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Business news in brief

In the Region

N.J. jobless rate hits 8.8 pct.

New Jersey's unemployment rate rose to 8.8 percent, the highest rate in almost 17 years, as stimulus spending slowed job losses to a monthly low of 6,200, compared with 16,000 jobs lost in each of the previous six months, the state Labor Department reported. The May rate is up from 8.4 percent the previous month, and an increase from 5.1 percent a year ago, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development said. The U.S. jobless rate is 9.4 percent, a 25-year high. - Bloomberg News

Sales tumble in April and May

Air Products & Chemicals Inc., Allentown, said sales in this quarter's first two months dropped 29 percent on weak industrial-gas demand, more than the 24 percent decline previously reported for April alone. Sales in the tonnage unit declined 41 percent from a year earlier because of lower demand from chemical producers and steelmakers, Air Products said on its Web site. Revenue in the merchant unit, which supplies manufacturers, fell 21 percent, and sales in the electronics and materials segment dropped 28 percent. - Bloomberg News

Sanofi-Aventis to give vaccine to WHO

French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis plans to donate millions of doses of swine-flu vaccine to the World Health Organization for use in poor countries, chief executive officer Christopher Viehbacher said. Sanofi-Aventis, through its Sanofi Pasteur Inc. division, based in Swiftwater, Pa., is one of the world's biggest vaccine-makers. Viehbacher said his company was making a "flexible donation" of a total of 100 million doses of vaccines against swine flu and bird flu. It had committed last June to donating 60 million doses of pandemic vaccine to protect people against the bird-flu virus. - AP

Exelon starts proxy battle for NRG

Exelon Corp., the Chicago parent of Peco Energy Co., Philadelphia, began its proxy fight and extended an exchange offer to win investor support for a proposed $6.2 billion takeover of NRG Energy Inc., Princeton. A solicitation asking NRG owners to expand their company's board and elect nine independent nominees was filed yesterday, and Exelon pushed back the deadline for an offer made directly to stockholders after NRG twice rejected the bid as too low to Aug. 21 from June 26. - Bloomberg News

Plans presented to Kansas agency

Penn National Gaming Inc., Wyomissing, Pa., announced plans for a $564 million Hollywood-themed gambling and entertainment facility in Wyandotte County, Kan., yesterday before the Kansas Lottery Commission. The company plans to spend $410 million for Phase 1 construction that would include a 76,100-square-foot gambling floor, 2,000 slot machines, 58 table games, a 250-room hotel, and three food and beverage outlets. The new operation is to create 2,000 permanent jobs. The company owns and operates a similar-style casino in Grantville, Pa. - Suzette Parmley

CertainTeed to shut Miss. plant

CertainTeed Corp., Valley Forge, announced an indefinite shutdown of its Meridian, Miss., ceiling-tile plant and the layoff of 90 workers there. It says the layoffs will come in 60 days. It announced the shutdown Tuesday. Plant manager Kyle Watts said the economic downturn and sluggish commercial-building business prompted the decision. Watts said production would continue until mid-August and then be consolidated with a sister plant in Michigan. He said 15 employees would remain for distribution and sales. - AP


Watson Pharma to buy Arrow Group

Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc. said it would buy smaller generic-drug-maker Arrow Group for $1.75 billion in cash and stock, getting access to a promising drug candidate pipeline and new markets. Watson, Morristown, N.J., said the combined company would have about $3 billion in annual revenue. It said privately held Arrow was one of the fastest-growing makers of generic drugs, with $647 million in sales in 2008. Arrow owns the U.S. rights to the authorized generic version of Pfizer Inc.'s cholesterol drug Lipitor, the best-selling brand-name drug in the world. The generic is expected to reach the market in November 2011. - AP

Retailer files for bankruptcy

Retailer Eddie Bauer Holdings Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection yesterday, but said a bidder already had agreed to keep most of its 371 stores open, honor gift cards, and retain most employees. Eddie Bauer, known for outdoorsy clothing, said CCMP Capital Advisors L.L.C. had bid $202 million in cash for its assets. Other buyers may also make bids while the company is under court protection. In the Philadelphia area, the company operates four stores. Yesterday's filing was made in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. - AP

Chrysler to restart 7 assembly plants

Chrysler Group L.L.C. says it will resume making vehicles at seven of its North American factories starting June 29. All of the company's factories were shut down May 4, shortly after it went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Chrysler confirmed that factories in Sterling Heights and Warren, Mich.; St. Louis; Toledo, Ohio; Brampton and Windsor, Ontario; and Toluca, Mexico, would restart operations. Production at a Detroit factory resumed Monday. Parts plants that supply the assembly factories also will restart June 29, the company said. - AP

GM CEO: Planning based on costly oil

General Motors' chief executive officer Fritz Henderson says the company is planning future strategies around higher oil prices, betting that crude oil could eventually revisit the $100- to $130-per-barrel cost. Henderson, speaking about the future of energy at the National Summit in Detroit, says he thinks volatility in oil and energy prices will be permanent, and that consumers already assume that oil prices will be higher. - AP

Yields mixed on money funds

The average seven-day yield on taxable money market funds was 0.13 percent this week, down from 0.15 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 was 0.18 percent this week, unchanged from last week. - Rhonda Dickey