Business Briefs: #1 Cochran dealership heads to North Hills

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#1 Cochran heads to North Hills

The #1 Cochran automotive group, already in markets east, south and west of Pittsburgh, is moving into the North Hills with the acquisition of Billco Motors in Wexford. Financial terms were not disclosed, although the company's announcement said Billco's 50 employees will bring overall Cochran employee count above 750. The acquisition includes a Volkswagen franchise as well as a Mazda dealership, collision center and used car operation. Cochran said it now has 21 dealerships offering 16 domestic and foreign brands through various locations around the region. Last year, Cochran acquired Charapp Automotive in Natrona Heights.

Westinghouse sets design

Westinghouse Electric Co. said it signed a memorandum of understanding with China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. to develop a standard design for Westinghouse's small modular nuclear reactor technology that would be licensable in the U.S. and China.

Alcoa to cut jobs at Canada plant

Alcoa said on Thursday that it will close down two production lines at the Baie-Comeau plant in Canada and cut about 500 jobs there because of lower aluminum prices. A major portion of a planned upgrade for the facility in Quebec is being pushed back by three years, to 2019, the company added.

Gas lowers consumer price index

A plunge in the cost of gas drove down a measure of U.S. consumer prices last month by the most since December 2008. The consumer price index fell 0.4 percent in April from March, the Labor Department said Thursday. The main reason the index fell was that gas prices plunged 8.1 percent. For the 12 months that ended in April, overall prices rose 1.1 percent -- the smallest in 2 1/2 years. Excluding volatile energy and food costs, "core" prices ticked up 0.1 percent last month. Core prices have risen 1.7 percent in the past 12 months.

Many poor SUV crash ratings

Only two of 13 small SUVs performed well in front-end crash tests done by an insurance industry group, with several popular models faring poorly in the evaluations. Subaru's 2014 Forester was the only vehicle to get the top "good" rating in the results released Thursday. The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport was rated as "acceptable." But the new Ford Escape, the top-selling small SUV so far this year, got a "poor" overall rating. Other SUVs getting "poor" ratings were the Jeep Patriot, Buick Encore, Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, the institute said.

Housing starts fall, permits surge

Starts of new U.S. homes fell more than forecast in April to a five-month low, while building permits surged to an almost five-year high. Housing starts slumped 16.5 percent, the most since February 2011, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Building permits increased 14.3 percent, the highest level since June 2008.

Berkshire rating lowered

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. had its credit grade lowered one level by Standard & Poor's after the ratings firm revised its criteria for evaluating insurance holding companies. Berkshire was cut to AA from AA+, S&P said Thursday. The ratings firm said its outlook on all of Berkshire's ratings is negative. Mr. Buffett and Jorge Paulo Lemann's 3G Capital agreed in February to a deal to take Pittsburgh ketchup maker HJ Heinz Co. private. Berkshire will get half the common equity in the new holding company for about $4 billion and preferred shares for another $8 billion.

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