Business news in brief

Taking parts from a wrecked car in a scrapyard near Madrid. Cars sales in Europe this year are forecast to decline by nearly 5 percent to 12.9 million units, according to the Center for Automotive Research, from 15.7 million in 2000. European auto demand has buckled under government austerity measures, rising unemployment, and the deepening of southern Europe’s recession. Spain is expected to enter its second recession in three years this quarter. PAUL WHITE / AP
Taking parts from a wrecked car in a scrapyard near Madrid. Cars sales in Europe this year are forecast to decline by nearly 5 percent to 12.9 million units, according to the Center for Automotive Research, from 15.7 million in 2000. European auto demand has buckled under government austerity measures, rising unemployment, and the deepening of southern Europe’s recession. Spain is expected to enter its second recession in three years this quarter. PAUL WHITE / AP
Posted: April 18, 2012

IN THE REGION

PSEG plans $6.7B in capex spending

Public Service Enterprise Group, the New Jersey energy company that owns the state’s largest utility, plans capital expenditures of $6.7 billion over the next three years, much of it to improve the reliability of the energy transmission system. Ralph Izzo, the company’s chairman and chief executive, told those at the annual shareholders meeting in Newark on Tuesday that about three-quarters of the capital spending will go to Public Service Electric & Gas Co., its utility, and about half of that will pay for transmission projects. — Andrew Maykuth

Radian exits ABS deal

A subsidiary of Radian Group Inc., a Philadelphia mortgage insurer, paid $210 million to end a deal to provide credit protection on $709.6 million in asset-backed securities, the company said in a regulatory filing. Radian said it expected to book a $7 million pretax gain on the termination deal. — Harold Brubaker

Housing starts down in March

Housing starts fell 5.8 percent in March from February, but permits for single-family homes reached a 3?-year high, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. Permits rose 4.5 percent in March from February, but the level remained well below what economists consider normal for a healthy market. Still, economist Joel L. Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisers in Holland, Bucks County, said that “it is just a matter of time before the home construction activity picks up dramatically.” — Alan J. Heavens

Pa. sells $950M in GO bonds

Pennsylvania sold $950 million of general-obligation bonds Tuesday, its largest tax-exempt offering since 2006, with yields at the lowest it has ever achieved. The average cost of the municipal bond offering, with a final maturity in 2032, was 3.01 percent, the lowest rate the state has ever received on general-obligation debt, said Eric Shirk, a spokesman for Gov. Corbett. “We are very pleased with where we priced,” Shirk wrote in an e-mail. “It speaks volumes to the strength of the commonwealth’s credit.” Pennsylvania plans to use the proceeds to cover expenses tied to three state prisons, a judicial center in Philadelphia, environmental projects and fixing bridges, according to Shirk. — Bloomberg News

Two Phila. firms add lawyers

Two Center City law firms on Tuesday announced hires in Philadelphia and other offices around the country. Cozen O’Connor said it had picked up three lawyers from the firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf. The group will be led by partner Michael D. Klein, who will split his time between Harrisburg and Washington, working in the firm’s energy, environmental and public utility practice. Also, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis L.L.P. announced that it had hired 10 new lawyers since Jan. 1 for offices in Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York and Washington. The firm said the new lawyers will bolster the firm’s antitrust, bankruptcy, litigation and product liability practices, among others. — Chris Mondics

ELSEWHERE

ResCap misses interest payment

Ally Financial Inc., whose home-mortgage business has been the subject of bankruptcy speculation, said the unit didn’t make a scheduled interest payment of about $20 million Tuesday on about $473 million of debt. Residential Capital L.L.C. missed the semiannual payment on 6.5 percent notes due in 2013, according to a regulatory filing. The firm has 30 days before a default occurs, according to the filing. ResCap was ranked among the largest originators of so-called subprime and Alt-A mortgages until record defaults led to losses. The U.S. Treasury owns 74 percent of Ally following a bailout of more than $17 billion. — Bloomberg News

First Solar to cut 30 pct. of workforce

First Solar Inc., the largest thin-film solar panel maker, will cut 30 percent of its workforce, or about 2,000 jobs, as demand in Europe slows faster than the company can expand in emerging markets in Asia. Most of the jobs to be eliminated will be at a factory it is closing in Germany and in Malaysia, where the Tempe, Ariz.-based company is idling four production lines. It will pay $245 million to $370 million in severance and related costs. The restructuring will help First Solar shift away from the world’s largest markets in Europe, where competition from cheap Chinese panels and declining subsidies have made rooftop sales unprofitable. Shares closed at $22.96, up $2.14. For the year, First Solar shares are down 32 percent. — Bloomberg News

More disclosure on structured notes

The Securities and Exchange Commission is asking banks that issue structured notes to boost disclosures to investors, including the banks’ own estimates for the securities’ market value at the time of sale. The agency also asked the issuers to explain how they set up a secondary market for the notes, how they use the proceeds raised from sales, and how important the business is to their funding needs. The $46 billion U.S. structured note industry, which sells bank bonds bundled with derivatives for customized bets, has come under scrutiny from regulators for the securities’ complexity and lack of transparency. “The secondary market for structured notes is completely opaque, and people don’t have an accurate understanding how much they are worth the day after you buy them,” said Frank Partnoy, a University of San Diego law professor. — Bloomberg News

Appeals court upholds NLRB ruling

A federal appeals court in Washington upheld a National Labor Relations Board ruling barring a property owner from preventing employees of on-site contractors from distributing union-related material on its property. The case involved a suit filed by New York-New York Hotel and Casino of Las Vegas questioning whether a property owner may bar a contractor’s employees from passing out handbills, according to the opinion. While property owners generally can prohibit nonemployees from doing that, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had ruled that it was up to the NLRB to decide if the ban extended to contractors working on-site. “The board concluded that a property owner generally may not bar employees of an on-site contractor from distributing union-related handbills on the property,” the judges wrote. — Bloomberg News

Union poster measure blocked

In a separate case, the same federal appeals court on Tuesday temporarily blocked the National Labor Relations Board from making millions of businesses put up posters informing workers of their right to form a union. The rule requiring most private employers to display the posters was supposed to take effect on April 30, but the U.S. Court of Appeals said that can’t happen until legal questions are resolved. Business groups have complained the posters are an unfair government effort to promote union organizing. The temporary injunction followed a federal judge’s ruling in South Carolina last week that the labor board exceeded congressional authority when it approved the poster requirement in 2011. — AP

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