Business news in brief

Tear gas routs demonstrators after a march by striking miners ended in clashes in La Paz, Bolivia, on Thursday. Members of the Bolivian Central Workers union (COB) began an indefinite strike May 6 over pensions.
Tear gas routs demonstrators after a march by striking miners ended in clashes in La Paz, Bolivia, on Thursday. Members of the Bolivian Central Workers union (COB) began an indefinite strike May 6 over pensions. (JUAN KARITA / Associated Press)
Posted: May 17, 2013

In the Region

Manufacturing down in area

Manufacturing in the Philadelphia region contracted this month after improving slightly in April, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia reported. The Philly Fed survey reflected similar results announced a day earlier by the Federal Reserve in the New York City region. In the Philadelphia region, the bank's survey indicators were uniformly negative this month, but factory managers' responses, reported confidentially to the bank, suggest firms expect overall growth over the next six months, the bank said. The Philly Fed's widely watched index of manufacturing conditions fell from a positive-1.3 in April to minus-5.2 for May. A positive number indicates expansion, a negative number means contraction. Survey indicators for general activity, new orders, and shipments suggest weaker conditions, and firms reported employment reductions during May, the bank said. - Reid Kanaley

Missing nuclear gauge found

A missing gauge containing radioactive material that fell off the back of a truck in West Virginia has been recovered. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said the gauge was recovered in Maryland. It had been picked up by a citizen who contacted authorities. The device was reported missing May 3 by Valley Quarries Inc. of Chambersburg, Pa. Pennsylvania licenses the company to use the gauge. DEP officials say the gauge was not tampered with or damaged, and there was no release of radiation. The gauge is used in road construction for taking ground-depth measurements. - AP

ESPN to televise U.S. Open

ESPN has won rights to televise the U.S. Open, taking the tennis championship from broadcast-TV CBS. CBS had aired the championship games for decades. Financial terms were not released. ESPN will begin exclusive Open coverage in 2015. The deal continues ESPN's push into tennis. Two years ago, ESPN outbid Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp.'s NBC for the U.S. TV rights to Wimbledon. - Bob Fernandez

Elsewhere

Administration issues fracking rule

The Obama administration is proposing a rule that would require companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations. The new fracking rule replaces a draft proposed last year that was withdrawn amid industry complaints that federal regulation could hinder an ongoing boom in natural gas production. The rule relies on an online database used by Colorado and 10 other states to track the chemicals used in fracking operations. FracFocus.org is a website formed by industry and intergovernmental groups in 2011 that allows users to gather well-specific data on thousands of sites. Environmental groups and other critics say the site has loose reporting standards and allows companies to avoid disclosure by declaring certain chemicals trade secrets. - AP

Rolling suitcase? Wait in line

If you're traveling light, you'll be able to board earlier on American Airlines. The airline said people carrying just a personal item that fits under the seat - no rolling suitcase - will be allowed to board before most other passengers. American says the change will speed up the boarding process and allow flights to take off sooner. The airline is trying to improve its on-time performance. Airlines have been seeing a buildup in boarding times since they began charging fees for checked baggage as more people fight for the limited space in overhead bins. - AP

Dow ordered to pay $1.21B

A federal judge ordered Dow Chemical Co. to pay $1.21 billion in damages after it lost a class-action lawsuit that accused it of conspiring to fix prices. Dow says it will appeal. The Feb. 20 jury verdict in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., was for Dow to pay $400 million in damages. The jury decided that Dow had participated in a price-fixing conspiracy for the chemical urethane, which is used in a wide variety of products. Dow, based in Midland, Mich., had asked the judge for a new trial, and also to force the plaintiffs to try their cases individually. Both requests were denied. The final order by Judge John W. Lungstrum, filed on Wednesday, includes a tripling of the jury verdict, as called for by antitrust law. Dow said it believes that the jury's findings required that judgment should have been entered in the company's favor. - AP

Mortgage rates rise

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said the average rate for the 30-year loan increased to 3.51 percent from 3.42 percent last week. That's still near the average of 3.31 percent reached in November, the lowest on records dating to 1971. The average on the 15-year loan rose to 2.69 percent. That's up from 2.61 percent last week, which was the lowest on records going back to 1991. - AP

Big loss at Penney

Troubled retailer J.C. Penney Co. lost $348 million, or $1.58 per share, during the three months that ended on May 4. That compares with a loss of $163 million, or 75 cents per share, in the year-ago period. Revenue dropped 16.4 percent to $2.63 billion. Wall Street had expected a loss of $1.06 per share on revenue of $2.65 billion, according to research firm FactSet. Revenue at stores opened at least a year - one measure of a retailer's health - fell 16.6 percent. That was worse than the 15 percent drop analysts predicted. The results show that Penney is still reeling from the unsuccessful turnaround plan orchestrated by its former CEO Ron Johnson, who was ousted last month after less than a year and a half on the job. - AP

Berkshire downgraded by S&P

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. was downgraded by Standard & Poor's Ratings Services after the credit rating agency changed the way it evaluates insurance companies. The ratings agency dropped its investment-grade counterparty credit rating for the Omaha, Neb.-based holding company and all the debt it guarantees by one notch to AA from AA+. But all of Berkshire's insurance subsidiaries keep their AA+ ratings. S&P said Berkshire's insurance companies, which include Geico and major reinsurance firms like General Re, are riskier than other insurers because their large equity investments can be volatile. The ratings agency said insurance regulators could restrict how much money Berkshire's insurers send to the holding company. The ratings agency also said management succession is a concern at Berkshire. Buffett is 82. - AP

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