Business news in brief

A skyline view of Hong Kong, which offers few opportunities for housing, an issue that Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying promises to take on. Many in the Asian financial center are unable to afford a decent place to live, leading some to rent subdivided units or even a metal cage in a room. Plans being kicked around include reclaiming land from the sea or from moving sewage works to underground rock caverns.
A skyline view of Hong Kong, which offers few opportunities for housing, an issue that Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying promises to take on. Many in the Asian financial center are unable to afford a decent place to live, leading some to rent subdivided units or even a metal cage in a room. Plans being kicked around include reclaiming land from the sea or from moving sewage works to underground rock caverns. (VINCENT YU / AP)
Posted: January 17, 2013

In the Region

Fed survey: Economy picking up

The U.S. economy picked up across much of the country last month, boosted by auto and home sales, even as the outlook for unemployment showed few signs of improvement, the Federal Reserve said in its Beige Book business survey, which is based on reports from the Fed's 12 district banks. The report was prepared for discussion at the Federal Open Market Committee's Jan. 29-30 meeting. The Philadelphia and New York districts "rebounded from the immediate impacts of Hurricane Sandy" while Boston, Richmond and Atlanta reported that growth increased slightly in their districts. Yet, the report said that "labor market conditions remained mostly unchanged in all districts." - Bloomberg News

Toll buys Manhattan properties

Toll Brothers Inc., of Horsham, the largest U.S. luxury-home builder, purchased two development sites in Manhattan, expanding its condominium business in the most expensive U.S. urban residential market. Toll bought the sites at 953-961 First Ave., between 52d and 53d streets, and 82 King St., between Hudson and Varick Streets, the company said. Toll also said it was moving into the Washington market with the purchase of a site at 4915 Hampden Lane in Bethesda, Md., where Toll plans a seven-story building with about 60 luxury condominium residences. Purchase prices weren't disclosed. - Bloomberg News and Inquirer staff

EPA sees decline in toxic air releases

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said total toxic air releases in 2011 declined 8 percent from 2010. In the mid-Atlantic region, which includes Pennsylvania and Delaware, the agency recorded a decline of 13.8 percent, or 32.5 million pounds. Among the hazardous air pollutants showing declines were hydrochloric acid and mercury, which the EPA attributed to improved pollution control technologies at coal-fired power plants and a shift to other fuel sources. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said the agency's annual toxic release inventory has recorded a steady decline in chemicals emitted into the air since 1998. - Andrew Maykuth

Celebrities going to Dimock

Artists Against Fracking, a group founded by Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, said Ono, Lennon, Susan Sarandon and other celebrities will tour Dimock, Pa., on Thursday to bring attention to their opposition to hydraulic fracturing, a technology that has fostered the boom in natural gas production in Pennsylvania but that critics say poses ecological dangers. Dimock residents' allegations of well-water contamination from gas drilling operations in Susquehanna County were investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which in July said it found no levels of contaminates in wells it tested that required EPA intervention. - Reid Kanaley

Startups added at incubator

Two technology startups have been added to the Project Liberty Digital Incubator hosted at the Center City headquarters of Interstate General Media, publisher of The Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com. Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania said the startups, interactive-learning provider TuvaLabs and photo-sharing app maker A View From My Seat, will begin a six-month residency funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. A company already in the incubator, tapCLIQ, will extend its residency. - Inquirer staff

Layoffs at Express Scripts

St. Louis-based pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts Holding Co. said it is laying off 332 employees nationwide, including 103 workers at the former Medco Health Solutions site in Bergen County and 12 at its facility in Willingboro. The layoffs are the latest in a series that followed the company's $29.1 billion acquisition of Medco in April. - AP

Elsewhere

Gov't hires firms to sell GM shares

The U.S. government is hiring JPMorgan Securities and Citigroup Global Markets to handle the sale of its remaining stake in General Motors. The Treasury Department still holds 300 million shares of GM common stock that it got as part of a $49.5 billion bailout of the Detroit automaker. The government says it will sell all the GM shares by early in 2014. Even with the sale, taxpayers are likely to lose billions on the bailout. - AP

United raises airfares

United Airlines is trying again to raise prices after a similar move failed earlier this month. United Continental Holdings Inc. said it raised prices $2 each way for flights under 500 miles, $3 for 501 to 1,000 miles, $5 for 1,001 to 2,000 miles, and $10 each way for flights longer than 2,000 miles or involving Hawaii or Alaska. United tried to raise prices by up to $10 per round trip on Jan. 3 but rolled back the increase after others, notably Southwest Airlines Co., kept their fares unchanged. - AP

  

EBay tops analysts' estimates

EBay Inc.'s fourth-quarter earnings topped analysts' projections as bargain-hunting holiday shoppers flocked to its Internet shopping mall and digital payment service. The results served as the exclamation point on the best year yet for eBay. Shares rose in after-hours trading. - AP

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