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Business News in Brief

Business news from around the region and elsewhere.


Temple settles with U.S. government

Temple University agreed to pay the U.S. government $412,474 to settle claims stemming from two fraud schemes by a hospital department chairman and three plastic surgeons that netted more than $4.5 million. Joseph J. Kubacki, former chairman of Temple's Ophthalmology Department, was convicted in August on 73 counts of health-care fraud, 73 counts of making false statements, and four counts of wire fraud. Kubacki, also a professor at the medical school and an attending physician at Temple University Hospital, billed U.S. agencies more than $1.5 million, claiming that he had performed services at the hospital that were done by residents when he wasn't there. Temple, which discovered the discrepancies, fired Kubacki in November 2007 and presented evidence to the U.S. Attorney's Office soon after, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said. Kubacki agreed to return $676,100 to the government. Temple's settlement includes a similar case also discovered in 2007 involving three plastic surgeons. Amithaba Mitra, Rhoda Powell and Julia Spears left Temple after the school reported its findings to federal officials. The U.S. Attorney's Office said Mitra, Powell and Spears were attending physicians at the hospital but were not present for critical part of the services for which they submitted claims. — Sam Wood

Slight holiday travel increase forecast

With gas prices a little lower than a year ago, the auto club AAA projects 34.8 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home over the Memorial Day weekend, an uptick of 1.2 percent — or 500,000 travelers — over last year's 34.3 million. But rising gas prices in early spring "significantly squeezed many household budgets," said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Jenny Robinson. People will still travel, but will stay closer to home, and spend less. AAA estimates that more will drive — 30.7 million, a slight increase from 30.3 million who drove a year ago. Nearly nine out of 10 holiday travelers, or 88 percent, will drive. Fewer will fly — 2.5 million air travelers, compared with 2.7 million a year ago. On Tuesday, prices averaged $3.79 a gallon in the five-county Philadelphia area and $3.62 in Gloucester, Camden and Burlington Counties in New Jersey. A year ago, Memorial Day weekend gas prices averaged $3.89 a gallon in the Philadelphia area and $3.73 in South Jersey. — Linda Loyd

Temple proposes bond offering

Temple University Health System has proposed a $320 million bond offering to pay for its pending $85 million purchase of Fox Chase Cancer Center, $20 million in renovations at Fox Chase and Temple's neighboring Jeanes Hospital, $20 million for a parking garage at Temple University Hospital, and $59 million for other capital expenditures. The proposed bond sale, through the Hospital and Higher Education Authority of Philadelphia, would include $106 million to repay 1993 bond debt and $29 million for interest and other expenses, Temple's chief financial officer, Robert H. Lux, said in written testimony presented last week to a Philadelphia City Council committee. Temple health had $317 million in long-term debt on Dec. 31. — Harold Brubaker


Facebook raises IPO range

Facebook Inc. boosted the price range on its initial public offering to seek as much as $12.8 billion, signaling that chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg expects demand for the social network to withstand recent market turmoil. The new range is $34 to $38 a share, a regulatory filing Tuesday shows, indicating a market value of as much as $104.2 billion. Facebook previously proposed selling the shares at $28 to $35 each. — Bloomberg News

Commercial, multifamily loans up

First-quarter commercial and multifamily mortgage loan originations were 36 percent higher than during the same period last year but 12 percent lower than the fourth quarter of 2011, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported. The decrease from fourth-quarter 2011 reflected the industry's usual push to complete deals before year-end, and subsequent drop-offs in first-quarter numbers. "Borrowing and lending on commercial and multifamily properties continues to rebound from the lows seen during the Great Recession," said Jamie Woodwell, the group's vice president of commercial real estate research. — Alan J, Heavens

Realtor's affordability index hits high

The National Association of Realtors' quarterly affordability index reached its highest point since 1970 in the first three months of 2012, the group reported Tuesday. The index shows the median income family, earning just under $61,000, could afford a home costing $325,500 in the first quarter — more than double the national median existing single-family home price of $158,100. The median monthly mortgage principal and interest payment for a median-priced home would take only 13.5 percent of gross income, the group said. — Alan J. Heavens

Builder confidence on the rise

Builder confidence in the market for new single-family homes rose in May to its highest point since the same month in 2007, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, released Tuesday. The home builders group's chief economist, David Crowe, said, "The pace of this emerging recovery could be stronger were it not for the significant impediments that the market continues to face with regard to builder and consumer access to credit, inaccurate appraisals, and more recently, rising materials prices." — Alan J. Heavens

Small increase in retail sales

Lower gas prices in April weren't enough to encourage U.S. consumers to spend much more elsewhere. The Commerce Department said retail sales rose only 0.1 percent last month. After excluding gasoline station sales, consumers increased spending on retail goods by just 0.2 percent. That followed two stronger months in February and March. Some economists say a mild winter led consumers to make purchases earlier in the year, effectively stealing sales from April. — AP

Inventory growth slows in March

U.S. companies restocked more slowly in March, a trend that has helped slow economic growth this year. Companies' inventories rose 0.3 percent in March, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. It was the smallest increase since November. — AP

Villanova names dean of business