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Business news in brief

In Balham, South London, a man looks at the details of property for sale on display in the window of a real estate agent. A leading property researcher says house prices in Britain fell by nearly 9 percent in 2008, and are likely to fall further next year as buyers are deterred by the economic slowdown.
In Balham, South London, a man looks at the details of property for sale on display in the window of a real estate agent. A leading property researcher says house prices in Britain fell by nearly 9 percent in 2008, and are likely to fall further next year as buyers are deterred by the economic slowdown.Read moreMATT DUNHAM / Associated Press

In the Region

Peco gas bills to rise in Jan.

Peco Energy Co.

said customers' average monthly residential gas bills will rise 9.8 percent after rate changes that take effect Jan. 1. The average bill of $110.29 will increase by $10.82, the company said, while the average monthly commercial bill of $531.97 will rise by $50.11, or 9.4 percent. Peco's monthly service charge is rising from $7.20 to $10.75 for residential customers. Its gas delivery, or distribution charge, which is based on usage, increases from 28 cents per hundred cubic feet to 36.4 cents. On Dec. 1, Peco decreased the gas commodity charge - which reflects the actual cost of the gas - by 18.8 percent. That change kept gas rates at roughly the same level as December 2007.

- Roslyn Rudolph

Mid Penn Bank raises loss set-aside

Mid Penn Bancorp Inc.

, of Millersburg, the holding company for

Mid Penn Bank

, said it would set aside about $700,000 for possible loan losses in the fourth quarter. That figure compares with $530,000 set aside for such losses during the first three quarters. Also during the quarter ending tomorrow, the bank recorded an expense of about $478,000 related to future severance payments due to the October resignation of chief executive officer Alan W. Dakey.

- Reid Kanaley

PNC to be BlackRock's top holder

PNC Financial Services Group Inc.

will become the top holder of

BlackRock Inc.

's common shares as

Merrill Lynch & Co.

reduces its voting stake. The ownership change is a result of

Bank of America Corp.

's pending acquisition of Merrill Lynch, which will exchange its common stock of money-manager BlackRock for preferred shares and reduce its voting stake to 4.9 percent from 49 percent. PNC Financial, of Pittsburgh, which owned New York-based BlackRock before it went public in 1999, will increase its stake of the common shares to 47 percent from 37 percent.

- Bloomberg News

Interest seen in Conn. newspapers

Connecticut's economic development commissioner said she received responses from five media companies that may be interested in buying some or all of the Connecticut daily and weekly newspapers put up for sale by

Journal Register Publishing Co.

of Yardley. Connecticut sent letters to 13 media companies telling them about Journal Register's plans to close the Herald of New Britain, the Bristol Press and 11 weekly publications if a buyer could not be found by Jan. 12.

- AP

Univest buys Liberty Benefits

Univest Corp. of Pennsylvania

, of Souderton, said it bought

Liberty Benefits Inc.

, a Conshohocken employee benefits broker, to expand its insurance operations. Univest paid $3.53 million at closing and will make additional performance-based annual payments through 2011, with the total price reaching as much as $5 million. Liberty Benefits was founded in 2002 by Ronald R. Flaherty.

- Harold Brubaker


No Ford in Kerkorian's future

Billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian has sold his remaining shares in

Ford Motor Co.

, according to a spokeswoman for his investment company

Tracinda Corp.

Kerkorian's jettisoning of Ford comes just six months after Tracinda boosted its stake in the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker to 6.49 percent. In October, Tracinda had reduced its stake in Ford to less than 5 percent.

- AP

Southwest: Safety fine still up in air

Southwest Airlines

is still negotiating with the

Federal Aviation Administration

over alleged safety violations four months after regulators imposed a $10.2 million penalty. Southwest hopes to reduce the penalty that the FAA proposed for operating thousands of flights with planes that had missed inspections for cracked fuselages. The airline says it doesn't deserve such a large penalty, partly because it reported the missed inspections to regulators and has improved safety procedures.

- AP

Princeton Review sells K-12 unit

Princeton Review Inc.

said it will sell its

K-12 Services

unit to a

CORE Projects & Technologies Ltd.

subsidiary for $9.5 million in cash. Princeton Review, a test preparation and educational support services provider with offices in Princeton, Atlanta, San Francisco and overseas, said in November that it planned to sell the division because it did not fit as well with other services.

- AP

Heater maker files for bankruptcy

DHP Holdings II Corp.

, a maker of heating appliances based in Bowling Green, Ky., filed for bankruptcy with a plan to go out of business because of slowing U.S. sales and difficulty in obtaining credit. DHP sought Chapter 11 court protection in Wilmington,

listing $126.8 million in debt and $132.5 million in assets. DHP's foreign units didn't file. The closely held company's brand names include Reddy Heater, Master, Vanguard, All-Pro, Outdoor Leisure, GloWarm and Comfort Glow.

- Bloomberg News

Madoff trustee requests $28 million

A trustee presiding over the liquidation of Bernard Madoff's investment firm says he plans to spend $28.1 million on employee salaries and other costs. Court papers filed in federal bankruptcy court show that

Bank of New York Mellon Corp.

has agreed to transfer the money to trustee Irving Picard. Anyone objecting was invited to attend a bankruptcy hearing at 10 a.m. today in New York.

- AP

SEC revises oil and gas reporting

The U.S.

Securities and Exchange Commission

approved revisions to its oil and gas reporting requirements, aiming to help investors evaluate investments. "There have been significant changes in technology that have increasingly limited the usefulness of current disclosures to the market and investors," SEC chairman Christopher Cox said.

- Bloomberg News

Six-month T-bill yield at all-time low


Treasury Department

said it auctioned $27 billion in six-month bills at a yield of 0.25 percent, an all-time low. That's down from a rate of 0.285 percent last week. Treasury rates have fallen to historic lows as the worst financial crisis in 70 years has triggered a rush by investors to the safety of government securities. The department also auctioned $26 billion in three-month bills at a yield of 0.05 percent, up slightly from last week's 0.04 percent. The new rate is the highest since three-month bills averaged 0.15 percent on Nov. 24. For a $10,000 bill, the three-month price was $9,998.75 while a six-month bill sold for $9,987.43.

- AP