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Business news in brief

In the Region

Crackdown on Pa. electricity suppliers' claims

After customers complained, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is cracking down on competitive electrical suppliers who play fast and loose with the language in their marketing efforts. The PUC on Thursday issued new definitions to reduce misleading sales pitches. For instance, some suppliers marketed "fixed-rate" offers but explained in the fine print that the prices were locked in for only one month, which meant they were really variable rates. The PUC will now define a fixed-rate offer as one whose price is locked in for "at least three billing cycles." The PUC is seeking public comment on the proposed changes. More information is available here: About 37 percent of the state's 5.7 million electric customers have switched to alternative suppliers. - Andrew Maykuth

Amtrak renews CEO's contract

Amtrak's board of directors renewed the contract of chief executive Joseph Boardman for two years, citing the railroad's record ridership and revenue under his leadership. Boardman, 65, who was first appointed president and CEO in November 2008, will continue to be paid $350,000 a year. Boardman is now the second-longest serving Amtrak chief in its 42-year history. In announcing the renewal of Boardman's contract, Amtrak board chairman Tony Coscia said stability at the top was important in continuing Amtrak's growth in riders and revenue. - Paul Nussbaum

Pa. offers amnesty on jobless overpayments

Pennsylvania will offer an amnesty program June 1 through Aug. 31 to collect $613 million the state's Department of Labor and Industry is owed in unemployment benefits or taxes. The program covers benefits paid or taxes owed before June 30, 2012. The amnesty covers 130,000 people, who were overpaid $356 million, either because of a mistake or because they submitted false information. Those who submitted false information will have to pay only half of the interest and penalties if they pay before Aug. 31. Those who were overpaid through an error will have to repay only half the amount. The amnesty also covers 50,000 employers who owe $257 million in back taxes. If they pay all of what they owe, they have to pay only half the interest and penalties due. Information is available at - Jane M. Von Bergen

J&J sees busy time ahead for drug applications

Johnson & Johnson says it plans to submit more than 10 new treatments to regulators for approval and 25 applications for additional uses of approved drugs by 2017. The New Brunswick, N.J., company says its pipeline of drugs in late-stage clinical development include a potential hepatitis C treatment being reviewed by regulars, a version of the antipsychotic Invega designed to last three months and new vaccines for flu, rabies, and polio. J&J makes prescription drugs, consumer health products, and medical devices. It says its pharmaceuticals segment has launched 11 new products since 2009. They made up 17 percent of total pharmaceutical sales last year, which is up from 9 percent in 2011. These products include the blood thinner Xarelto, Invega, and J&J's first diabetes treatment, Invokana. - AP

Office landlord buys D.C. building for $133.5M

Office landlord Liberty Property Trust, of Malvern, said it bought an eight-story office building in Washington for $133.5 million. The company has been seeking "well-located acquisitions" in the D.C. market, vice president Ben O'Neil said in a statement. The 291,000-square-foot building at 2100 M St. NW is 77 percent occupied. Tenants include the Urban Institute, George Washington University, the federal government, and retailers. - Reid Kanaley

Report: Downtown Marriott for sale

Host Hotels & Resorts hopes to sell Philadelphia's largest hotel, the 1,400-room, 23-story Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, reports Real Estate Alert, Hoboken, N.J. The newsletter said Host hopes to sell for as much as $325 million, or $231,000 per room, or triple the total price paid for any previous hotel in Philadelphia. Broker is Eastdil Secured. Host officials were not immediately available for comment. - Joseph N. DiStefano


Unemployment applications fall

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell 23,000 last week to 340,000, a level consistent with solid job growth, the Labor Department said. That suggests employers are laying off fewer workers. The decline in claims has coincided with steady job growth over the last six months. - AP

Underwater mortgages holding back market

About 22 million Americans may lack enough home equity to move, keeping property listings tight and limiting sales as the housing market recovers, Zillow Inc. said. Forty-four percent of homeowners with mortgages owed more than their properties are worth or had less than 20 percent equity in the first quarter, the Seattle-based real estate data company said in a report Thursday. Those people probably are locked in to their residences, because listing a house and purchasing a new one generally requires equity of at least 20 percent to meet costs such as a down payment and broker fees, Zillow said. - Bloomberg News

Mortgage rates rise

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said the average rate for the 30-year loan increased to 3.59 percent this week. That's up from 3.51 percent last week. And it is above the rate of 3.31 percent reached in November, the lowest on records dating to 1971. The average on the 15-year loan jumped to 2.77 percent. That's up from 2.69 percent last week. The record low of 2.56 percent was hit May 2. - AP

New-home sales up 2.3% in April

U.S. sales of new homes rose in April and nearly matched the fastest pace in five years, driving the median price to a record high. The gains suggest the housing recovery is strengthening. New-home sales increased 2.3 percent in April from March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 454,000, the Commerce Department said. That's only slightly below January's pace of 458,000, which was the fastest since July 2008. The median sales price jumped 8.3 percent in April from March to $271,600. That's highest on records going back to 1993. The median sales price is not adjusted for inflation. - AP