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Business news in brief

In the Region

Digital lifts Inquirer circulation

Digital readers more than made up for declines in print newspaper sales to boost year-over-year circulation at The Inquirer by 7.7 percent on weekdays and 5 percent on Sundays, the industry's Alliance for Audited Media reported Thursday. The alliance said average circulation, including print, online and mobile versions of The Inquirer and its Daily News sister paper during the six months ending March 30, was up 23,653, to a total of 330,485, on weekdays, and up 23,753, to a total 501,185 on Sundays. Print circulation of The Inquirer fell 10.1 percent daily, and 10.5 percent Sundays, compared with March 2013 figures, the alliance said, while the Daily News saw weekday print sales fall 13.8 percent. The reintroduction of a weekend edition of the Daily News added to Sunday numbers. Compared with six months ago, weekday circulation for the combined papers and digital versions was up 20,483, or 6.6 percent, and Sunday circulation was up 35,350, or 7.6 percent. - Reid Kanaley

Hospital to end inpatient care

Virtua, South Jersey's largest health system, said it plans to end inpatient care at its facility in Berlin and convert it into "an expanded outpatient and long-term care hub" with 24-hour emergency services. Berlin is the smallest of Virtua's four hospitals, with 95 beds. It had 3,393 inpatient admissions last year, according to bond disclosures. Occupancy at the Berlin facility was 48 percent last year, compared with 61 percent overall occupancy for the system. The changes at Berlin, which are subject to approval by the New Jersey Department of Health, are expected to take a year, Virtua said. - Harold Brubaker

Sallie Mae completes split

SLM Corp., the student-loan giant based in Newark, Del., and known as Sallie Mae, completed its split into a loan servicer and a consumer bank. The separation creates a loan-servicing company called Navient Corp. Navient, which announced in April that its headquarters would be in Wilmington, takes over the servicing of federal government-backed student loans with balances of $103.2 billion and $31 billion of private loans. The new Sallie Mae bank has a portfolio of $6.5 billion in private education loans, the company said. Shares of the new Sallie Mae opened at $9.20 and fell 18 cents, to $9.02. Shares of Navient opened at $16.55 and rose 45 cents, to $17. - Inquirer staff

J&J Snack buys Philly Swirl

J&J Snack Foods Corp., of Pennsauken, said it bought Philly's Famous Water Ice Inc., which operates as Philly Swirl, for an undisclosed price. Philly Swirl, which is based in Tampa, Fla., has about $25 million in annual sales, J&J said. Philly Swirl's founders, Alex Plotkin and Max Lapin, dropped out of Widener University School of Law and moved to Florida to start Philly Swirl in 1992. - Harold Brubaker

Hersha buys Key West hotel

Hotel owner Hersha Hospitality Trust, of Philadelphia, said it agreed to buy the 148-room Parrot Key Hotel & Resort in Key West, Fla., for $100 million. Before the announcement, shares closed up 5 cents, at $5.86. Separately, Hersha said it narrowed a first-quarter loss to $9.5 million, or 5 cents per share, on revenue of $80 million, from a year-ago loss of $13.1 million, or 7 cents per share, on revenue of $65.6 million. - Reid Kanaley

Pa. asks U.S. for $94M

The Pennsylvania Departments of Aging and Public Welfare said it applied for a federal program that would provide $94.2 million for long-term, community-based supports for the elderly and adults with disabilities. If the application is successful, the money would be distributed during 15 months starting in July 1. The federal program, in which 19 states already participate, requires states to improve access to home- and community-based programs. Among other steps, the Corbett administration said, it would improve the "timeliness of eligibility determinations for Medicaid long-term supports." - Harold Brubaker


Auto sales up 8 percent

U.S. auto sales rose 8 percent in April as higher temperatures and sunshine brought hibernating consumers into showrooms. Sales picked up to just under 1.4 million cars and trucks. It was the best April since 2005. Nissan, Chrysler and Toyota were big winners. Nissan sales were up 18 percent, while Chrysler's rose 14. Toyota sales grew by 13 percent. Ford and Volkswagen were the biggest losers. Ford sales fell 1 percent, while VW was off 8 percent. - AP

New Ford CEO takes over July 1

Mark Fields, who helped turn Ford Motor Co.'s North American operations into a sales and profit powerhouse, will take over from Alan Mulally, 68, as CEO on July 1. Fields, 53, was widely seen as Mulally's heir apparent. He has been Ford's chief operating officer since late 2012, and has been running executive meetings and day-to-day operations. Ford wasn't expected to make the transition until year end, but said it moved up the schedule at Mulally's request. - AP

Applications up for jobless aid

The Labor Department says a seasonally adjusted 344,000 people applied for jobless aid last week, up 14,000 from the previous week and the most since late February. Economists had expected a drop. The less-volatile 4-week average rose by 3,000 to 320,000. The number of people applying for jobless aid has now risen three straight weeks. - AP