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Business news in brief

In the Region

Pa. American Water expands

Pennsylvania American Water has acquired the wastewater system of Fairview Township, York County, for $16.8 million. The system has about 4,000 customers, including more than 200 commercial accounts where Pennsylvania American Water already provides water service. The utility, a subsidiary of American Water Works Co. of Voorhees, agreed to invest $13 million in system improvements and reimburse the township for up to $1 million for a sewer-line relocation project related to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Existing rates will stay in force through 2017, and the township said the sale will enable it to shed debt and reduce property taxes. - Andrew Maykuth


Starbucks gift card windfall

The money raked in by Starbucks gift cards is approaching the size of a small country's economy. The company says more than $25 billion has been loaded onto its gift cards since they were launched a decade and a half ago. That's about the gross domestic product of Trinidad and Tobago - a relatively prosperous Caribbean nation of 1.3 million people. A fifth of that amount was loaded onto cards just in the fiscal year ended in October, which points to a big acceleration in recent years. And that snowball is still rolling, with Starbucks saying it's on track for "another record performance" in gift card sales this holiday season. The cards, in addition to giving indecisive shoppers a break, are a critical component of Starbucks' bid for growth. They bring people who might not otherwise go to Starbucks into the store. - Seattle Times

Disney mulls Fusion stake sale

Walt Disney Co. is in talks to sell its half of the Fusion cable TV venture to its partner Univision Communications Inc., according to a source familiar with the discussions. No terms were available, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are ongoing. Monica Talan, a spokeswoman for Univision, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Disney did not return calls seeking comment. Fusion, founded two years ago, was first aimed at young, English-speaking Hispanics in the United States. It has since broadened its target audience to a wider group of millennials. - Bloomberg News

FTC warns against Web ads

The Federal Trade Commission has rolled out new guidelines for websites that want to publish "native ads" - advertisements designed to look like non-advertising content on a Web page. The tactic has become a mainstay of sites such as BuzzFeed, which largely eschews traditional banners for ads that merely blend in with the publication's various listicles, polls, and other content. The Atlantic, Huffington Post, and the New York Times have experimented with native advertising. So has the Washington Post, under a program called BrandConnect. Native ads are said to be more attractive to marketers and publishers because they are more effective at engaging consumers. With traditional banner ads often seen as intrusive and annoying, ads that blend in with other content have emerged as a lucrative alternative. But the format has regulators worried that consumers will be unable to distinguish between editorial content and marketing. Native ads that are deemed "misleading" will risk running afoul of the FTC, which is charged with policing deceptive business practices. - Washington Post

Box office on record track

The record debut this month of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, along with blockbusters like Jurassic World earlier in the year, have put the U.S. movie industry on track to crack $11 billion in ticket sales for the first time ever. The North American box office, which includes U.S. and Canadian theaters, is forecast to rise 6.3 percent to $11.01 billion in 2015, Rentrak Corp. said Tuesday in a statement. That would surpass the record of $10.92 billion set in 2013. - Bloomberg News

Google appeals to automakers

Google's self-driving car technology is attracting top U.S. automakers, as Ford, Fiat Chrysler, and General Motors talk with the company while laying the groundwork for a future with autonomous cars. Ford Motor Co. and Google are discussing working together, including a joint venture to build cars using Google's technology, said a source familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. In October, Mark Reuss, product development chief for GM, said the automaker was "very interested" in exploring ways its manufacturing skills could complement Google's system. - Bloomberg News

King of Beers buys craft brewer

Anheuser-Busch is acquiring Colorado's Breckenridge Brewery, its second U.S. craft beer acquisition announcement (the other being Four Peaks Brewery in Arizona) in less than a week. Founded in 1980, Littleton, Colo.-based Breckenridge's beers are sold in 35 states. The company is on track to produce 70,000 barrels of beer this year, including Agave Wheat, Avalanche Ale, Breck IPA, and Oatmeal Stout. Financial terms of the acquisition, set to close in the first quarter of 2016, were not disclosed. - St. Louis Post-Dispatch