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Business news in brief

In the Region

Fiscal 3d-quarter loss narrows

Rite Aid Corp.

, Camp Hill, Pa., said its fiscal third-quarter loss narrowed as it cut costs, and the drugstore chain refinanced debt to improve its balance sheet. But slumping sales in the front of its stores, which include non-pharmacy items such as food and cosmetics, continued to hurt results. Rite Aid said it lost $86.1 million after preferred dividends, or 10 cents a share, in the three months that ended Nov. 28. That is down from a loss of $248.7 million, or 30 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue fell 2 percent, to $6.35 billion from $6.47 billion. The results beat Wall Street expectations, sending Rite Aid shares up 17 cents, or 12.78 percent, to $1.50.

- AP

Schering settles drug pricing case

Schering-Plough Corp.

will pay $21.3 million to resolve allegations that it inflated prices for Albuterol, causing California's Medi-Cal program to overpay millions in pharmacy reimbursements, according to state officials. A subsidiary of Schering-Plough, now part of

Merck & Co. Inc.

, deliberately inflated the average wholesale price it reported to California for the medicine for asthma and other breathing problems, and other drugs, California Attorney General

Jerry Brown

said in a statement. Schering denied wrongdoing, according to the settlement agreement. Merck, Whitehouse Station, N.J., has large operations in the Philadelphia area.

- Bloomberg News

Merck buys U.K. biotech firm

Merck & Co. Inc.

said it was buying a British biotech company,

Avecia Biologics

, which is working on medicines targeted at forms of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. The companies did not disclose financial terms. Merck spokesman Ian R. McConnell said Avecia Biologics, part of a holding company called Avecia Investments Ltd., employed about 500. A Merck senior vice president,

John T. McCubbins

, said the acquisition was part of a strategy "of expanding our biopharmaceutical expertise and manufacturing capacity." Merck acquired Schering-Plough Corp. in November for $41.1 billion.

- Reid Kanaley

Carbon-capture project planned

Air Products & Chemicals Inc.

, Allentown, said it had won a contract from the

U.S. Department of Energy

to develop a carbon-capture project. The $902,000 contract is for an engineering study and plan to capture, concentrate, and purify carbon dioxide emitted from industrial operations for use in oil recovery. The technology could eventually be used to capture carbon dioxide from Air Products' steam methane reformers at a refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, the company said.

- Reid Kanaley


Panel approves Bernanke nomination

A Senate panel yesterday approved the nomination of Federal Reserve Chairman

Ben S. Bernanke

to run the nation's central bank for another four years. The

Senate Banking Committee

voted, 16-7, to send Bernanke's nomination to the full Senate for consideration. In voting for Bernanke, the panel's chairman, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D., Conn.) said Bernanke's "wise leadership" would mean "better days do lie ahead." Although Bernanke, 56, appears to have enough votes in the Senate to win a second term, six Republicans and one Democrat on the committee did line up against him. They blame him for not spotting problems that led to the financial crisis, failing to protect consumers and supporting Wall Street bailouts.

- AP

Airline wins court order barring strike

Britain's High Court delivered an early Christmas present to about one million travelers by granting

British Airways P.L.C.

an emergency injunction to stop a 12-day strike by its cabin crews. The


labor union deemed it a "disgraceful day for democracy." The strike organized by Unite, which had been due to begin Tuesday, would likely have grounded the majority of BA's planes at a time the loss-making airline normally operates 650 flights and carries 90,000 passengers each day.

- AP

Oracle profit up 13 percent

Oracle Corp.

says that its profit jumped 13 percent in the latest quarter and that it expects the European Union will finally approve its $7.4 billion purchase of

Sun Microsystems Inc.

next month. Oracle, which makes database software, said its revenue from new software licenses rose 2 percent in the quarter that ended Nov. 30. That was better than the company's earlier prediction and indicated corporations are becoming less reluctant to embark on technology projects. Oracle said it earned $1.5 billion, or 29 cents a share, vs. $1.3 billion, or 25 cents a share, a year earlier.

- AP

Smartphone firm boosts profit


Research in Motion Ltd.

says its net income for the third quarter rose 59 percent, as the company attracted new subscribers and sold 10 million phones. The Canadian smartphone manufacturer said it earned $628.4 million, or $1.10 a share, in the quarter that ended Nov. 28. That compares with $396.3 million, or 69 cents a share, in the same quarter a year earlier. Revenue was up 41 percent, to $3.92 billion from $2.78 billion a year earlier. The company's performance beat the expectations of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, who were expecting net income of $1.04 a share and revenue of $3.78 billion.

- AP

Mortgage rates rise slightly

Mortgage rates rose for the second consecutive week, but the number of homeowners who applied for refinancing remained strong. The average fixed rate on a 30-year mortgage was 4.94 percent this week, up from 4.81 percent last week,

Freddie Mac

said. Rates on one-year, adjustable-rate mortgages rose to 4.34 percent from 4.24 percent.

- AP

Legal fees mount in liquidation

A court-appointed trustee and a Manhattan law firm working to unravel

Bernard L. Madoff's

massive fraud have rung up an additional $22.1 million in legal fees. A judge approved the payment in federal Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan. It follows initial payouts of more than $15 million in July. Lawyers at the

Baker & Hostetler L.L.P.

firm say they're following a paper trail that spans the globe while laboring to process more than 16,000 claims seeking to recover billions in losses. Trustee Irving Picard reported last month that he so far recovered about $1.2 billion and sued hedge funds and other large investors for an additional $14.8 billion.

- AP