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Business news in brief

In the Region

Philadelphia Produce Market gets new location

The Philadelphia Regional Port Authority approved a preliminary agreement to build a $214 million facility at 6700 Essington Ave. for the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market. The 1,100-employee terminal - a group of independent wholesale businesses serving restaurants, grocers and neighborhood food-buying co-ops - has outgrown its 50-year-old quarters on Packer Avenue near the Sports Complex. Port authority officials said that several issues remained unresolved and that it would take at least six weeks to complete the proposed deal.

- Henry J. Holcomb

Coldwell Hearthside buying interest in Diamond

Coldwell Banker Hearthside, a residential real estate sales franchise in Bucks County and the Allentown area owned by Frank M. Mancuso, has bought a controlling interest in Coldwell Banker Diamond, which covers Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties, for an undisclosed sum. Hearthside sales totaled $650 million last year, compared with $400 million for Diamond, said Hearthside spokesman Chris Beadling. Combined, they will employ 600 real estate professionals in 23 offices. Both are franchises of Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corp., a national chain. Coldwell Banker is one of several real estate brands owned by Realogy Corp., a Parsippany, N.J., company that was bought by New York private-equity manager Apollo Management L.P. for $6.6 billion last year.

- Joseph N. DiStefano

Merck halts study of cholesterol drug

Merck & Co. Inc. has halted a study of an experimental drug it had touted as key to energizing its sagging cholesterol franchise, barely three weeks after U.S. regulators refused to allow sales of the drug. Merck has major operations in the Philadelphia area. The drugmaker said an advisory committee recommended ending the study of cholesterol drug MK-0524A, two months after the same scientists urged enrollment of more patients be put on hold. MK-0524A combines the B vitamin niacin and a drug called laropiprant to limit the facial flushing caused by niacin. The halted study, called ACHIEVE, used ultrasound imaging to monitor plaque buildup in arteries of people whose genes give them sky-high cholesterol levels - the same kind of patients and technology in a study of Merck's Vytorin cholesterol drug that backfired earlier this year.

- AP

Cheap gas, expensive electricity for Philly region

The good news is that gasoline actually cost 5 percent less here in April than the average for U.S. cities, the government said. The bad news is that Philadelphia-area consumers paid 28 percent more than the national average for electricity, and 7.1 percent more for natural gas. The numbers, measured in the Consumer Price Index by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, have shown similar disparities for April going back 10 years, Labor Department regional commissioner Sheila Watkins said in a statement. The Labor Department defines the Philadelphia region as including Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties in Pennsylvania; Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties in New Jersey; New Castle County, Del.; and Cecil County, Md.

- Reid Kanaley

Glouco third in New Jersey for wage gains

Gloucester County ranked third in New Jersey for gains in average weekly wages in the 2007 third quarter, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said. Its increase was 5.1 percent from the same period the year before. That followed wage increases of 5.8 percent in Somerset County and Mercer County's 5.5 percent. The national average increase was 4.3 percent, the bureau said. Gloucester County ranked 64th nationally in wage increases during the 12-month period. Wages in Burlington County rose 3.1 percent, and they were up 4.0 percent in Camden County.

- Paul Schweizer

InterDigital releases revenue forecasts

InterDigital Inc., a King of Prussia telecommunications company, forecast revenue of $58.5 million to $59.5 million for the second quarter. In the same quarter last year, InterDigital posted revenue of $55.01 million. The company said its forecast range for the 2008 period does not include any new contracts it may win during the rest of the quarter or any additional royalties. The quarter ends June 30. Most of the revenue - $56.2 million to $56.7 million - will come from recurring patent-licensing revenue. InterDigital provides advanced wireless technologies and products for voice and data communications. Its shares closed down 30 cents at $22.96 in Nasdaq trading.

- Paul Schweizer


Kelleher steps down as chairman of Southwest

The Herb Kelleher era ended yesterday at Southwest Airlines Co., with one final plume of cigarette smoke and Kelleher's cackling laugh as he shook hands with adoring employees and shareholders. Few executives are as closely identified with their company as Kelleher is with Southwest, the most consistently profitable carrier in the country. Kelleher, who grew up in Haddon Heights, N.J., stepped down as chairman after presiding over his 31st annual shareholder meeting, a festive and emotional farewell at the company's headquarters. Now 77, Kelleher gave up the chief executive officer's job in 2001. He is under contract to continue on as an employee, at $400,000 a year, into 2013. Kelleher's future duties have not been spelled out, but the man who wore an Elvis costume to employee events and arm-wrestled the head of another company for the rights to an advertising slogan says he will show up at the office five days a week and do whatever CEO and new chairman Gary Kelly asks him to do.

- AP

Time Warner set to split off cable business

Time Warner Inc. said it would formally split off its cable TV business, giving the media conglomerate a $9.25 billion windfall and allowing it to focus on cable network, entertainment and publishing operations. The separation of Time Warner Cable Inc. gets Time Warner out of the media-distribution business altogether, something investors had been clamoring for. Time Warner Cable is the second-largest cable provider in the country, after Philadelphia's Comcast Corp. It has been a public company for more than a year, but Time Warner had held on to an 84 percent stake.

- AP

Boeing to cut 750 jobs in California

Boeing Co. says it will lay off 750 Southern California employees after the loss of a lucrative satellite contract to rival aerospace firm Lockheed Martin Corp. Boeing said in a statement Tuesday that the cuts would be focused on engineering staff at its El Segundo and Seal Beach plants. The reduction will take Boeing's satellite division staff from 7,200 employees to about 6,450.

- AP

Yields down on taxable, tax-free funds

The average seven-day yield on taxable money market funds was 1.92 percent this week, down from 1.95 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 1.52 percent from 1.91 percent last week.

- Rhonda Dickey