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Roundup: Retailers report higher sales; Hormel to buy Skippy; more

| Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Stores' revenue up 20%; late surge credited

A last-minute in spending may have saved Christmas for stores. Major retailers such as Costco and Nordstrom on Thursday reported better-than-expected revenue in December. That's a relief for stores that can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the winter holiday shopping period that runs from November through the end of December. “I wouldn't be doing cartwheels that it was particularly great or strong holiday season, but it could have been worse given the headwinds,” said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics, a research firm. Twenty retailers reported that revenue at stores open at least a year — a figure that indicates a retailers' health — rose an average of 4.5 percent in December compared with the year-ago period, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That's on the high end of the expected range of 4 percent to 4.5 percent.

Spam maker to buy Skippy

Lunch meat purveyor Hormel Foods is making a run at the supermarket's middle aisles, buying the Skippy peanut butter brand for about $700 million. The Austin, Minn., company, also known for its Spam canned ham, is acquiring Skippy from Unilever's U.S. operation, which also owns brands such as Vaseline and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! Hormel, whose main strength is its domestic sales of Jennie-O, Farmer John and other lunch meats, is trying to expand its portfolio of products and boost its presence overseas. Skippy is the second-largest peanut butter brand, trailing Jif, which is owned by the J.M. Smucker Co. The peanut butter industry is worth $2 billion, according to Hormel.

Tax credit extension may not help

The extension of the federal wind-power tax credit as part of the fiscal cliff package was hailed as a victory by renewable power advocates. But a Bucks County wind-turbine manufacturer, where much of the workforce was laid off in September because of a slowdown in orders, is unlikely to ramp up production any time soon because of the last-minute congressional rescue of the tax credit. “I think it will take a little while for this to work its way to the manufacturing sector, but it will be a stimulus,” said David J. Rosenberg, the vice president of marketing for Gamesa USA, the Spanish wind-turbine manufacturer with U.S. headquarters in Langhorne. The production tax credit was due to expire at the end of 2012, which sparked a frenzy of construction to bring a record amount of wind turbines into operation by Dec. 31. But uncertainty over the continuation of the credit meant that few new orders are in the works, and wind developers and manufacturers have laid off their staffs.

Macy's to close 6 stores, open 9

Macy's said Thursday it will close six underperforming stores in early spring including locations in three downtown areas: in Honolulu, St. Paul and Houston. Other stores being shuttered are Macy's in Pasadena and in Belmont, Mass., and a Bloomingdale's Fashion Show Home Store in Las Vegas. Cincinnati-based Macy's Inc. also said nine new stores are planned or under construction, and after all the changes the company's portfolio will include 798 Macy's stores and 37 Bloomingdale's full line and home stores plus 13 Bloomingdale's Outlets. Macy's also said its same-store sales for December were up 4.1 percent.

Venture to serve shale firms

St. Moritz Security Services and Gentile & Associates, two Pittsburgh area companies, said Thursday they formed a joint venture in the security guard services business that will focus initially on serving companies involved in producing natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays. The venture will provide a combined force of 2,400 security officers, the companies said. Baldwin Borough-based St. Moritz, founded in 1982, operates in all 50 states, with a concentration of guard services employing over 1,700 security officers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. Gentile & Associates, founded in 1983, with headquarters in Monaca, has about 700 uniformed security officers in the Pittsburgh area. The companies said they'll offer companies a full array of security and investigation services.

Judge: GM workers can sue

A federal judge says General Motors Co. workers in Lordstown, Ohio, can move forward with a lawsuit against the automaker and the United Auto Workers. The union's request to dismiss the lawsuit was turned down last week. Nearly 30 workers at GM's Lordstown factory, about 75 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, said they were improperly classified as temporary employees when they lost their jobs and were rehired. They say the change in classification cut their pay by more than 40 percent and are seeking back pay of $3 million to $4 million. A local union official at the Lordstown plant where GM makes the Chevy Cruze has said that the workers weren't misrepresented. Both the union and the company have denied the allegations in court documents.

Boeing delivered 601 planes

Boeing Co. said on Thursday that it delivered 601 planes last year, putting it on track to beat European rival Airbus as the top plane maker for the year. Airbus has beaten Boeing in deliveries in recent years, but Boeing is now cranking out its new 787 and a revamped 747 despite delays for both aircraft. Its delivery total was the most since 1999. Boeing said it booked orders for 1,203 commercial jets — its second biggest order year in the company's history. The big driver for 2012 orders was its plan to put new, more fuel-efficient engines on its workhorse 737. The plane has been a strong seller, and Boeing booked orders for 1,124 last year.

Meakem-lead venture raises $9M

Local venture capitalist Glen Meakem has raised $9 million for a new company called Inc., according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Meakem is co-founder and managing director of Meakem Becker Venture Capital in Sewickley. He and David Koegler, Meakem Becker's chief financial officer, are listed in's filing as officers of the new company, which lists its address in One PPG Place, Downtown. The filing does not describe the business and Meakem could not be reached for comment. Meakem co-founded FreeMarkets Inc., an online auction site for business services that was acquired by Ariba Inc. in 2004 for $493 million. There is no working website at ForeverTrust is described as offering computer software and website for preserving, creating, organizing and retrieving personal documents, data, text, photos, music and video.

Subaru recalls 634,000 vehicles

Subaru is recalling nearly 634,000 cars and SUVs because lights beneath the doors can overheat and catch fire. The recall affects all Outback and Legacy cars from model years 2010 and 2011. Also included are Tribeca SUVs from 2006 through 2012 and Forester SUVs from 2009 through 2012. Subaru says the Tribecas and Foresters were sold before January 2012. The company says moisture can get into puddle lights beneath the doors and cause a short circuit that can melt plastic and cause fires. It says only 54,000 of the vehicles are equipped with the lights and will need to be repaired. But it will send letters to all owners asking them to take their cars to dealers.

Other business news

• Chrissi Brown, manager of a McDonald's restaurant in Monaca, got a surprise visit Thursday from officials of the restaurant chain who bestowed her with the 2012 Ray Kroc Award. The honor named for McDonald's founder recognizes top-performing managers across the country. Brown was nominated by Paul Sweeney, owner/operator of the restaurant. She is among four recipients this year in the Pittsburgh region, and 142 nationwide.

— Staff and wire reports

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