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Roundup: PNC says systems normal despite complaints; National Real Estate to lay off 215; gasoline jumps 10 cents; more

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

National Real Estate to lay off 215 employees

National Real Estate Information Services, located in Kennedy, which at one time had more than 1,200 employees, will begin laying off 215 starting Feb. 15, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry. The layoffs come “as a result of the dissolution and windup” of the company, according to a Dec. 17 notice to the state. The company, which provided appraisal and mortgage title and settlement services nationwide, suffered major setbacks in mortgage work during the recession, causing it to lay off hundreds of employees since locating its Pittsburgh headquarters at 290 Bilmar Dr. National Real Estate, which was the result of a 1993 merger between National Real Estate Loan Services and Home Equity Information Services, was an active company for 25 years. Spokesman Tom Lammert could not be reached for comment.

Area gasoline prices jump 10 cents a gallon, AAA says

Gasoline cracked the $3.50 mark again in Western Pennsylvania. The AAA Fuel Gauge said Wednesday that the average price in the region rose by a dime over the past week to $3.504 a gallon. The national, year-end average was $3.60, the highest on record, although AAA said it expects 2013 prices to average less than they did last year. In 2012, prices rose early in the year as political tension with Iran ramped up and oil markets reflected a “fear premium” that increased the national average to a $3.94 high on April 5 and 6. Some local average prices: Pittsburgh, at $3.514, Greensburg, at $3.56 and Butler, at $3.532.

Small business still cautious about borrowing, report indicates

The erratic pace of borrowing by small business owners continued in November — a sign that they were still cautious about hiring. A report released Wednesday by PayNet, which provides credit ratings on small businesses, showed just a 1 percent increase in borrowing in November. That followed an 11 percent jump in October. Borrowing fluctuated throughout 2012. PayNet based its findings on information in its database on the amount of new commercial loans and leases granted to small businesses. The Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index, compiled from PayNet's data, rose to 108.3 in November from October's revised 107.

ArcelorMittal to sell stakein Canadian iron ore operations

ArcelorMittal, the world's biggest steelmaker, will sell a 15 percent stake in one of its Canadian iron ore operations, raising $1.1 billion to help pay off debt at a time of sluggish demand. The company, which makes about 6-7 percent of the world's steel, will sell the stake in ArcelorMittal Mines Canada to a consortium including South Korean steelmaker POSCO and Taiwan-listed China Steel, it said on Wednesday. It is the latest in a series of steps to raise funds as slow global economic growth and spending cuts in Europe dampen demand for steel used in the car and construction industry.

Wendy's follows competitors, introduces new value menu

Wendy's no longer thinks a hamburger has to be 99 cents to be a deal. The fast-food company known for its Frosty shakes and square burgers has replaced its 99-cent value menu with a beefed up array of options called “Right Price Right Size,” with items ranging from 99 cents to $1.99. At a time when costs for meat, cheese and other ingredients are rising, the revamped menu is intended to give budget-minded diners more options, while giving Wendy's more flexibility on pricing. The switch to the “Right Price Right Size” value menu reflects the cost pressures facing fast-food chains. Burger King and McDonald's have already moved past the $1 price point, offering tiered value menus that go up to around $2.

Goldman Sachs sped delivery of $65M in stock grants

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. accelerated delivery of $65 million in stock awards to 10 executives, including CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein, helping them avoid higher tax rates that take effect this year. The awards are restricted stock granted for years prior to 2012, according to 10 separate filings made public at about 8 p.m. New York time on Dec. 31. Each executive surrendered 45 percent to 50 percent of their awards in order to pay taxes, according to the filings. The firm's stock climbed 41 percent in 2012, its first annual gain since 2009. Goldman Sachs, the fifth-biggest U.S. bank by assets, typically delivers executives' restricted stock during January. The decision to speed up the delivery came as Congress debated and passed a bill that would increase tax rates on capital gains and on individuals who make taxable income of $400,000 or more.

Highmark, Coordinated Health settle dispute over payments

Highmark Inc. and Coordinated Health Inc., a Bethlehem-based for-profit hospital system, settled a nearly four-month-long dispute over payments, the two sides said Wednesday. The agreement means that patients with Highmark Blue Shield health insurance will be able to get in-network coverage for hospital services at Coordinated Health's Bethlehem Township and South Whitehall Township hospitals. The new contract began on Jan. 1, 2013, according to a statement. The announcement said the two sides reached a “multi-year contract,” but did not elaborate. In September, Pittsburgh-based Highmark said it ended in-network service with Coordinated Health. During the split, an average patient at Coordinated Health's Bethlehem Township hospital with Highmark insurance would have received perhaps 50 percent reimbursement for services, rather than 80 percent. About 500 Highmark customers had used Coordinated Health's hospital in the township in the year before the break, a Highmark spokesman said then. Coordinated Health operates 14 facilities.

PNC says online service normal despite complaints

Messages on social media sites Facebook and Twitter indicated some PNC Bank customers had trouble accessing the bank's website on Wednesday, but bank spokesman Fred Solomon said the system was operating normally. Several postings complained PNC's online banking services were down again, after previous problems. Solomon said PNC Financial Services Group Inc. “has teams communicating directly with customers to review their concerns.” In recent months, PNC's website has been hit by denial-of-service attacks that overwhelm a site with large volumes of traffic. PNC's site was slowed over several days in December and for two days in late September.

Other business news

• Target, which plans to open a store at South Hills Village Shopping Center in Upper St. Clair in March, will hold a job fair next week to fill 300 job positions at the store. Applications will be taken Thursday, Jan. 10, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, Jan. 11, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Crowne Plaza Hotel, 164 Fort Couch Road. Applicants also can pre-register via the Internet by clicking on Store leaders will conduct pre-scheduled interviews and discuss Target's team-oriented culture.

• Mylan Inc. will produce a generic version of Merck's Maxalt MLT Tablets that are used in the acute treatment of migraine symptoms in adults. Canonsburg-based Mylan said Wednesday it received final Food and Drug Administration approval for 5-milligram and 10-milligram tablets, and that orally disintegrating and immediate-release versions of the drug will be shipped immediately. The company, quoting IMS Health, said one version of the drug had $344.7 million in sales in the year ended Sept. 30.

• Law firm K&L Gates LLP completed its acquisition of Australian national law firm Middletons on Tuesday, extending K&L Gates' reach to a fifth continent. The deal that partners of both firms approved in early December also makes K&L Gates, with a Pittsburgh office, the biggest U.S.-based firm in the Asia-Pacific region with 400 lawyers in 11 offices. Terms weren't disclosed. The combined firm, with more than 2,000 attorneys in 46 offices, will use the K&L Gates name.

• Pennsylvania American Water said Wednesday it acquired a water system that serves the Fernwood Resort in Monroe County, along with the All Seasons Water Co. in Pike County, for a combined $1.2 million. Fernwood consists of 570 timeshare units and six commercial customers, including a hotel, while All Seasons serves about 100 residents, said the water utility, which completed the transactions in the final days of 2012. Pennsylvania American, an American Water Works Co. subsidiary, acquired six water systems last year. The state's largest water utility serves about 2.2 million people.

— Staff and wire reports

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