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Business news in brief

In the Region

NCO Group to buy Mo. firm for $325 million

NCO Group Inc., a Horsham debt collector and customer-service provider, said yesterday that it agreed to buy Outsourcing Solutions Inc., Chesterfield, Mo., for $325 million. The combined company will have 29,000 employees in 10 countries, NCO said. The cash deal, expected to close early in 2008, is subject to a vote by Outsourcing Solutions' stockholders and regulatory approvals. Privately held NCO said the acquisition was expected to add to its earnings in 2008 and beyond.

- Reid Kanaley

Sunoco may sell chemicals business

Sunoco Inc., the Philadelphia oil refiner, said it might sell its chemicals business after the operation's performance was hurt by rising crude-oil costs, Bloomberg News reported. Placing the business in a joint venture is another option being considered, the company said in a presentation to analysts in Philadelphia. Chemicals contributed $28 million to Sunoco's net income, or about 3 percent of the corporate total, in the first nine months of this year, compared with $43 million in all of 2006 and $94 million in 2005. Shares of Sunoco closed up 80 cents yesterday at $64.49 in New York Stock Exchange trading.

- Paul Schweizer

West Pharmaceutical to cut 250 from tech group

West Pharmaceutical Services Inc., Lionville, said it would lay off 250 employees, or 13 percent of its tech-group workforce. The move was prompted by Pfizer Inc.'s October decision to discontinue Exubera, an inhaled-insulin product for which West made the inhalation device, West said in a statement. The layoffs will take place throughout the tech group's workforce; none will be in the Philadelphia area. The company expects to take a restructuring charge of $12 million. It said it would eventually see $7 million in annual operating savings. West also will take an impairment charge of between $11 million and $13.1 million in the fourth quarter as a result of the lost contract for the inhalation devices. Shares closed up 31 cents at $37.35 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange.

- Reid Kanaley

J&J's Alza unit and Wyeth settle Effexor patent suit

Johnson & Johnson's Alza drug unit and Wyeth settled a patent-infringement lawsuit over Effexor XR, the world's top-selling antidepressant. Both companies have major operations in the region. J&J sued Wyeth last year, contending Effexor XR, Wyeth's biggest product, infringed a patented way to administer a controlled-release version of antidepressants.

- Bloomberg News

Air Products says Mexican plant supplying nitrogen

Air Products & Chemicals Inc., Allentown, said a Mexican joint-venture plant had begun supplying nitrogen to boost oil and gas production in an underground oil field near Villahermosa, Mexico. The venture supplies 90 million standard cubic feet of nitrogen a day, which is injected into the field.

- Bob Fernandez

Hill's contract extended for airport projects

Construction consultant Hill International Inc., Marlton, said it won a four-year, $7.2 million extension to its contract as program manager for projects at Philadelphia International Airport and Northeast Philadelphia Airport. The airports have a $3.6 billion capital-improvement program planned through 2013 that includes terminal expansions and runway extensions and additions.

- Reid Kanaley

Thomas X. Geisel is Sun Bancorp president, CEO

Sun Bancorp Inc., Vineland, named Thomas X. Geisel president and chief executive officer of the bank holding company and its subsidiary Sun National Bank. Geisel, who will succeed interim president and CEO Sidney R. Brown, has been president for two years of KeyBank's northeast region, based in Albany, N.Y. Geisel, 46, will start Jan. 7. Sun has 70 branches in New Jersey and Delaware, $2.7 billion in deposits, and $3.3 billion in assets.

- Harold Brubaker

Unisys redeeming $200 million of senior notes

Unisys Corp., Blue Bell, said it was redeeming all $200 million of its 77/8 percent senior notes due April 1, 2008, and expects to have them all redeemed by Jan. 11. Unisys will finance the redemption with the proceeds of its $210 million offering of 12.5 percent senior notes due in 2016, which was completed Tuesday.

- Linda Loyd

Shareholders approve Penn National Gaming sale

Penn National Gaming Inc. shareholders approved the Wyomissing, Pa., casino company's $6.1 billion purchase by Fortress Investment Group L.L.C. and Centerbridge Partners L.P. The deal was supported by holders of 99 percent of the shares voted, Penn National said in a statement. Eighty-two percent of the shares were voted.

- Bloomberg News


Proposal calls for disclosing 401(k) fees in writing

Companies selling 401(k) services should be forced to disclose in writing all the fees and expenses that can drain money from workers' retirement plans before businesses trust them with their employees' money, the Bush administration proposed. Under the proposed regulation, companies offering 401(k) and other employee-benefit plans would have to submit in writing all services their plans offer and all direct and indirect compensation they get from the plans. Plan providers would also have to disclose possible conflicts of interest that could affect the plan's performance.

- AP

China warns of retaliation if U.S. blocks imports

Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi warned of retaliation should the U.S. Congress try to block China's imports. The warning came as U.S. and Chinese officials voiced sharp differences over what has led to Beijing's massive trade surplus with the United States and the rest of the world. The China-U.S. Strategic Economic Dialogue, which the two nations will hold semiannually, took place outside Beijing.

- AP

House panel backs protecting bankrupts' homes

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation to help keep bankrupt borrowers from losing their homes as Congress aims to limit foreclosures in the subprime-mortgage crisis. The panel voted, 17-15, at a hearing for a plan that would let Bankruptcy Courts change mortgage terms to protect borrowers. The measure would amend Congress' 2005 overhaul of the nation's bankruptcy code, which made it tougher for consumers to wipe out debts through the courts.

- Bloomberg News

House approves tax measure; veto threatened

Confronting the Senate and White House, House Democrats passed tax relief for 21 million people for a second time, going after companies and hedge fund managers that shelter money offshore. The vote was a near-party-line 226-193. The White House responded with a veto threat, and the Senate's top Republican said the House approach to fixing the alternative minimum tax was unacceptable.

- AP

Yield up for taxable funds, down for tax-free ones

The average seven-day yield on taxable money market funds rose to 4.16 percent from 4.10 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 fell to 2.91 percent from 3.06 percent last week.

- Rhonda Dickey