In the Region

N.J. court clears way for Vioxx class-action suit . . .

A New Jersey appellate court panel opened the door yesterday to a potential class-action lawsuit against Merck & Co. Inc. on behalf of people who took its now-withdrawn pain reliever Vioxx and want the company to pay for tests to detect possible heart ailments. The ruling by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey came as jury selection began in Atlantic City for the next product-liability trial over Merck's onetime blockbuster arthritis pill. That trial, before Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee, is scheduled to begin Monday.

- AP

. . . As company nears contract negotiations with USW

Also, United Steelworkers International president Leo Gerard visited workers at Merck & Co. Inc. in West Point yesterday, a week before they are scheduled to begin negotiations with Merck on a new contract. Steelworkers Local 10-86 represents 1,800 biotech personnel, carpenters, laborers, millwrights, mechanics, janitors and instrument technicians, among others, at the facility. Local vice president Daniel Bangert said issues included health care, retirement and wages. The union's contract expires April 30.

- Jane M. Von Bergen

PJM projects 16.7% power-demand growth in decade

PJM Interconnection L.L.C., the operator of the electric power supply system for 13 states and the District of Columbia, said its peak power demand would grow 16.7 percent over the next 10 years. The average annual growth rate of 1.6 percent in the region means electricity demand will grow 22,861 megawatts, enough to supply nearly 18.3 million homes, PJM said. Peak electric use also will grow 1.5 percent annually in PJM's Mid-Atlantic Region. The region includes the service territories of Atlantic City Electric Co., Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., Delmarva Power & Light Co., Jersey Central Power & Light Co., Metropolitan Edison Co., Peco, Pennsylvania Electric Co., Pepco, PPL Electric Utilities Corp., Public Service Electric & Gas Co., Rockland Electric Co. and UGI Electric Service.

- Bloomberg News

Novavax report on AIDS vaccine sends stock higher

Shares of Novavax Inc. rose as much as 19 percent after the company said it improved the quality and purity of its experimental AIDS vaccine. The shares closed at $4.50, up 53 cents, in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading. It had climbed earlier to $4.71. The Malvern company also said planning had begun on human trials of the vaccine, which uses viruslike particles. The particles mimic the natural virus in structure while not containing the genetic material required for viruses to produce exact copies of themselves or infect.

- Bloomberg News

Tafford Manufacturing's assets sold to new company

Tafford Uniforms of North Wales said it bought the assets of Tafford Manufacturing Inc. from the manufacturing company's former lender. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Tafford Uniforms said it assumed no liability for the manufacturing company's debts. Tafford Uniforms, which was formed to acquire Tafford Manufacturing, is owned by Gene S. Godick and Marc Kohn. Godick was the chief financial officer of Verticalnet Inc., a Malvern supply-management software company.

- Paul Schweizer

Polonia Bancorp opens trading on OTC bulletin board

Shares of Polonia Bancorp began trading yesterday on the over-the-counter bulletin board. The ticker symbol for the Huntingdon Valley banking company is PBCP. Polonia Bancorp was established in the bank's reorganization from the mutual to mutual holding company form of organization. In the initial public offering, the company sold $14.9 million shares at $10 each. In first-day trading, the shares ended at $10.10. The company is the parent of Polonia Bank, which was founded in 1923 and has four branches in Philadelphia and one in Huntingdon Valley.

- Paul Schweizer

Triumph buys aircraft-engine repair and testing firm

Triumph Group Inc., Wayne, has acquired Grand Prairie Accessory Services L.L.C., which repairs, overhauls and tests aircraft engines. Terms were not disclosed. The acquisition is expected to add $7 million in revenue to Triumph's fiscal 2007 results and to add to earnings. Triumph estimates that Grand Prairie's revenue could grow by 15 percent in 2008.

- Bob Fernandez

Elsewhere

Verizon to sell phone lines in 3 New England states

Verizon Communications Inc., the second-largest U.S. local-telephone company, plans to shed phone lines in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont as part of a strategy to focus on its wireless and television businesses. Verizon will spin off the assets, which will then be bought by FairPoint Communications Inc. in a transaction worth $2.72 billion, the companies said. Verizon shareholders will get $1.02 billion in FairPoint stock and own 60 percent of the expanded company. FairPoint's phone lines will jump from about 250,000 to 1.6 million, creating the eighth-largest U.S. telephone provider.

- Bloomberg News

Harrah's and Starwood to develop Bahamas complex

Harrah's Entertainment Inc., the world's largest casino company, and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. signed an agreement to develop the more-than-$2-billion Baha Mar hotel and casino complex in the Bahamas. Harrah's will be a 43 percent owner of the project, and Starwood, the third-largest U.S. hotel operator, will run four hotels with about 2,000 rooms at the development, which is expected to open in 2011, Baha Mar Resorts Ltd., Nassau, Bahamas, said. The companies announced their plans for the joint venture in November 2005.

- Bloomberg News

Centex expects to report loss for last quarter of '06

Home builder Centex Corp., Dallas, said it expected to post a loss in the quarter ended Dec. 31 as it completed fewer sales and recorded fewer net new orders amid softness in the housing market. Centex also said it expected to lose $2 a share in the quarter, including about $150 million of option deposit and walkaway costs, $300 million to write down land values, and $60 million in extra taxes because of a previously disclosed federal audit. Without those costs, the operating loss would be about 75 cents a share, the company said. Analysts were expecting operating income of 81 cents a share, excluding the onetime costs, according to a survey by Thomson Financial.

- AP

NCR raises outlook for 4th-quarter and 2006 profit

NCR Corp. raised its earnings outlook for the fourth quarter, sending the stock of the ATM-maker up 3 percent. NCR said it expected to make 91 cents a share for the quarter ended Dec. 31 and $2.04 a share for 2006. NCR had expected 2006 per-share earnings of $1.90 to $1.95, which included an expense of 4 cents a share from an early-retirement program. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial had forecast a fourth-quarter profit of 80 cents a share and full-year earnings of $1.98 a share.

- AP

Rates rise at auctions of 3-month and 6-month T-bills

The Treasury Department auctioned $17 billion in three-month bills at a discount rate of 4.975 percent, up from 4.940 percent last week. An additional $14 billion in six-month bills was auctioned at a discount rate of 4.950 percent, up from 4.920 percent. The discount rates reflect that the bills sell for less than face value. For a $10,000 bill, the three-month price was $9,874.24, while a six-month bill sold for $9,749.75.

- AP

Average yield for 1-year T-bills up last week to 5.03%

The average yield in the secondary market for one-year Treasury bills, a popular index for making changes in adjustable-rate mortgages, rose to 5.03 percent last week from 4.98 percent, the Federal Reserve said.

- AP