemispherx Biopharma Inc. said it narrowed its first-quarter loss to $5.1 million, or 7 cents a share, from $5.9 million, or 10 cents a share, in the same quarter a year ago. The Philadelphia biotechnology company attributed the improvement to lower general and administrative costs, primarily in employee stock-option expenses, lower interest and noncash financing costs, and an increase in interest and other income on short-term investments. The firm said it spent $746,000 more on research and drug development in the quarter than in the same period last year for its experimental immune-system stimulant, Ampligen.

- Inquirer staff to roll out a no-fee traffic-alert system, Wayne, said it created a personalized traffic-alert system for drivers that is fully supported by advertisers rather than fees or transportation department contracts. The 511 Traveler Information Service, which can provide drivers with personalized information about their own routes by telephone or e-mail, is being rolled out in St. Louis in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Transportation, the company said. did not say what kind of advertising it would carry on its system.

- Thomas Ginsberg

Building in Science Center Park changes hands

UrbanAmerica L.P., New York, said it sold an 18-story office building at 3535 Market St. to Israel-based Pro-Med Market L.L.C. for $110.5 million. The 435,352-square-foot building is in the University City Science Center Park. UrbanAmerica purchased it in December 2002 for approximately $80 million. Major tenants include the University of Pennsylvania, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and FedEx Kinkos.

- Suzette Parmley

Bill would let Pa. residents choose cable-TV provider

Pennsylvania State Rep. Todd Eachus said he introduced legislation that would let consumers choose their cable-TV provider and give the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission the power to arbitrate customer disputes with cable companies. Comcast Corp. was not immediately available for comment. - Miriam Hill

Broder Bros. to lay off 121 people by July

Broder Bros. Co., a Philadelphia-area wholesaler of imprintable sportswear and accessories, has notified state officials that it intends to lay off 121 people by July. The cutbacks would follow a dismal earnings report from the company, which was purchased in 2000 by a private equity firm, and which said in 2005 that it would relocate from Philadelphia to Bucks County.

- Thomas Ginsberg

First Keystone to buy Pocono Community Bank

First Keystone Corp. will buy Pocono Community Bank, Stroudsburg, Monroe County, for $33.6 million, the banks announced. Pocono Community will become part of First Keystone National Bank, a unit of First Keystone Corp., Berwick. Pocono Community Bank has three branches and assets of $133.6 million. First Keystone National has a total of 10 branches in Columbia, Luzerne and Montour Counties.

- Paul Schweizer

InstaMed Holdings raises $6.5 million

InstaMed Holdings Inc., a Philadelphia health-care and payment-transactions processor, said it raised $6.5 million. U.S. Bancorp subsidiary U.S. Bank National Association led the financing, joined by NJTC Venture Fund and an unnamed Newport Beach, Calif., private equity firm. InstaMed makes technology to process health-care claims and collect payments. InstaMed said it would use the funds to expand and market its health-care and payment-processing technology.

- Linda Loyd


China's trade surplus more than doubled last month

China's monthly trade surplus more than doubled in April to nearly $17 billion, the government said, adding to pressure on Beijing ahead of closely watched talks with Washington on its swollen trade gap. The April trade gap of $16.88 billion was below February's $23.7 billion - the second-highest level on record - but in line with steady increases in monthly trade surpluses over the last year. Chinese and U.S. trade envoys are due to meet May 23 and 24 in Washington.

- AP

2005 Dodge and Chrysler minivans being recalled

DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group is recalling its 2005 Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans to fix faulty air bags that may not deploy because of corrosion on the sensors. The company said the recall involves more than 400,000 vehicles sold or registered in states that use large amounts of road salt, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

- AP

Delta increases domestic round-trip fares $10

Delta Air Lines Inc., the third-largest U.S. carrier, boosted round-trip fares by $10 on domestic routes to offset higher expenses including rising fuel prices. The effort follows a failed effort by major U.S. airlines this month to raise domestic ticket prices by a similar amount. The response of Southwest Airlines Co., the largest low-fare carrier, will be important in determining whether Delta's fare changes stick, and a Southwest spokeswoman said the airline would not match the fare hike.

- AP

U.S. says more ethanol output won't harm consumers

An anticipated 58 percent jump in production of corn-based ethanol next year will not boost food prices enough to harm consumers, the Agriculture Department's chief economist said. The economist, Keith Collins, projected that 118 U.S. ethanol plants would produce 9.3 billion gallons of ethanol for the crop year ending in August 2008, up from the 5.9 billion gallons expected for the current crop year.

- AP