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Business news in brief

In the Region

PSE&G seeks 20% hike in residential gas costs

Public Service Electric & Gas Co., New Jersey's largest utility, yesterday proposed a 20 percent hike in residential natural-gas bills. The company blamed "significant increases in the wholesale cost of natural gas." If the state Board of Public Utilities approves the increase, it would take effect Oct. 1. PSE&G said a typical customer who heats with gas would pay $174.06 a month, a rise of $28.60. The wholesale gas price has increased from about $7 per million British thermal units in January to $11 to $13, the Newark company said. It serves 1.7 million natural-gas customers from Gloucester County in South Jersey to Bergen County in North Jersey. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, Peco is seeking an 11.2 percent increase in gas rates.

- Paul Schweizer

Uni-Marts files for bankruptcy protection

Convenience-store chain Uni-Marts L.L.C., of State College, filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday but said it would continue to operate its 283 stores and gas stations while it undergoes reorganization. Uni-Marts, which employs 1,250, is looking to sell its stores, which are in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio, the company said in a statement. The privately held chain and six subsidiaries filed in for relief in federal court in Delaware under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code. It said it had both assets and debt in excess of $50 million. Company founder and chief executive officer Henry Sahakian said in a statement that the overall economy, along with "aggressive competition in the areas in which we operate, increased fuel and other inventory prices and other matters outside our control" had reduced cash reserves. He also said reserves were hit by a 2007 legal settlement in a dispute over sale of some stores.

- Reid Kanaley

FDA's advisers give Glaxo clotting drug an OK

Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration said a blood-clotting drug from GlaxoSmithKline and Ligand Pharmaceuticals is effective for short-term use, despite reservations by FDA scientists. Glaxo has a U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia. A panel of outside advisers voted unanimously in favor of Promacta at a meeting held in Chicago, according to FDA spokeswoman Karen Riley. Agency reviewers said the drug did not significantly lower bleeding compared with a placebo in two studies submitted by the companies. FDA scientists also raised concerns about liver toxicity and the drug's safety in long-term use.

- AP

Fidelity Technologies gets Navy instruction deal

The U.S. Navy will pay Fidelity Technologies Corp. $68 million to provide flight simulation and classroom instruction to pilots and flight officers, the Reading company announced. The contract, awarded by Naval Air Systems Command, is the largest flight training contract Fidelity has secured in its 20-year history, said J. David Gulati, president of the company. Through a separate, five-year contract, Fidelity already provides flight training to the Navy's Pacific Fleet. Under the latest deal, Fidelity will provide flight instructors and simulation training through the Corpus Christi, Texas-based Naval Air Training, which trains aviators at air stations in four states. The contract will become effective Aug. 1.

- Maria Panaritis


Delta severance offer draws 1,000 extra takers

Delta Air Lines Inc. said more than 3,000 employees have taken voluntary severance offers, at least 1,000 more than the carrier's target in March when it announced plans for reducing jobs and grounding planes. Most of the frontline workers such as flight attendants and gate workers who accepted the offers will leave in September after staying through the summer travel season, Kent Landers, a Delta spokesman, said. The Atlanta-based carrier had sought to trim about 2,000 jobs.

- Bloomberg News

Gannett lays off 55 at four N.J. newspapers

Gannett Co. Inc. laid off 55 employees Thursday from four of its six New Jersey newspapers because of adverse business conditions. The layoffs were across all departments at the Asbury Park Press, Home News Tribune in East Brunswick, Courier News in Bridgewater, and Daily Record in Parsippany. The company this month offered buyouts to 166 workers over 55 with at least 15 years of service at those papers plus the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill and Daily Journal of Vineland. Eighty-three employees accepted the buyouts. The Courier-Post and Daily Journal were not affected by Thursday's layoffs.

- AP

Two former CVS execs in R.I. acquitted of bribery

Two former CVS executives were acquitted of bribing a Rhode Island state senator for legislative favors, dealing a blow to the federal government's probe into corruption in the Statehouse. A jury deliberated about 90 minutes before finding John R. Kramer and Carlos Ortiz not guilty of 23 counts of bribery, mail fraud and conspiracy. U.S. Attorney Robert Clark Corrente said the jury's finding would not stop the probe into influence-peddling in the Legislature. Prosecutors accused the former vice presidents at the Woonsocket-based pharmacy chain of paying former State Sen. John Celona to influence legislation on the company's behalf, then giving him a sham $1,000-a-month consulting contract. The company said in a written statement that it had long believed Kramer and Ortiz did nothing criminal.

- AP

Kerkorian to keep buying Ford stock despite falloff

Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian will stick with plans to buy more Ford Motor Co. stock even after the shares fell 21 percent below his offer, showing support for chief executive officer Alan Mulally's turnaround strategy. Kerkorian's Tracinda Corp. is waiving a provision in his May 9 tender offer that allowed him to withdraw the plan if the shares fell more than 10 percent from the day before the filing, Tracinda said in a statement. The $8.50-a-share proposal is set to expire June 9. Shares of Ford closed up 9 cents at $6.80.

- Bloomberg News

Bank of New York Mellon reports potential breach

Bank of New York Mellon Corp. reported its second potential breach of customer data this year and said it would provide fraud-protection services including insurance of $25,000 to those affected. Personal information contained on storage tapes was lost by third-party couriers in two incidents, the company said in a statement. On April 29, a backup data-storage tape containing images of scanned checks and other payment documents made to Bank of New York Mellon's institutional clients was lost while being moved from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, the company said. On Feb. 27, one of 10 boxes containing unencrypted client information was lost by a data-storage company, Bank of New York Mellon said. The loss affected more than four million people.

- Bloomberg News