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Business news in brief

In the Region

Pep Boys quarterly sales down, profit up

First-quarter sales at Pep Boys - Manny, Moe and Jack were down, but profit was up, boosted by a $5.5 million gain from sale-leaseback transactions. Comparable-store sales - results from stores open at least a year - were down 5.6 percent, with particular sluggishness in the merchandise offering by the Philadelphia automotive parts, accessories and service business. First-quarter sales dropped to $498 million from $539.6 million the prior first quarter. Net earnings increased to $4.7 million, or 9 cents a diluted share, from $3.2 million, or 6 cents a diluted share, in the first quarter of 2007. Pep Boys operates 560 stores and 6,000 service bays. Shares closed up 89 cents, or more than 10 percent, at $9.62. In the last 52 weeks, the share price has ranged from $8.25 to $22.49.

- Jane M. Von Bergen

Gemin X Pharmaceuticals names CEO

Gemin X Pharmaceuticals, Malvern, has appointed Glenn J. Gormley, 54, as president and chief executive officer. Gormley had held senior executive positions at Novartis AG, at AstraZeneca P.L.C. near Wilmington, and at Merck & Co. Inc. in the Philadelphia area. He was most recently global head of clinical development and medical affairs at Novartis. The company specializes in the discovery and development of cancer therapeutics.

- Jane M. Von Bergen


GOP concedes it can't stop jobless-pay extension

Dozens of House Republicans are likely to abandon President Bush on a vote this week to award 13 additional weeks of unemployment compensation to people who have used up their benefits. Republican leaders and staff aides conceded that they were unlikely to be able to prevent Democrats from getting enough votes to override a veto. The legislation would make more than 1 million people immediately eligible for extended benefits, with 3 million more becoming eligible in coming months. A House vote is expected as early as tomorrow. The White House opposes the extension, saying such emergency steps have historically been taken only when the jobless rate jumps considerably higher than the 5.5 percent reported for May.

- AP

A call to extend coupons for digital converters

Some Americans are finding the government-issued coupons used to help pay for digital-television converter boxes are expiring before they can be redeemed, House lawmakers said. Consumers also are having a tough time finding converter boxes, which are sold out in some stores, and should be given more time to buy them even after the coupons expire, several lawmakers said during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing. The government established a $1.5 billion coupon program to help millions of consumers buy converter boxes before the nationwide transition to digital programming in February.

- AP

Three home builders' credit rated 'junk' status

Credit-rating agencies are betting that the housing downturn will deepen well into next year, dragging out home builders' woes. Fitch Ratings Inc. slashed its issuer default ratings for eight home builders, bumping three - Ryland Group Inc., D.R. Horton Inc. and Centex Corp. - into "junk" status. Fitch said its ratings reflected its expectation that the housing slump would extend into next year and hurt prospects for a recovery in the home building sector.

- AP

XTO Energy acquiring Hunt Petroleum

XTO Energy Inc. said it was acquiring privately held Hunt Petroleum Corp. for $4.19 billion in cash and stock in a deal made more attractive by high oil and gasoline prices. The sale would mean the end to the independent Hunt company, which was started by famed Texas wildcatter H.L. Hunt. He was considered one of the wealthiest men in America before his death in 1974. His heirs have fought over billions of dollars in trust fund assets.

- AP

Regulators propose new credit-rating rules

Federal regulators are proposing new rules to stem conflicts of interest and enhance disclosure for Wall Street's credit-rating industry, widely criticized for failing to identify risks in subprime-mortgage investments. The big credit-rating agencies are crucial financial gatekeepers, issuing ratings on the creditworthiness of public companies and securities. The Securities and Exchange Commission is scheduled to vote today at a public meeting to propose rules intended to eliminate conflicts of interest between the agencies and the investment banks that pay them to rate the securities they issue.

- AP

Fed warned any interest-rate rise must be gradual

Any move to increase interest rates to counter rising inflation pressures should be "very deliberate" and gradual, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher said in a speech in New York. The Dallas Fed chief is the only member of the Federal Open Market Committee to dissent three times this year from decisions to lower the overnight bank-lending rate, favoring either no change or less aggressive reduction. Chairman Ben S. Bernanke on Monday said policymakers would "strongly resist" any surge in inflation expectations, delivering his clearest message yet that the central bank is done lowering interest rates.

- Bloomberg News

Sallie Mae assures it will provide student loans

SLM Corp., the educational lender, said it would provide loans to all eligible applicants for the next school year. Sallie Mae will fund "every eligible student-loan application received from every student at every school," the Reston, Va., company said in a statement. The company announced May 21 that it would remain in the federally guaranteed student-loan program after the Department of Education offered a plan to buy student debt. Dozens of college lenders had stopped making loans because the federal government cut subsidies and investors shunned bonds backed by student loans amid a global tightening of credit.

- Bloomberg News

FCC chief calls for free Internet on airwaves

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin says he wants the agency to vote next month on whether to auction unused airwaves that would offer free wireless Internet connections. Martin's proposal calls for the FCC to sell 25 megahertz of airwaves and require the buyer to use some of that spectrum to provide free broadband service. The network would have to reach half of the U.S. population after four years, and 95 percent after 10 years, Martin said last month. Wireless carriers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless say the airwaves may interfere with other networks.

- Bloomberg News

Verizon wins antitrust ruling to buy Rural Cellular

Verizon Communications Inc. won federal antitrust clearance for its $757 million purchase of Rural Cellular Corp. The Justice Department said Verizon must sell assets in Vermont, New York and Washington to preserve competition.

- Bloomberg News