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Business news in brief

In the Region

Splenda look-alike claim can proceed in court

Johnson & Johnson can proceed with a lawsuit against a privately held manufacturer that uses packaging similar to its Splenda artificial sweeteners, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled yesterday. McNeil Nutritionals, the Johnson & Johnson unit that makes Splenda, has proved a "likelihood" that sweeteners packaged by Heartland Packaging Corp. for Royal Ahold N.V.'s supermarkets would be confused by consumers with McNeil's product, the court ruled. Heartland packages the products for Ahold's Stop & Shop, Tops and Giant supermarkets.

- Bloomberg News

Pa. job growth slows; fewer work in factories

Schools, health care, entertainment, and white-collar business services provided the lion's share of new jobs in Pennsylvania in 2007 as the manufacturing, retail and construction industries slipped, according to new government figures. Although the U.S. Labor Department figures are not complete for the year, the number of jobs added in Pennsylvania in 2007 is trailing the number added in each of the three previous years, mirroring a national trend. According to November's preliminary figures, Pennsylvania added 36,600 jobs through the first 11 months of 2007, which boosts the statewide nonfarm job total above 5.8 million. Pennsylvania added between 43,500 and 58,200 jobs a year from 2004 through 2006. Through November, the number of manufacturing jobs dropped 1.5 percent, or about 10,000, with most of the losses in nondurable goods, such as food and chemicals.

- AP

Exelon boosts Oyster Creek reactor's power

Exelon Corp., the parent of Peco Energy, increased power production from its Oyster Creek nuclear reactor in Forked River, N.J., after performing maintenance. The reactor was shut for one day, Wednesday, after a problem was discovered in a pump during routine maintenance. Output from the unit was raised to 93 percent of capacity yesterday morning from 25 percent Friday, according to a report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

- Bloomberg News


United Rentals accepts Cerberus breakup fee

United Rentals Inc. agreed to accept a $100 million breakup fee from Cerberus Capital Management L.P., ending a six-week battle over whether Cerberus could call off a $4 billion acquisition of the equipment-rental company. On Friday, a Delaware Chancery Court judge ruled that private-equity firm Cerberus had the right to break off the takeover. United Rentals said yesterday that it would not appeal, and Cerberus said it would pay the fee. Cerberus agreed in July to pay $34.50 a share for United Rentals' stock and backed out in November after U.S. credit markets weakened, prompting a lawsuit. Judge William B. Chandler 3d ruled last week that United Rentals should have known Cerberus had a right to pull out if it paid the $100 million fee.

- Bloomberg News

Harrah's buyout gets last regulatory approval

Harrah's Entertainment Inc. has tentatively cleared the last remaining regulatory hurdle to the largest casino buyout ever. Harrah's said the National Indian Gaming Commission had approved the company's $17.7 billion purchase by private-equity buyers Apollo Management L.P. and Texas Pacific Group, pending final commission review. That conditional approval means Harrah's can go forward with the deal, which is expected to close in early 2008. No further regulatory approval is required. The company has four casinos in Atlantic City.

- AP

Business-class MAXjet out of business

MAXjet Airways Inc. ceased operations yesterday - leaving jets on tarmacs and stranding passengers on Christmas Eve - as the all-business-class airline said it would file for bankruptcy protection. MAXjet cited soaring fuel prices and the deteriorating credit market for what it called a "drastic measure." But analysts said the company's failure might raise questions about the viability of all-business-class airlines. While business-class service can be profitable to airlines, it is also a "thin" market, said airline consultant Robert Mann, serving, typically, "40 to 70 seats per flight, depending on the route and aircraft." Any loss of market share to a competitor can be devastating, particularly to an all-business-class carrier like MAXjet that did not have revenue from economy passengers - or a robust route system - to fall back on.

- AP

Foreign investment in Vietnam surged this year

Foreign investment pledges in Vietnam have surged by nearly 70 percent this year thanks to the country's admission to the World Trade Organization, an official said. As of Saturday, foreign investors have agreed to invest $20.25 billion, up 68.7 percent from the same period a year earlier, said Nguyen Viet Cuong, an official with the Ministry of Planning and Investment. Last year, Vietnam attracted $12 billion of foreign direct investment, a record since the country began accepting foreign investment in 1998.

- AP

Ameriquest settles with borrowers for $18 million

Ameriquest Mortgage Co., once the biggest home-mortgage lender to people with credit problems, paid New Yorkers more than $18 million as part of a previously disclosed nationwide settlement of a predatory-lending case. Proceeds from the settlement with the Irvine, Calif., company were sent to about 13,700 New Yorkers, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a joint statement. Ameriquest officials agreed in January 2006 to pay $325 million to settle claims that it cheated customers by misrepresenting loan terms and getting inflated appraisals.

- Bloomberg News

Target investor raises stake to 10 percent

Investor William Ackman raised his stake in Target Corp., the discount chain, and held talks with management on increasing the stock price. The shares rose 3.53 percent. Ackman controls 10 percent of the company, up from 9.6 percent earlier this year, his Pershing Square Capital Management L.P. said in a regulatory filing.

- Bloomberg News

Air France-KLM acquires regional VLM Airlines

Air France-KLM S.A. said it agreed to acquire European regional carrier VLM Airlines N.V. for an undisclosed sum. In a statement, Air France-KLM said the Belgium-based carrier, which operates largely from London City Airport, would "actively cooperate" with CityJet Ltd., an Air France-KLM-owned regional carrier that also operates out of London City.

- AP

T-bills reach highest rate in a month

Interest rates on short-term Treasury bills rose in yesterday's auction to their highest levels in more than a month. The Treasury Department auctioned $20 billion in three-month bills at a discount rate of 3.280 percent, up from 3.000 percent last week. An additional $19 billion in six-month bills was auctioned at a discount rate of 3.490 percent, up from 3.280 percent last week. The three-month rate was the highest since three-month bills averaged 3.390 percent Nov. 19. The six-month rate was the highest since these bills averaged 3.625 percent Nov. 13. The discount rates reflect that the bills sell for less than face value. For a $10,000 bill, the three-month price was $9,917.09 while the six-month price was $9,823.56.

- AP