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Roundup: FirstEnergy citied by NRC; Business leaders split on economy; more

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

FirstEnergy cited by NRC for failure to test system

FirstEnergy Corp. was cited by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday for failing to test on time a shock-absorption system on steam piping on the utility's Unit 2 nuclear reactor at the Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport. According to an NRC letter to FirstEnergy, an unnamed official at the plant in 2007 or 2008 unintentionally miscoded the testing schedule for the “snubbers,” which restrain the pipes in the event of an earthquake. As a result, the snubbers were not tested until a planned refueling outage last fall, instead of during the previous outage in March 2011, when testing should have taken place. The error was not discovered by FirstEnergy until last January because the snubber program official did not disclose the error. That official was terminated early last year, said FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young. She added the utility “took prompt and aggressive action” once the miscoding surfaced. The “actual risk” to the public was low, said NRC regional spokesman Neil Sheehan. The commission did not assess a monetary penalty over the incident, given the “very low-level” nature of the violation, he said

Leaders split on outlook

About 37 percent of Western Pennsylvania business leaders expect the state's economy to improve this year, but 33 percent expect it to worsen, according to a First Niagara Bank poll released on Wednesday. Of the 237 leaders of area businesses, about one-third project flat revenue in 2013, and 38 percent foresee revenue increases. But 28 percent think their revenue will decline this year. “We just came through an election and the fiscal cliff, and still are discussing the debt limit,” said Todd Moules, Western Pennsylvania regional president of First Niagara Bank. “So, there's a lot that weighs on business executives' minds right now.” Only 23 percent of those polled plan to add workers this year, 60 percent plan no work roll changes, and 15 percent expect to reduce worker counts. The bank's fourth annual survey of companies with $5 million to $200 million in annual revenue queried 715 executives statewide, including 237 in Western Pennsylvania.

McDonald's plans ‘Fish McBites'

McDonald's profit rose with the help of its Dollar Menu in the latest quarter. Now the world's biggest hamburger chain is turning to a pipeline of new menu items to boost slumping sales, starting with its “Fish McBites.” The Oak Brook, Ill.-based company is betting that it will be able to fend off intensifying competition and economic pressures with the lineup, which executives said includes new burgers, chicken entrees and breakfast offerings that are performing well in test markets. McDonald's said it earned $1.4 billion, or $1.38 per share, for the quarter. That compares with $1.38 billion, or $1.33 per share, a year ago. Revenue rose to $6.95 billion, up from $6.82 billion.

Feds seek more data from Google

Google is being pulled into an increasing number of police and government investigations around the world as authorities seek to learn more about the people who use its Internet search engine, email and other services. The latest snapshot of law enforcement agencies' efforts to extract personal information from Google emerged in a Wednesday report from the company. Governments presented Google with 21,389 requests for information on 33,634 of its users during the last six months of 2012. The number of requests was up 17 percent from a year earlier. Authorities in the United States delivered nearly 8,438 of the requests, representing nearly 40 percent of the worldwide total.

Ikea to expand globally

Ikea plans to open 25 outlets and recruit 75,000 workers by 2020, as its market share last year increased with annual profit growing 8 percent to $4.3 billion. Ikea Group CEO Mikael Ohlsson said most growth was in China, Russia and Poland, closely followed by the United States and Germany. The Sweden-based company has 338 stores, including one in Robinson, employing 154,000 people in 40 countries. The new outlets will mainly be in Asia.

Wealth advisory firms merge

H.L. Zeve Associates, a wealth advisory firm Downtown, was acquired by JFS Wealth Advisors, an independent wealth management firm in Hermitage in Mercer County, effective Dec. 31. Both names will be in use for the time being. Terms were not disclosed. All eight Zeve employees, including founder and CEO Harvey Zeve and President Steve Lee, have joined JFS, which now employs about 40 people. JFS has more than $1.2 billion in client assets under management, including $325 million formerly Zeve-managed and serves more than 1,000 clients in 30 states.


• First Niagara Financial Group, which operates the region's fifth-largest bank ranked by local branches, said net income fell 8.4 percent to about $53.6 million, or 15 cents a share. Results included a pre-tax charge of $16 million to pay down collateralized mortgage obligations. A year earlier, the bank earned about $58.5 million, or 19 cents a share. Total assets increased 3.7 percent to $36.8 billion as of Dec. 31. First Niagara Bank operates more than 400 branches, including 68 in Western Pennsylvania.

• AmeriServ Financial Inc., Johnstown, said quarterly net income dropped 55 percent to $683,000, compared with nearly $1.51 million a year earlier. Per-share results equaled 4 cents, vs. 7 cents. The current period contained a $550,000 provision for loan losses, compared with a $1.2 million loss-recovery credit a year ago. AmeriServ Financial Bank operates 15 branches, including three in the Pittsburgh region.

• Northwest Bancshares Inc. said quarterly net income increased 7.2 percent to $16.3 million, or 18 cents a share. Net income a year earlier was $15.7 million, or 16 cents a share. Total assets were flat, at $7.9 billion as of Dec. 31. Northwest Savings Bank operates 165 branches in four states, including 28 branches in Western Pennsylvania.

Other business news

• M. Dean Mosites, president of Mosites Construction Co., was elected president of the Master Builders' Association of Western Pennsylvania. He succeeds Robert Landau of Landau Building Co. Steven Massaro of Massaro Corp., is vice president, Anthony F. Martini, of A. Martini & Co. Inc., treasurer, and Jack W. Ramage re-elected executive director.

• NexTier Insurance Services LLC, Butler, said it acquired Armstrong Insurance Associates, Kittanning, effective Dec. 31, for undisclosed terms. NexTier is the full-service insurance agency subsidiary of NexTier Inc., a bank holding company with 16 branches in the Pittsburgh area.

• Gasoline prices in Western Pennsylvania dipped slightly this week, according to AAA East Central. The average price of regular was $3.507 a gallon, down from $3.523 last week. Prices ranged from $3.595 in Altoona and Indiana to $3.338 in New Castle. The national average was $3.310, up from $3.297 a week ago.

• Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, one of Pittsburgh's largest law firms, has opened an office in Newark, N.J., its 11th, and added nine litigators there and in its offices in Boston and White Plains, N.Y. The additional attorneys came from the firm of McGivney & Kluger P.C.

— Staff and wire reports

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