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Business news in brief

In the Region

J&J hires consultant to fix problems

Johnson & Johnson said it has hired an outside consulting firm to help fix problems that earlier this month triggered a massive recall of children's medicines made at its McNeil Consumer Healthcare plant in Fort Washington. The maker of Tylenol, Motrin and other medications laid out plans to restructure its manufacturing operations in the wake of the latest in a series of recalls that have tarnished the company's household brands. In a posting to employees on its website, J&J says it will share its action plan with the Food and Drug Administration by mid-July. The announcement comes on the same day the FDA ratcheted up scrutiny of J&J, issuing the company a warning letter about lax procedures at a California plant that makes sterilization tools. - AP

Utility files for Salem nuke site permit

PSEG Nuclear filed papers to set the stage for a fourth nuclear reactor at its Artificial Island complex in Salem County. The company, a unit of Public Service Enterprise Group in Newark, N.J., said it applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an early site permit. The permit, which is expected to take about three years to review, would indicate that the location is suitable for a new plant. Should it decide to build a plant in the future, PSEG would file a formal permit application, including design plans. - Andrew Maykuth

AIG weighing sale of local apartments

American International Group Inc. is weighing the sale of its stake in a portfolio of almost 17,000 apartments, mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, purchased when property values were near a peak, said two people with knowledge of the discussions. AIG's real estate arm and Morgan Properties, of King of Prussia, agreed in June 2007 to acquire 86 apartment complexes for about $1.9 billion, including debt. Morgan may buy the majority of the bailed-out insurer's interest in the joint venture, said the people, who asked not to be identified because talks are private. - Bloomberg News

Senators want end for racing subsidy

Two New Jersey state senators who support the state's casinos proposed ending the $30 million annual subsidy that the casinos provide to help keep the horse racing tracks alive. Sen. James Whelan, a former mayor of Atlantic City, said the subsidy should end, even if it means the end of horse racing in New Jersey. State Senate president Stephen Sweeney echoed those comments, saying, "Race tracks have to be able to stand on their own." - AP

Pension fund sues over merger

Psychiatric Solutions Inc. directors and executives were sued by the Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System, which claims they improperly collected $30 million in stock options and grants tied to the company's planned sale to Universal Health Services Inc., of King of Prussia. The $3.1 billion deal was announced on May 17. The board members and officers of PSI, of Franklin, Tenn., did not reveal the options awards before announcing the sale agreement, according to the complaint. PSI officials could not be reached for comment. - Bloomberg News

Shareholders question Merck outlook

Shareholders of Merck & Co. peppered the chief executive at their annual meeting with questions about what the company would do to boost its lagging stock price, raise dividends and improve performance. Richard T. Clark said there were no immediate plans to raise the quarterly dividend, but that Merck's overall strategy should push up its share price. The stock traded at more than $41 in January; it closed Tuesday at $32.06. - AP


First-quarter home prices drop

The Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Index of home prices in 20 U.S. cities fell 3.2 percent in the first quarter from the fourth quarter of 2009, but it was 2 percent higher than in the first quarter last year. The monthly index has registered an improvement in home prices in each of the last 12 months. "There are signs of some renewed weakening in home prices," said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor's. - Alan J. Heavens

Consumer confidence is mixed in May

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index rose to 63.3 this month from April's 57.7 as Americans felt better about the job market. But in the Middle Atlantic states - New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania - the index dropped to 60.9 from 63.0. This region is heavily oriented toward financial services, a sector feeling the effect of Europe's debt problems. Confidence across the U.S. could follow the Middle Atlantic's decline if the European crisis continues. - AP

Summer gasoline prices likely to fall

Tumbling prices for crude oil might reduce U.S. summer gasoline prices by 25 cents a gallon, the federal Energy Information Administration said. The agency's May 11 outlook had predicted gasoline to average $2.94 a gallon this summer, assuming oil to average $84 a barrel. With oil now at about $68 a barrel, the EIA deputy administrator said, gas prices could drop to about $2.69 a gallon. - Bloomberg News

Obama presses for small-business aid

President Obama called on Congress to pass a package of tax changes, credits and loans to help the small businesses that he called the "driving force behind this recovery" in the economy. His plan includes eliminating capital gains taxes for those making long-term investments in small businesses; expanding Small Business Administration loans; creating a lending fund that would target community banks; and creating a small-business credit program for states. - AP

Toyota reports involve 89 deaths

The government said unintended acceleration in Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles may have been involved in the deaths of 89 people over the last decade. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that from 2000 to mid-May, it had received more than 6,200 complaints involving sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles. The reports involve 89 deaths and 57 injuries over the same period. Previously, 52 deaths were blamed on the problem. Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide since last fall because of problems with gas pedals, floor mats and brakes. None of the complaints have been verified. - AP