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Business news in brief

In the Region

Menendez may hold up nomination of FAA chief

Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) said yesterday that he might hold up the nomination of Robert Sturgell to be administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration until he was satisfied with the agency's response to questions he had raised about the airspace-redesign plan. The nomination of Sturgell, who was named acting administrator in October, will not be considered until late January, at the earliest, by the Senate Commerce Committee, and could be held up indefinitely at his request, Menendez said. He and U.S. Reps. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) complained at a joint news conference that the FAA had reneged on public statements that it would not start using new routes for planes taking off from the Philadelphia and Newark airports until next summer. The FAA started using the new routes Wednesday. They take departing flights over areas of Delaware County that have not seen much air traffic before.

- Tom Belden

Moody's upgrades Penn Health System bond rating

Moody's Investors Service upgraded its bond rating yesterday for the University of Pennsylvania Health System to "Aa3" from "A1." The company said the hospital system was in better financial shape because of strong patient demand and a good relationship with the University of Pennsylvania, whose bond rating was also upgraded earlier this year. Significant growth in unrestricted cash will allow the system to fund its $922 million capital-spending program over the next several years without issuing debt, Moody's said. The system faces challenges from other large academic medical centers and powerful insurers.

- Stacey Burling

Report: R.N.s in Pa. paid less than U.S. average

Pennsylvania has proportionately more nurses in its workforce than the country as a whole, but the state's registered nurses make less than the national average, according to a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report, based on May 2006 data, found that licensed practical nurses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and R.N.s in New Jersey made more than the national average. Nationally, R.N.s account for 1.8 percent of employees. They are 2.2 percent of the workforce in Pennsylvania and 2 percent in New Jersey. The average hourly wage is $28.71 nationally, $32.02 in New Jersey, and $27.42 in Pennsylvania. Average hourly pay for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses is $18.05. That compares with $22.87 in New Jersey and $18.56 in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia registered nurses are paid well above the state and national averages. In a region that encompasses Philadelphia, Camden and Wilmington, nurses made an average of $30.24 an hour.

- Stacey Burling

Ikon manages to buy shares back at market rate

Ikon Office Solutions Inc. came out ahead in the initial phases of its stock-buyback program, buying its shares back at market rate instead of at a premium, as expected. The Malvern office-copier distributor and document-management company will spend $295 million to buy 22.69 million shares, or 19.6 percent of outstanding shares, at about $13 a share, although the exact price is not final. Under pressure from a major shareholder, Warren Lichtenstein of Steel Partners II L.P., a New York investment company, Ikon agreed to spend $500 million to buy back its own shares, starting with a $295 million buyback program through a Dutch auction that ended at 12:01 a.m. yesterday.

- Jane M. Von Bergen

Nobel Learning to buy Ohio preschool operator

Nobel Learning Communities Inc., West Chester, said it agreed to buy private-preschool operator Enchanted Care Learning Center Inc. for $15 million. Enchanted Care runs nine preschools and six before- and after-school and camp facilities in the Columbus, Ohio, area. It expects 2007 revenue of $12 million. With the acquisition, publicly traded Nobel will operate a total of 169 schools, plus Enchanted Care's six before- and after-school facilities in 14 states. Nobel shares closed up 16 cents yesterday at $12.80 in Nasdaq trading.

- Reid Kanaley

Downingtown construction firm settles bias case

A Downingtown construction company, B&J Excavating Inc., has agreed to pay a black pipe layer $27,500 to settle a racial-discrimination suit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In the settlement, the company denies any allegation of racial discrimination. The pipe layer, William Pennington of Coatesville, had complained that the company laid him off after a snowstorm and then recalled his white counterparts and hired other white laborers, but did not bring him back to work. Pennington started at the company in July 2005 and was laid off Feb. 14, 2006. After trying to resolve differences, the EEOC filed its suit in August.

- Jane M. Von Bergen


Antitrust officials looking into chocolate pricing

U.S. antitrust enforcers are looking into pricing practices in the chocolate industry, Mars Inc., the maker of M&M candies, said. Mars spokeswoman Alice Nathanson said in a statement that the privately held company was contacted by the Justice Department. "We will cooperate with them if they initiate an investigation," Nathanson said. The inquiry was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. A Hershey Co. spokesman did not immediately respond to a voice-mail message left at his office.

- Bloomberg News

Two late-night TV shows to resume production

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart


The Colbert Report

will resume production Jan. 7 without their striking writers, the Comedy Central network announced. Both late-night shows were shuttered after the Hollywood writers strike began seven weeks ago.

- AP

U.S. and Mexico claim victory in WTO steel ruling

The United States broke some trade rules in how it taxes Mexican steel imports, the World Trade Organization said in a ruling that both sides claimed as a victory, but that both nations may appeal. The WTO found that the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed excessive dumping fees on steel from Mexico. But it upheld a complicated U.S. method for calculating the tax, provided it is done fairly, in contrast to previous WTO decisions. The three-member WTO panel told the United States to bring the steel duties into "conformity with its obligations under the WTO agreement."

- AP

Orders in '08 topped 1,200 at Boeing and Airbus

Boeing Co. and Airbus S.A.S. each won orders for more than 1,200 planes this year, with most coming from carriers in Asia, the Middle East and Europe that have been expanding and upgrading their fleets. Boeing, which had already surpassed a company order record it set last year, added 67 planes yesterday to its final order update for 2007, boosting its total to 1,213. Separately, Boeing has tentatively agreed to send as much as $1 billion in aerospace manufacturing work to state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. in India over the next 10 years.

- AP

FTC approves Google's purchase of DoubleClick

The Federal Trade Commission approved Google Inc.'s $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick Inc., removing a key obstacle. The transaction still faces substantial antitrust scrutiny from European regulators and cannot be completed without their approval.

- AP