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Roundup: Jobless claims fall; more companies pay early dividends; more

| Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Jobless claims fall sharply

New jobless claims last week fell much more sharply than expected, a reassuring sign that the damaging effects from Hurricane Sandy to the labor market have largely passed. The Labor Department said on Thursday that 370,000 people filed initial claims for unemployment insurance in the week ended Saturday, down from a revised 395,000 in the prior week. The latest claims number was just about the weekly average for the 10 weeks prior to the storms. The Labor Department on Friday will issue its jobs report for November, and that is expected to reflect the disruption to commerce and temporary loss of work after the storm knocked out power and caused severe damage in the Northeast, particularly New York and New Jersey. The economy added 171,000 new jobs in October, according to the Labor Department, but analysts are forecasting a number closer to 100,000 for November because of Hurricane Sandy.

2 more W.Pa. companiesspeed payment of dividends

Two more companies in Western Pennsylvania have accelerated payment of dividends from January to this month on concerns that taxes on those payments will rise next year. Northwest Bancshares Inc., the Warren-based parent of Northwest Savings Bank, said it will pay its stockholders 12 cents a share on Dec. 24 instead of January. Ellwood City-based ESB Financial Corp., parent of ESB Bank, said it will issue a 10 cents a share dividend on Dec. 28 instead of in January. Dick's Sporting Goods Inc., Mine Safety Appliances Co., HFF Inc., FedFirst Financial Corp. American Eagle Outfitters Inc., Mastech Holdings Inc. and Commercial National Financial Corp. have previously said they will accelerate dividends or pay their shareholders an extra cash dividend this month.

Doctors get break fromcash-flush license agency

Pennsylvania doctors are getting some good news when they attempt to renew their two-year state licenses. A spokesman for the Department of State said on Thursday that the State Board of Medicine voted this year to waive the $360 cost for medical doctors. Ron Ruman says the board has about $30 million in the bank, which is more than four times its $7 million-a-year budget. The money pays to investigate complaints and take disciplinary action. It's also used to develop regulations and administer the board. The deadline to renew for 2013 and 2014 is the end of December. Ruman says state law prevents surplus money in that account from being used for other purposes by state government, which is in the midst of a several-year budget crunch.

Martha Stewart to shut down magazine rather than sell it

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., the media and merchandising company founded by Martha Stewart, will shut down its Whole Living magazine early next year after deciding not to sell the publication. “The January/February issue will be the last issue of the magazine,” said Dawn Bridges, a spokeswoman for the New York company. “The content will live on digitally within our website.” Martha Stewart Living said in November that it was entertaining offers for the magazine, part of an effort to slim its operations and focus more on the web. Today's move signals that no bid was high enough to make a deal worthwhile.

Home-based laundry expandsto storefront in West Homestead

Changin' Time Laundry Services has expanded from a home-based cloth diaper and laundry delivery service to a West Homestead storefront where eight washers and 10 dryers now are available for customers to do their own laundry. Customers also can drop off laundry to be washed and folded at the new 405 W. Eighth Ave. location. Founders Maria De La Cueva, Christina Deasy, Michelle Caparoula and Amanda Bates started the business in February in De La Cueva's Greenfield home. They now have 30 regular delivery customers, plus others, and are eyeing other innovations; a passive gray-water system that uses plants to filter toxins out of laundry water, which then could be reused in an on-site garden, for example, Caparoula said.

Big Lots gets subpoena fromU.S. Attorney in CEO stock probe

Big Lots Inc. said CEO Steven Fishman is under investigation by the Justice Department over stock trades he made and that the company received a grand jury subpoena from Manhattan's U.S. Attorney requesting documents relating to the trades. “We are fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney in connection with the subpoena,” the Columbus, Ohio-based discount retailer said in a regulatory filing. Big Lots said the Securities and Exchange Commission is also conducting an inquiry into the matter. While the company has not received a document request from the SEC, it expects one.

Other business news

• The first Courtyard by Marriott hotel to offer a business lobby environment will officially open on Friday in the Cranberry Woods complex in Cranberry. The 125-room hotel, with 16 suites, at 150 Cranberry Woods Drive, was developed by Winegardner & Hammons of Cincinnati, which also owns the Pittsburgh Marriott North at 100 Cranberry Woods Drive.

— Staff and wire reports

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