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Business news in brief

In the Region

FTC seeks more on drugmaker deal

Drugmakers Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp., which are in the process of a $41.1 billion tie-up, said the Federal Trade Commission had asked for more information about the deal. The companies said that they expected the request, made under federal antitrust law, and that they intended to cooperate. Merck, which has major operations in the Philadelphia area, agreed to buy Schering-Plough in March. - AP

Nuclear plant to appeal assessment

PPL Corp., which operates a Northeastern Pennsylvania nuclear power plant, says it plans to appeal an assessment by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission after a security exercise in March. The agency releases little information about security issues, saying it could be used in an attack. PPL, of Allentown, the majority owner and operator of the plant in Luzerne County, plans to meet July 1 with NRC officials at the commission's King of Prussia office in hope of avoiding the additional oversight. "Any time we have a discussion, we can understand exactly what they're looking for and they can understand what our actions were," PPL nuclear spokesman Joe Scopelliti said. "As soon as they told us about the finding, we took immediate corrective action. The issue has been corrected; now, it's more of we'd like the opportunity to discuss it with the NRC." - AP

Companies enter into Marcellus deal

Williams Cos. Inc. says it has agreed with Rex Energy Corp. on a participation and exploration agreement to develop natural gas wells in the Marcellus Shale. Williams will acquire a 50 percent interest from State College, Pa.-based Rex Energy in about 44,000 acres of the Pennsylvania portion of the shale for $33 million. Williams says it will "drill to earn" its 50 percent interest by paying for 90 percent of costs and expenses associated with drilling and completion in the wells in the area. After Williams invests $33 million on behalf of Rex Energy and $41 million in its own costs and expenses and earned its 50 percent interest, the companies will share all costs of joint venture operations. - AP


Mortgage group lowers forecast

The Mortgage Bankers Association lowered its 2009 forecast of mortgage originations by more than $700 billion to $2.03 trillion. Chief economist Jay Brinkmann said the original forecast in March included a caveat that if investors "shied away from Treasuries due to expectations of future inflation and the declining value of the dollar, the effect on rates would be more short-lived and our mortgage originations forecast would prove too optimistic. That has proven to be the case." - Al Heavens

Fla. company to modify loans

Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp., Ocala, Fla., has agreed to modify loans for homeowners and pay $9 million in fines as part of a settlement with Pennsylvania and 13 other state mortgage regulators. The agreement comes after an investigation of nontraditional mortgages originated by the company in 2006 uncovered numerous instances in which applicants' incomes and assets were altered to gain loan approvals, State Banking Commissioner Steve Kaplan said. - Al Heavens

Government launches 'clunkers' site

The federal government launched a Web site for the "cash for clunkers" plan passed by Congress last week, but the rules to oversee the program may take up to a month to craft. The Web site,, offers information on how the process of trading an older vehicle for a more efficient model will work, and urges customers to call dealers to see if they will register for the program. Congress on Thursday sent the $1 billion measure to President Obama for his signature. - Detroit Free Press

SEC charges firm, 4 people with fraud

Federal regulators have charged a brokerage firm called Cohmad Securities and four people with securities fraud, accusing them of funneling billions of dollars from investors into Bernard Madoff's pyramid scheme. The Securities and Exchange Commission announced the civil fraud charges against Cohmad, its chairman, Maurice Cohn, chief operating officer Marcia Cohn, and broker Robert Jaffe. Also named in the SEC's lawsuit was California investment adviser Stanley Chais, who allegedly oversaw three funds that invested all of their assets - nearly $1 billion - with Madoff. Madoff secretly controlled New York-based Cohmad and used it to procure a constant stream of funds for his multibillion-dollar fraud scheme, the SEC said. Allegations against Cohmad and the Cohns "are not based on any facts or evidence that we have seen," said Steven Paradise, an attorney for the company and the Cohns. - AP

United to cut 600 attendant jobs

United Airlines, struggling with dwindling demand because of the recession, plans to eliminate 600 more flight attendant jobs on top of 1,550 cut last year. United's 16,000 attendants will be offered a severance package to try to lure enough employees to leave so the carrier can avoid involuntary furloughs, a spokeswoman said. United accomplished the 2008 cuts without layoffs. Southwest Airlines Co., the discount carrier that has never had layoffs, offered employees a cash bonus and travel privileges to leave the company. The decision deadline for the first companywide buyout offer was set for this month. - Bloomberg News

Short-term T-bill rates rise

Interest rates on short-term Treasury bills rose in yesterday's auction. The Treasury Department auctioned $31 billion in three-month bills at a discount rate of 0.195 percent, up from 0.160 percent last week. An additional $30 billion in six-month bills was auctioned at a discount rate of 0.335 percent, up from 0.290 percent last week. The discount rates reflect that the bills sell for less than face value. For a $10,000 bill, the three-month price was $9,995.07, while a six-month bill sold for $9,983.06. That would equal an annualized rate of 0.198 percent for the three-month bills and 0.340 percent for the six-month bills. - AP

Yields fall for 1-years

The Federal Reserve said yesterday that the average yield for one-year Treasury bills, a popular index for making changes in adjustable-rate mortgages, fell to 0.51 percent last week from 0.56 percent the previous week. - AP