In the Region

Region's economy improves

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's November coincident index report showed continued economic improvement in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The index for Pennsylvania rose 0.2 percent. Payroll employment increased, while the unemployment rate decreased. Average hours worked in manufacturing decreased. Pennsylvania's economic activity as measured by the index has risen 2.7 percent over the past 12 months. The index for New Jersey rose 0.5 percent. Payroll employment and average hours worked in manufacturing increased. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate decreased. Overall, New Jersey's economic activity has increased 4.0 percent over the last 12 months - Inquirer Staff Report

Merck sues Actavis unit

Merck & Co. sued Actavis PLC's Warner Chilcott unit seeking to block a generic version of NuvaRing, a contraceptive with annual sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The lawsuit in federal court in Delaware accuses Warner Chilcott of attempting to market the generic before the expiration of Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck's patent in 2018. Actavis, which has global headquarters in Dublin, said in a statement that it may be the first company to file a new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for generic versions of the contraceptive. NuvaRing had sales of $492 million through the third quarter. - Bloomberg News

Elsewhere

Home sales top expectations

Purchases of new U.S. homes exceeded projections in November, holding near a five-year high and showing the housing recovery was gaining momentum even as mortgage rates climbed. Sales declined 2.1 percent to a 464,000 annualized pace, following a revised 474,000 rate in October that was the strongest since July 2008, figures from the Commerce Department showed. The median forecast of 75 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 440,000. Home purchases are strengthening as builders respond to pent-up demand unleashed by employment gains and record-high stock prices. - Bloomberg News

Mortgage applications down

Mortgage applications in the U.S. slumped last week to the lowest level in 13 years as refinancing and purchases slid. The Mortgage Bankers Association's index dropped 6.3 percent in the period ended Dec. 20 from the prior week. The refinance measure fell 7.7 percent to the weakest point since November 2008, while the purchase gauge retreated 3.5 percent to the lowest level since February 2012. The average rate on a 30-year fixed loan rose to 4.64 percent from 4.62 percent the prior week. The average rate on a 15-year mortgage climbed to 3.74 percent from 3.66 percent in the previous period. - Bloomberg News

Fidelity buy approved

Fidelity National Financial Inc., the largest U.S. title insurer, won approval from U.S. antitrust regulators for its $2.9 billion acquisition of Lender Processing Services Inc. The Federal Trade Commission cleared the deal on condition that Fidelity National sell a copy of databases serving six Oregon counties to preserve competition, according to a statement by the agency. Fidelity National, which is based in Jacksonville, Fla., agreed to buy LPS in May to expand in the business of providing and analyzing mortgage data. - Bloomberg News

$15 million gift for law school

Northwestern University School of Law received a $15 million gift, the largest in its history, from Neil Bluhm, a university trustee who graduated from the school in 1962. The largest portion of the gift - $6 million - will be unrestricted. The remainder of the donation will support the school's loan repayment program, clinical education at the school, and other programs. - Bloomberg News

Christmas nears, retail slows

Fewer Americans hit the malls the last week before Christmas even as retailers from Macy's Inc. to Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. poured on the discounts. U.S. store visits plummeted 21 percent and retail sales dropped 3.1 percent in the week through Dec. 22, signaling a lackluster finish for stores' most important selling season, Chicago-based researcher ShopperTrak said. Retailers including Neiman Marcus Group L.L.C. were offering as much as 75 percent off, and some, including Macy's and Kohl's Corp., were keeping stores open around the clock starting Friday. At the same time, Americans are increasingly shopping online. - Bloomberg News

Target talks to state AGs

Target Corp.'s top lawyer Tim Baer held a conference call on Monday with state attorneys general from around the nation to speak about the store chain's data breach that may have compromised information for 40 million credit- and debit-card accounts. Target, the nation's second-largest discounter, also is working with the Secret Service and the Justic Department to find those who stole the data between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15. Neither agency is investigating Target, the company said. A second conference call is scheduled for the week of Jan. 6. - Bob Fernandez