Business news in brief

In the Region

PGW reduces gas bills

Philadelphia Gas Works on Thursday announced it would reduce the commodity charge for residential customers by 6.6 percent for the next three months. The cost for natural gas will decrease from $1.51 per hundred cubic feet to $1.40. The price for PGW's commercial, industrial and municipal customers also decreased, reflecting the lower cost of natural gas. Utilities adjust their commodity charges periodically to reflect changes in market conditions. They are obliged to pass on the cost of energy without markup. The larger part of a PGW bill, the distribution charge, which goes toward the cost of operating the utility, is unaffected. - Andrew Maykuth

New data delay review of anti-clotting drug

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Visitors look at mini-electric car T-10, which has solar panels made of spherical micro-solar cells. The car, developed by Kyosemi Corp. was on display Thursday at the International Photovoltaic Power Generation Expo in Tokyo. The car's solar cells catch sun from all directions and the energy the panels generate is stored in a sub battery pack.

Federal regulators pushed back the deadline for deciding whether to approve an experimental anti-clotting drug developed by Pfizer Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. The companies said the Food and Drug Administration set a new date of June 28 to review information about Eliquis. Pfizer, which has operations in the region, and Bristol-Myers said that after submitting the original application, they sent the FDA information from patient studies. The new data will require more time for review. Eliquis, known as apixaban, is one of three new drugs meant to prevent heart attacks and strokes. - AP

Apartments going up on Chestnut St.

Ground was broken Thursday for a $60 million, 34-story rental apartment building at 2116 Chestnut St. being developed by the John Buck Co. of Chicago. The building, slated for completion by mid-2013, will have 319 residential rental units, 9,150 square feet of retail space on Chestnut Street, and 130 enclosed parking spaces. It is the Chicago firm's first project in Philadelphia. - Alan J. Heavens

N.J. has mortgage loans for first-time buyers

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency said they had $170 million for home mortgage loans at a 30-year fixed interest rate of 3.75 percent for first-time buyers and buyers of property in certain urban areas. In addition, the Housing and Mortgage agency has $250 million for low-interest rate mortgages for members of the New Jersey Police and Firemen's Retirement System who have a minimum of one year of creditable service. The current fixed interest rate is 2.88 percent for a 30-year term, up to $417,000 for an owner-occupied principal residence. Prospective borrowers should contact local lenders or find participating lenders at http://www.state.nj.us/dca/hmfa/consu/buyers/lender_list.pdf. - Harold Brubaker

Slight decline in construction spending

Construction spending declined 0.1 percent in January from December, but was up 7.1 percent from the first month of 2011, the Census Bureau reported Thursday. Private construction was unchanged, with residential building up 1.8 percent and nonresidential down 1.5 percent. Public construction slipped 0.2 percent, the bureau reported.
- Alan J. Heavens

Redbox renews deal for Universal movies

Cut-rate rental DVD kiosk operator Redbox said Thursday it had renewed a deal to carry Universal Pictures movies 28 days after discs are made available for sale. The deal extends through August 2014 a pact first made in April 2010. Hollywood studios have differing views of how long Redbox, a subsidiary of Coinstar Inc., must wait after discs are released for sale. Some worry consumers will rent instead of buying discs, which cuts into profits, while other studios don't see a negative impact from renting and selling at the same time. Comcast Corp.'s Universal and News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox sell discs to Redbox at a discount as long as the kiosk operator waits 28 days after the films are released for sale. - AP

Elsewhere

Job market continues to improve

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest point in four years, a further sign that the U.S. job market is improving. A seasonally adjusted 351,000 people sought unemployment aid, down from 353,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That matches the four-year low reached three weeks ago. The improving numbers show that steadily fewer people are being laid off and suggest that some companies are stepping up hiring. The four-week average of applications also fell last week, to 354,000. That's also the lowest in four years. - AP

AT&T responds to data complaints

AT&T Inc. caved to complaints that it put unreasonable limits on the "unlimited data" plans it offers smartphone subscribers. The company said Thursday it would now slow service for its "unlimited data" subscribers only when they hit 3 gigabytes of usage within a billing cycle. Previously, the company slowed service when subscribers entered the heaviest 5 percent of data users for that month and that area. There was no way to find out ahead of time what the limit was. "Our unlimited-plan customers have told us they want more clarity," AT&T said in a statement. T-Mobile USA is already up front about usage levels. Verizon Wireless has a "5 percent" formula similar to AT&T's. - AP

Kodak to sell photo service to Shutterfly

Eastman Kodak Co. said Thursday it planned to sell its online photo service business to online photo publishing company Shutterfly Inc. for $23.8 million. Eastman Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January and said it was narrowing its focus to its core printer businesses. A bankruptcy court will review the proposed sale of Kodak Gallery. The company said Kodak Gallery has more than 75 million users. Kodak customers who don't want their photos transferred to Shutterfly can opt out and get their photos through free downloads or by buying DVDs from Kodak Gallery. Shutterfly stock climbed $3.79, or 14.1 percent, to $30.70 in aftermarket trading. - AP

Auto sales at their highest since 2008

Auto sales rose substantially in February despite surging gasoline prices, carmakers and analysts said Thursday. The seasonally adjusted selling rate for new vehicles, a closely watched indication of the auto industry's health, was about 15 million last month, the highest level since February 2008. That compares with 13.4 million a year ago and 9.1 million three years ago, in the worst of the recession. Chrysler Group said its sales were up 40 percent from February 2011, and Ford Motor Co. reported a 14 percent gain. General Motors said its sales had increased 1 percent from a year ago. - AP