Business news in brief

In the Region

Merck profit plunges 58 percent in 4th quarter

Merck & Co. Inc. reported yesterday that fourth-quarter profit plunged 58 percent despite higher revenue as the drugmaker took a slew of charges for restructuring costs, an acquisition and legal reserves, mainly for withdrawn pain reliever Vioxx. Merck reported net income of $473.9 million, or 22 cents a share, down from $1.12 billion, or 51 cents a share, in 2005's last quarter. Based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., Merck said revenue increased 5 percent, to $6.04 billion from $5.77 billion a year earlier. Zocor, a cholesterol drug that had been Merck's top seller, lost patent protection last June. Sales were down 65 percent to $379 million by the fourth quarter and fell 36 percent for the year to only $2.8 billion. Shares closed at $44.91, down 60 cents, or 1.3 percent. For Merck's full financial report, go to http://go.philly.com/Merck4Q.- AP

Outdated decals on many Penna. gas pumps

One in five of the gasoline stations under Pennsylvania jurisdiction had at least one pump with an outdated or missing inspection decal, though there was no evidence that drivers were shortchanged, Pennsylvania's auditor general said. The auditor general reported on results from an audit conducted during two weeks last August, when prices were at or near their peaks. Auditor General Jack Wagner sent 36 auditors to inspect 15,767 pumps at 2,110 stations in all 67 counties. Some were regulated by the state and others by the county or municipality. Auditors found 281 of the 1,358 gas stations under state jurisdiction had at least one pump without a proper inspection decal. City and county stations had fewer violations. Wagner urged the General Assembly to adopt a law requiring inspectors to verify posted octane levels. Pennsylvania is one of only four states without that requirement, he said.- Harold Brubaker

American Water moves closer to being sold

The West Virginia Public Service Commission approved the divestiture of American Water, among the largest water-services providers in the United States, from its German parent RWE AG. Voorhees-based American Water is awaiting decisions from seven more states. If it receives those approvals, RWE is expected to sell American Water, which it acquired for $7.5 billion in 2003, through a public stock offering. American Water employs 7,000 and provides water and wastewater and other related services to more than 17 million people in 29 states and Canada.- Harold Brubaker

Atlas America authorizes 'Dutch Auction' tender offer

Atlas America Inc. said its board of directors had authorized a "Dutch Auction" tender offer for up to 10 percent, or 1,950,000 shares, of its common stock at an anticipated price range of $52 to $54 a share. Atlas said it planned to pay for the shares with cash on hand, including $121.73 million in proceeds from the public offering of its subsidiary, Atlas Energy Resources L.L.C., in December. Edward E. Cohen, chairman and chief executive officer of Atlas America and beneficial owner of 9.2 percent of the company's shares, said the company did not expect any senior officers or directors to tender shares in the offering. Atlas America owns stakes in natural gas and oil producer Atlas Energy and in Atlas Pipeline Holdings L.P.- Harold Brubaker

WPCS International wins $3.1 million in contracts

WPCS International Inc., an Exton engineering-services company, said it had won contracts totaling $3.1 million. The work includes projects for T-Mobile USA Inc., the cellular-telephone company; Harrah's Casino Hotel in

Atlantic City; and New Jersey Natural Gas Co. WPCS helps design and build specialty communications systems and wireless infrastructure for business, government and educational institutions. It had fiscal 2006 sales of $52.1 million.- Paul Schweizer

Violet Packing merges with DeIorio's Frozen Dough

Violet Packing L.L.C., a manufacturer of canned tomato sauce in Williamstown, has merged with DeIorio's Frozen Dough Products, a Utica, N.Y., producer of pizza dough. Production will remain at the plants in Gloucester County and in Utica. Robert Ragusa, who bought Violet Packing in 2004, will be president and chief executive officer of the new company, Violet Packing Holdings. Ragusa would not disclose the value of the deal, but he said Violet employed 21 and DeIorio's employed 65.- Harold Brubaker

Airgas Inc. revenue rises 12 percent

Airgas Inc., Radnor, said fourth-quarter revenue rose 12 percent, to $787.4 million from $702.4 million in the year-earlier period. Earnings per share were 40 cents, compared with 39 cents. The company said debt redemption reduced earnings by 10 cents a share in the quarter.- Bob Fernandez

Elsewhere

Procter & Gamble profit jumps 12 percent

Procter & Gamble Co. said its second-quarter profit jumped 12 percent, and the consumer-products company raised its outlook for the year. The company projected third-quarter earnings of 72 to 74 cents a share while analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expected 74 cents share. The company posted net income of $2.86 billion, or 84 cents a share, in the three months ended Dec. 31 vs. $2.55 billion, or 72 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. Shares closed down 29 cents at $64.59 on the New York Stock Exchange.- AP

Former Cendant officer won't go to jail

A former chief financial officer at Cendant Corp. was spared jail time for his role in an accounting scandal that cost investors and the travel and real estate company more than $3 billion. Cosmo Corigliano, who pleaded guilty to fraud, was sentenced to three years of probation, including six months of home confinement with electronic monitoring, and 300 hours of community service. He faced between 61/2 to just over eight years in prison under sentencing guidelines. Officials said Corigliano was the only cooperating witness who was able to implicate former Cendant chairman Walter Forbes.- AP

Pilots would be allowed to fly until age 65

Airline pilots would be allowed to fly until they turn 65 instead of the current mandatory retirement age of 60 under new rules proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration. At least one member of a flight crew would still have to be under 60 under the proposal announced by agency administrator Marion Blakey.- AP

JetBlue Airways Corp. posts a profit

JetBlue Airways Corp. said it returned to a profit in the latest quarter as strong passenger traffic helped offset high fuel costs. The New York-based low-cost carrier said it earned $17 million, or 10 cents a share, on revenue of $663 million in the fourth quarter. In the same period a year earlier, it lost $42 million, or 25 cents a share, on revenue of $446 million.- Dow Jones Newswires

Tokyo and New York exchanges finish alliance talks

Negotiations for an alliance between the Tokyo and New York stock exchanges have been completed, Japan's main bourse said this morning in Tokyo. An announcement of the results of the talks will be made at a joint news conference later this morning in New York, the Tokyo Stock Exchange Inc. said. TSE President Taizo Nishimuro and NYSE Group Inc.'s chief executive officer, John Thain, have met several times during the last week about forging greater cooperation between the two exchanges. Toru Onoda, a spokesman for the TSE, confirmed that the two exchanges had completed negotiations in New York. The move comes as major bourses in the world race to find global partners.- AP