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Business news in brief

Business news from around the region and elsewhere.


Merck fines total $950M for Vioxx

Merck & Co. was fined $321.6 million by U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris in Boston following the company's December guilty plea to one misdemeanor count related to its promotion and marketing of the painkiller Vioxx, the Justice Department said. In November, Merck settled civil charges, for which it agreed to pay $628.4 million over additional allegations regarding off-label marketing of Vioxx and false statements about the drug's cardiovascular safety. The $950 million total for fines closes the federal case, with some of the money going to state Medicaid plans, the Justice Department said. Vioxx was pulled from the market in 2004. Individual litigation is still pending. — David Sell

Shirt sparks anti-defamation objection

DuPont reports strong earnings …

Strong performances from DuPont Co.'s agricultural and performance chemicals units, combined with its acquisition of Danish food maker Danisco last year, contributed to an increase in first-quarter earnings, the company said. DuPont, based in Wilmington, reported net income of $1.49 billion, or $1.57 per share, for the quarter that ended March 31, compared with $1.43 billion, or $1.52 per share, for the first quarter of last year. Excluding a onetime pretax charge of $50 million for claims related to its weed killer Imprelis, DuPont says it earned $1.61 a share for the quarter. FactSet said polled analysts expected that number to be $1.55 per share. — AP

… and DuPont steps in on resin shortage

DuPont expects additional demand from automakers seeking to work around a shortage of resin used to make braking and fuel parts, chief executive officer Ellen Kullman said. DuPont has capacity to provide additional polymers called Zytel, Delrin and Hytrel to the industry, Kullman said. Automakers including General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Ford Motor Co. and their suppliers are seeking other options for a resin called PA-12 after a March 31 explosion at German chemical maker Evonik Industries AG's factory halved the global source of PA-12. — Bloomberg News

Regional manufacturing cools

Manufacturing in the Philadelphia region expanded at a slower pace in April as orders and sales cooled, showing the industry that led the U.S. out of the recession is decelerating, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's general economic index, which decreased to 8.5, the lowest level since January, from 12.5 in March. Economists forecast the gauge would dip to 12, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. Readings greater than zero signal expansion in the area covering eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware. The Philadelphia Fed's new orders measure fell to 2.7, the lowest level since September, from 3.3 in March, and the shipments gauge dropped to 2.8 from 3.5. Employment was a bright spot in the report as the Philadelphia Fed's jobs gauge increased to 17.9 in April from a reading of 6.8 last month.— Bloomberg News

Loan-service jobs announced in Chester

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority will bring 150 customer-service jobs to Chester, an expansion driven by a 2010 contract to service student loans owned by the federal government, the agency said. PHEAA, which now employs 2,600 in central Pennsylvania, services $70.7 billion in such loans for 4.3 million borrowers. The 14,000-square-foot center in the Wharf office building along the Delaware River is expected to open this fall. Wages for the jobs have not yet been set. A job fair will be held sometime this summer. — Harold Brubaker


Ford announces new China plant

Ford Motor Co. has chosen China for its largest factory expansion program in a half-century, announcing that it would build a $760 million assembly plant in Hangzhou, two weeks after announcing another $600 million plan to build a new assembly plant in Chongqing and less than six weeks after completing a third assembly plant in Chongqing. — New York Times News Service

Next iPhone likely in October

Apple Inc.'s next iPhone is likely to be introduced in October and will feature a new body design and work with faster wireless networks, according to Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos. who had expected an August release for the top-selling smartphone. In a note, Munster wrote that October is more probable after chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. announced that it is having trouble meeting demand for components that the analyst expects to be included in a new iPhone. — Bloomberg News

Mortgage rates stay low

Fixed interest rates rose ever so slightly last week, with the 30-year mortgage rate at 3.90 percent and the 15-year at 3.13 percent, Freddie Mac reported. Last year, the rates were 4.80 percent and 4.02 percent, respectively. The five-year adjustable rate reached an all-time low of 2.78 percent, compared with 3.61 percent a year ago.— Alan J. Heavens

Pickup seen in home remodeling

Home remodeling activity is expected to pick up later this year, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University reported. Stronger pending home sales and continuing low interest rates are contributing to the rise, the center reported, with annual spending on remodeling expected to end 2012 up 5.9 percent from 2011. "Hopefully, we're finally moving beyond simple volatility in the home improvement spending numbers to a period of sustained growth," said Eric S. Belsky, the center managing director, said.— Alan J. Heavens

Positive sign in architecture billing

The commercial sector continues to lead the American Institute of Architects' billings index, which has remained in positive territory for the fifth consecutive month, the group reported. The index reflects a nine- to 12-month lag between architecture billings and construction spending. "We are starting to hear more about improving conditions," said the group's chief economist Kermit Baker. A number of firms continue to struggle, however, "so progress is likely to be measured in inches rather than miles for the next few months." — Alan J. Heavens