In the Region

U.S. probes Internet interference by Comcast

Comcast Corp.'s interference with Internet traffic has prompted a federal investigation, but another U.S. cable company appears to be doing the same thing without drawing scrutiny. A study released yesterday found conclusive signs that file-sharing attempts by subscribers of Cox Communications Inc. were blocked, along with customers at Philadelphia's Comcast and Singapore's StarHub Ltd. Of the 788 Comcast subscribers who participated in the study, 62 percent had their connections blocked. At Cox, 54 percent of subscribers examined were blocked, according to Krishna Gummadi at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Saarbruecken, Germany.

- AP

Bleak manufacturing picture brightens in May

Manufacturing activity in the Philadelphia area improved slightly in May, but remained distressed, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The monthly Business Outlook Survey was released yesterday. The broadest reading of the manufacturing activity improved to -15.6 from -24.9 in April. A positive reading indicates growth, and a negative reading indicates contraction in the sector. The measures for both demand for manufactured products and for employment improved in May from April.

- Bob Fernandez

Jeff workers ratify pact, but terms are in dispute

A union representing 1,300 full- and part-time workers at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and the hospital said yesterday that they had agreed on a new four-year contract. But they did not agree about what is in it. Henry Nicholas, president of District 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees AFSCME, AFL-CIO, said total increases in wages and benefits over the life of the contract came to 16.8 percent. He said workers would get 3 percent wage increases during each of the four years. Jefferson disputed the union's total, but declined to give its own. It said workers would get a 2 percent increase the first year and 3 percent raises during each of the remaining years of the contract. Brian P. Bowie, associate vice president for human resources, said both the hospital and employees would pay more for health and pension benefits, but the hospital would shoulder a bigger share of the rising costs. The union represents support staff, including housekeeping and dietary workers and nurses aides. At the end of the contract, union workers will make a minimum of $23 a hour, Nicholas said. Bowie said the lowest hourly rate will be just slightly under $20. The new contract will go into effect July 1.

- Stacey Burling

Moody's downgrades Journal Register debt

Ratings agency Moody's Investors Service downgraded $693 million in debt in Yardley newspaper company Journal Register Co. and said the company could violate certain loan covenants this summer. Moody's said that its outlook on the company remained negative and that it was concerned that Journal Register, with more than 100 weekly and non-weekly publications in the Philadelphia area, would lack the cash to make a 2009 debt payment. The company's shares closed up 3 cents, or 17.65 percent, at 20 cents a share in over-the-counter trading yesterday.

- Bob Fernandez

US Airways workers ratify deal, combine contracts

US Airways Group Inc.'s 7,700 baggage handlers and ramp workers ratified a new 43-month contract with Philadelphia's dominant carrier. The agreement was approved by 63 percent of union members voting, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said in a statement. It moves workers from the former America West Holdings Corp. and the old US Airways Group onto one contract. The two carriers merged in September 2005.

- Bloomberg News

Ohio payday-lending ban doesn't deter Berwyn firm

Despite an Ohio law passed Wednesday that effectively bans payday lending, Dollar Financial Corp., Berwyn, is not immediately closing its stores in that state. Jeff Weiss, Dollar Financial's chairman and chief executive officer, said the company would continue to evaluate its strategy in the state. The new law, expected to take effect in August, reduces allowable fees from $15 to $1.08 per $100 borrowed for two weeks, Dollar Financial said. Dollar Financial has only 21 of its 1,454 stores in Ohio. Payday-lending revenue was $584,000 in the quarter ended March 31, less than 1 percent of the company's total.

- Harold Brubaker

U.S. subpoenas Mt. Laurel firm on its Vt. facility

Mace Security International Inc., a Mount Laurel manufacturer of self-defense sprays, said it received a subpoena from the U.S. attorney in Vermont for documents related to the storage, transportation and disposal of materials at its Bennington, Vt., location. Mace Security said it intended to cooperate. The Environmental Protection Agency has notified the company that cleanup of hazardous wastes is needed at the facility the company leases, Mace Security said. The cleanup, for which $665,000 has been recorded through March 31, should be completed by the end of May, Mace said.

- Bloomberg News

Constar blames weak demand for first-quarter loss

Constar International Inc. said its first-quarter loss widened to $7.5 million, or 61 cents a share, from $6.1 million, or 50 cents a share, as sales edged up 0.3 percent to $213.4 million. The Philadelphia maker of polyethylene terephthalate plastic containers blamed soaring gasoline prices for causing weak demand in the convenience-store and gas-station distribution channels, where a high percentage of the company's food, soft drink and water packages are sold. Sales were $213.4 million in the quarter ended March 31 compared with $212.7 million in the year-earlier quarter. Shares closed up 11 cents, or 3.74 percent, at $3.05.

- Linda Loyd

SunGard agrees to buy Strohl Systems Group

SunGard Data Systems Inc. said it agreed to buy Strohl Systems Group Inc., King of Prussia, for an undisclosed amount. Strohl, which has 170 employees and 2,000 customers in 20 countries, provides business-continuity software and planning. SunGard, of Wayne, offers software for financial-services, higher-education and public-sector customers.

- Paul Schweizer

Elsewhere

U.S. won't cite China for currency manipulation

The Bush administration has declined to cite China for manipulating its currency to gain unfair trade advantages against the United States. The finding came despite pressure in Congress for penalties because of America's growing trade deficit with China, which last year hit $256.3 billion, the largest deficit ever recorded with a single country. The report said China did not meet the technical requirements under the law to be designated as a currency manipulator.

- AP

Senate votes to nullify media-ownership rule

The Senate voted to nullify a Federal Communications Commission rule that allows media companies to own a newspaper and a television station in the same market. The unusual "resolution of disapproval," sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.) and 24 other senators, was approved by a voice vote. The measure's sponsors include both Democratic candidates for president, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois. Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has described the agency's action as a "relatively minor loosening" of broadcast media-ownership restrictions.

- AP