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Business news in brief

In the Region

Pa. holiday tree to White House

Nurtured by a third-generation Montgomery County Christmas tree farm, a Fraser fir measuring 181/2 feet tall and 11 feet wide will reach national heights Friday when it is delivered to the White House. Brothers Jay and Glenn Bustard, along with their mother, Virginia, are scheduled to present this year's official White House Christmas tree to Michelle Obama. It will be on display in the Blue Room. Planted in 2001 at one of Bustard's Christmas Trees' farms in Lehighton, Carbon County, the fir was cut down Monday. White House chief usher Angella Reid selected it during a visit Sept. 30. Based in Worcester, Bustard's operates three farms in Pennsylvania and one in Canada. The fir will be the 50th tree to see White House duty since selecting them from the National Christmas Tree Association's grand-champion winners began in 1966. Bustard's was awarded that honor in July with a 7-foot-11 Douglas fir grown at its Worcester farm. That qualified it for consideration as a supplier of the White House tree. - Diane Mastrull

Renault resort again for sale

OceanFirst Bank, of Toms River, N.J., bought Renault Winery Inc. Golf out of bankruptcy last week and will operate the Atlantic County facility under the name Tuscany Resort while trying to sell it, the bank said. Renault filed for bankruptcy protection last November. OceanFirst, which held a $7.9 million mortgage on the property, was planning to have it sold in a sheriff's sale. Renault's total liabilities were $8.6 million. New Vistas Corp., of Northfield, N.J., will manage the property, in Galloway Township and Egg Harbor City. The resort and associated winery employs 80 to 150 people, depending on the season, OceanFirst said. - Harold Brubaker

Moody's: N.J. can't pay share

New Jersey doesn't have enough money to pay for its part of Amtrak's proposed $20 billion Hudson River tunnel and related rail improvements, Moody's Investors Service said. "The state has exhausted its current transportation funding resources and will need to identify new revenues or significantly cut costs to issue debt," according to a report by analysts including Baye Larsen that was released Tuesday. Though New York state also will feel pressure on budgeting and borrowing, it can manage costs over a long period, according to the report. "Although the states have yet to identify specific funding sources, their contributions will ultimately be borne by taxpayers and transportation users in the New York City metropolitan area," Larsen wrote. "Additionally, at least a portion of Amtrak's cost is likely to be paid by riders." - Bloomberg News

Luzerne County loan trouble

The council of Luzerne County, Pa., whose bonds were downgraded to junk Tuesday, approved a short-term loan that will prevent a default next month. The $20 million loan, which will be repaid with state aid when Pennsylvania enacts a budget, will enable the county to make debt payments due Dec. 15, and pay workers and vendors, Linda McClosky Houck, council chair, said Wednesday. The council voted for the measure Tuesday after Standard & Poor's cut the northeastern county's rating two levels to BB-plus, one step below investment grade. A previous rejection of short-term financing and low cash on hand cast doubt on whether the bond payments would be made, S&P said. "We're hoping that the passage of this loan would improve our appearance to lenders at this point," Houck said. - Bloomberg News


Amazon checks passwords has required an undisclosed number of customers to reset passwords to their online accounts after the company said some passwords "may have been improperly stored" on devices. Several Amazon customers reached out to tech-news site ZDNet, saying they received emails from Amazon that the passwords needed to be reset. Amazon representatives did not return requests for comment. In the email Seattle-based Amazon said it did not believe passwords were exposed but was acting "out of an abundance of caution." - Seattle Times

New home sales rise

Sales of new homes recovered in October after suffering a steep drop in September, returning to this year's trend of an improving market for real estate developers and builders. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that new-home sales climbed 10.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 495,000. This rebound followed a 12.9 percent plunge during September. Americans recovered much of their appetite for owning new homes this year. Purchases have surged 15.7 percent year-to-date, benefiting from solid hiring gains and low mortgage rates. - Associated Press

Unemployment claims drop

The number of people seeking unemployment aid dropped sharply last week, the Labor Department said, perhaps a sign that businesses are cutting fewer jobs. Weekly applications for jobless benefits dropped 12,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 260,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, was unchanged at 271,000. The number of people receiving benefits rose 34,000 to 2.2 million. - AP