Business briefs: AG probing high electricity bills

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Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is looking into a recent surge in complaints over high electricity bills, mostly from customers who switched to variable-rate pricing, her office announced Wednesday. While utility customers with fixed rates are mostly protected from dramatic price changes, consumers with variable rates are more vulnerable. Ms. Kane is asking that consumers quickly file complaints with her office. More information is available by calling the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555.

Longhi's '13 compensation: $5.6M

U.S. Steel president and CEO Mario Longhi was paid $5.6 million last year, according to a proxy statement being sent to shareholders in advance of the company's April 29 annual meeting in Pittsburgh. The amount included stock and option awards valued at $4 million. Mr. Longhi was promoted to president and CEO Sept. 1. His predecessor, John P. Surma, received compensation valued at $12.5 million in 2013, up 12 percent from the previous year. Mr. Surma's totals do not include $1 million in previously issued restricted stock that vested last year.

New homes sales rise at fast pace

Sales of new homes increased 9.6 percent in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 468,000, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. That was the fastest pace since July 2008. The rise came as a surprise to economists who had been forecasting a sales drop in January, in part because of a belief that activity would be held back by bad winter storms in many parts of the country. The median price of a new home sold in January was up 3.4 percent from a year ago to $260,100.

GM admits probe deficiencies

Alan S. Batey, president of General Motors North America, said Tuesday that the automaker's nearly decadelong investigation of a defect that has now led it to recall 1.4 million vehicles -- and is related to 13 deaths -- "was not as robust as it should have been." The admission came as the automaker tried to explain to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration why it took so long to recall the vehicles. GM said Tuesday that it was recalling about 748,000 additional vehicles. The models covered by the expanded recall are 2003-07 Saturn Ions, 2006-07 Chevrolet HHRs and 2006-07 Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky models.

Delta frequent-flier changes

Beginning next year, Delta Air Lines will change its frequent-flier program to favor passengers who buy the priciest tickets instead of those who fly the most miles. Virgin America and JetBlue Airways Corp.'s frequent-flier programs award points based on dollars spent, not miles flown. Southwest Airlines Co. overhauled its Rapid Rewards program in 2011 to award free tickets based on money spent, not trips taken.

Pew pushes disclosure box

The Pew Charitable Trusts on Wednesday unveiled a model disclosure box for reloadable prepaid debit cards that it hopes banks will adopt to make it easier for consumers to compare cards and avoid unexpected fees. "Terms should be plainly stated so that consumers can choose the product that best meets their needs," Pew's Susan Weinstock said. Pew is urging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to make the disclosure box mandatory on the packaging for prepaid cards, a relatively new financial product that is growing in popularity. JPMorgan Chase, the nation's biggest bank, immediately announced it would use the box for its prepaid cards.

BlackBerry embraces buttons

Last year, BlackBerry's vision of the future was an all-touch-screen phone. Now John S. Chen, who became chief executive and executive chairman after that plan's spectacular failure, is proposing a return to BlackBerry's past as its path to the future. On Tuesday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Mr. Chen said that in addition to a physical keyboard, the company's next flagship phone, the Q20, would include physical buttons for some functions and a track pad.

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