Business news in brief

A sign limiting the purchase of baby milk formula powder hangs on the shelf at a London market. Some British retailers said Wednesday they were rationing purchases of powder after noticing unusually large buys, apparently part of an unofficial export business to China, for parents who want international brands for their babies.
A sign limiting the purchase of baby milk formula powder hangs on the shelf at a London market. Some British retailers said Wednesday they were rationing purchases of powder after noticing unusually large buys, apparently part of an unofficial export business to China, for parents who want international brands for their babies. (KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH / AP)
Posted: April 11, 2013

In the Region

Regional unemployment down

Unemployment in the Philadelphia region fell to an estimated 8.7 percent in February, from 8.8 percent a year earlier, the U.S. Labor Department said. The numbers were not seasonally adjusted. The national unemployment rate in February was 7.7 percent. Rates were lower in February than a year earlier in 287 of 372 metropolitan areas monitored by the department, higher in 69 areas, and unchanged in 16 areas. Yuma, Ariz., had the highest unemployment rate in February, at 25.6 percent. Midland, Texas, had the lowest, 3.2 percent. - Reid Kanaley

PBF buys N. Dakota crude oil

PBF Energy Inc., whose holdings include refineries in Paulsboro, Gloucester County, and Delaware City, Del., announced that it signed an agreement to buy North Dakota crude oil that will be delivered to its Delaware plant by rail. PBF's deal is with Continental Resources Inc., the largest producer and leaseholder in the Bakken Shale formation, allowing the refiner to buy crude at a discount. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. - Andrew Maykuth

Budget includes $20M for dredging

President Obama's proposed federal budget includes $20 million for dredging of the Delaware River. The dredging is designed to deepen the river's shipping channel to 45 feet, from 40 feet, from Philadelphia to the Atlantic. More than 27 miles of the river have been dredged and, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, work on an additional 14-mile stretch will be completed in May. The funding proposal was announced by Rep. Bob Brady (D., Philadelphia) and Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.). - Reid Kanaley

Penn Virginia prices $775M in notes

The gas and oil company Penn Virginia Corp., of Radnor, priced a private placement of $775 million in senior notes due in 2020. The notes bear an annual interest rate of 8.5 percent and the sale is expected to close April 24. The company said it intends to use $400 million of the proceeds toward its pending Eagle Ford Shale acquisition in South Texas. An additional $330 million will go toward a tender offer of 10.375 percent senior notes due in 2016. - Reid Kanaley

Ambulance owner accused of fraud

Federal prosecutors in Philadelphia accused the owner of an ambulance company that operated in Philadelphia, Huntingdon Valley, and Camp Hill, Pa., of submitting $3.6 million in fraudulent bills to Medicare for the ambulance transport of dialysis patients who didn't need it. The loss to the government was $1.5 million, the indictment said. In addition to the owner, Anna Mudrova, the indictment also named the company, Penn Choice Ambulance Inc., and six operators. Individuals who answered the phone in Huntingdon Valley and Camp Hill said the company had no comment. The indictment, released by the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said that Penn Choice often transported two patients at once, one sitting on a stretcher and another on a jump seat, and allegedly paid patients to get them to use Penn Choice, even though they didn't need ambulance services. The alleged fraud occurred from September 2009 through January. - Harold Brubaker

Highmark: $15.2B in 2012 revenue

Highmark Inc., Pennsylvania's largest health-insurance company, reported total revenue of $15.2 billion and turned a profit of $432.2 million last year, though that includes assets gained when it acquired Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware, the Pittsburgh-based company announced. Without the Delaware acquisition, Highmark's profit was $246.5 million, the company said. That's a 45 percent drop from Highmark's $447 million profit in 2011, when the company's revenue was $14.8 billion. - AP

Vishay buys resistor-maker

Vishay Intertechnology Inc., the Malvern semiconductor maker, said it agreed to acquire France-based specialty resistor-maker MCB Industrie S.A. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Vishay said MCB had sales of 23 million euros for the year ended March 31. Vishay shares rose 21 cents to $12.81. - Reid Kanaley

Elsewhere

PC sales plunge

Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 8 software appears to be driving buyers away from PCs and toward smartphones and tablets, the research firm IDC said. That's leading to the fastest drop in PC sales the firm has ever seen. Global shipments of PCs fell 14 percent in the first three months of this year, IDC said. That's the sharpest plunge since the firm started tracking the industry in 1994. Consumers, especially in wealthy countries like the United States, are steering their dollars toward tablets and smartphones rather than upgrading their home PCs. - AP

Fed divided on continued stimulus

A majority of Federal Reserve policymakers want to continue extraordinary bond purchases to help boost the U.S. economy at least through the middle of the year, according to minutes from the Fed's last meeting March 19-20. But many members indicated they want to slow and eventually end the program before the end of the year, as long as the job market and economy show sustained improvement. The Fed's purchases of about $85 billion a month in Treasury and mortgage bonds are intended to lower long-term interest rates and encourage more borrowing and spending. - AP

Conoco backs off on Arctic drilling

ConocoPhillips Alaska said it will not drill in Arctic waters off Alaska's northwest shore in 2014. Environmental groups hailed the decision and said the experience of Royal Dutch Shell P.L.C. in 2012 demonstrated that oil companies are not prepared to drill in the fragile Arctic environment. ConocoPhillips said uncertainties of evolving federal regulatory requirements are the reason for backing off. - AP

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