Business news briefs for 04/08/11
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PPG Industries will continue to remove chromium waste from a former production site in Jersey City, N.J., under the terms of a federal court settlement. A lawsuit filed by the National Resources Defense Council and citizens groups in 2009 charged that PPG -- which along with predecessor companies operated a chromium plant in Jersey City from 1924 to 1963 -- had failed to adequately remove cancer-causing chromium waste from the 17-acre site. Cleanup has started at the site under an earlier court settlement but the new agreement calls for more stringent waste removal and requires PPG to pay an expert to monitor the process. PPG said the settlement was in line with a previous deal to remove the chrome waste.
Health care costs for the region's employers rose 7.4 percent in 2010-11, a drop from the 8.9 percent increase the year before, according to an annual benefits survey conducted by Cowden Associates Inc., Downtown. Regional health care costs average $5,460 for individual coverage and $15,084 for family coverage, compared with national averages of $5,160 for individuals and $13,764 for families. Individual employees also are making a larger contribution to the plan costs, up 2.7 percent from a year earlier, while the family contribution rate was about the same. Nearly 80 percent of the employers surveyed said the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care health overhaul act contributed to the increases. The numbers are based on Cowden's survey of 202 regional firms in January and February.
Directors of PNC Financial Services Group Thursday voted to raise the bank's quarterly common stock dividend to 35 cents per share, up from 10 cents, after getting clearance to increase the payout several weeks ago from the Federal Reserve. PNC follows other big banks in boosting their dividends after receiving the nod from the Fed. PNC, which like many banks cut its dividend to conserve cash during the financial crisis, was paying 66 cents a share before the cut in March 2009. The new dividend rate is payable May 5 to shareholders of record April 18. The bank plans to repurchase up to $500 million of common stock during the rest of the year.
The fate of the former Hilton Pittsburgh will soon be in the hands of creditors. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Jeffery A. Deller gave final approval Thursday to a disclosure statement that is part of Tampa, Fla., cardiologist Kiran C. Patel's plan to reorganize the struggling hotel. The disclosure statement is expected to be mailed by Tuesday, setting up a vote by creditors on the plan to bring what is now known as the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown out of bankruptcy. Judge Deller will hold a confirmation hearing on the plan May 12. David Lampl, attorney for the committee of unsecured creditors, said he expected the plan to be approved, given that it has won the backing of Dr. Patel, lender BlackRock Financial Management Inc. and his committee. Shubh Hotels Pittsburgh LLC filed for bankruptcy in September after BlackRock threatened to foreclose.
Two area Simon Property Group malls, South Hills Village and Ross Park Mall, have launched the Shopkick program, in which customers with the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company's app on their smartphones can get rewards when the signal on their phones is picked up at a participating retailer's store.
LV Air, a new carrier hoping to launch luxury air service to Las Vegas, has Pittsburgh among the 14 cities it is considering for the nonstop flight. Spokesman Bryan Glazer said Thursday that there had been no formal communication between LV Air officials and those at Pittsburgh International Airport. "There's nothing official," he said. "It's something we're examining." LV Air hopes to launch service from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and at least three other cities by fall with Boeing 767 aircraft. Officials are still working on getting jet leasings, working capital and potential casino partners.
The Pittsburgh Technology Council announced its Chief Information Office of the Year awards at a ceremony Thursday. For companies of 10,000 employees or more, the winner was Kenneth Spangler of FedEx Ground. For companies of fewer than 10,000 employees but more than 1,500, the winner was Sue McMurdy of First Commonwealth Financial Corp. For companies with between 250 and 1,500 employees, the winner was John Miller of American Textile Co. For companies with fewer than 250 employees, the winner was Andrew Rabin of CECity. In the nonprofit category, Howard Stern with the city of Pittsburgh took the prize. The CIO Choice award for continued success went to Rex Althoff of Federated Investors Inc.
Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that layoffs are dropping and employers may be hiring more workers. The Labor Department said Thursday the number of people seeking benefits dropped 10,000 to 382,000 in the week ending April 2. That's the third drop in four weeks. Unemployment benefits will continue to be paid in the event of a federal government shutdown, a Labor Department spokesman said.
Oreck Corp. has reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission to stop making "allegedly false and unproven claims" that two of its appliances can reduce the risk of flu and other illnesses, and eliminate virtually all common germs and allergens. The company also has agreed to pay $750,000 to the FTC, the agency reported. The products involved are the Oreck Halo vacuum and the Oreck ProShield Plus air cleaner. The Halo is an upright vacuum cleaner that generates ultraviolet light onto the floor while vacuuming. The ProShield Plus is a portable air cleaner that uses an electrostatic charge.
Rite Aid Corp. said Thursday that its fourth-quarter loss was slightly smaller than a year earlier as its revenue stabilized after more than two years of declines. The Camp Hill, southcentral Pennsylvania, drugstore chain operator said it might reduce its losses significantly in fiscal 2012. Rite Aid reported a net loss of $208.1 million, or 24 cents per share, for the three months that ended Feb. 26 compared with a loss of $210.6 million, also 24 cents per share, a year ago. Revenue held steady at $6.46 billion after declining for 10 consecutive quarters. Rite Aid said it lost $564.9 million, or 64 cents per share, in fiscal 2011. The previous year it lost $515.6 million, or 59 cents per share. Rite Aid's revenue fell 2 percent to $25.21 billion from $25.67 billion. The company forecast a loss of $370 million to $560 million, or 42 cents to 64 cents per share, for fiscal 2012.
Fixed mortgages were essentially unchanged this week, as the average rate on the 30-year fixed loan stayed below 5 percent. Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage rose to 4.87 percent from 4.86 percent the previous week. It hit a 40-year low of 4.17 percent in November. The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage increased to 4.10 percent from 4.09 percent. It reached 3.57 percent in November, the lowest level on records dating back to 1991.
A trial moot court team from Duquesne University's School of Law won the National Student Trial Advocacy Competition in Las Vegas.
First Published April 8, 2011 12:00 am