The Baltimore Sun

Aberdeen Proving Ground signs first BRAC tenant

A business park under construction outside the north entrance of Aberdeen Proving Ground has signed its first tenant related to federal base restructuring, the park's developer said yesterday. Columbia-based Corporate Office Properties Trust said it has a long-term lease with the MITRE Corp. for 54,000 square feet in the first building under way in North Gate Business Park. The three-story building is scheduled for completion in the second quarter of next year. MITRE, which provides systems engineering and information technology support to the government, is expected to bring about 250 jobs to Aberdeen, said Randall M. Griffin, president and chief executive of COPT. When completed in 2011, the $175 million office park is expected to have eight buildings and employ about 4,000 workers at defense contractors moving from Fort Monmouth, N.J., all of which will support the expansion at APG, Griffin said.

Lorraine Mirabella

U.S. mortgage rates fall to record low mark

McLEAN, Va. : Rates on 30-year mortgages set a record for a fifth straight week by dropping to below 5 percent, the lowest mark since Freddie Mac started tracking the data in 1971. Mortgage rates have been dropping since late November, when the Federal Reserve said it was going to pump money into the banking system by buying $500 billion in mortgage-backed securities to get banks to lend more money and perhaps aid the ailing U.S. housing market. Freddie Mac reported yesterday that average rates on 30-year fixed mortgages dropped to 4.96 percent this week, down from the previous record of 5.01 percent established last week. It was the 11th straight weekly drop and way below the rate of 5.69 percent at the same time last year.

Associated Press

UnitedHealth pays $350 million in case

CHICAGO : UnitedHealth Group said yesterday that it will pay $350 million - a record settlement for the health insurance industry - to resolve allegations it fixed a database used to determine rates for patients who chose doctors outside the insurance giant's network. The agreement "contains no admission of wrongdoing," UnitedHealth said. The money will go to fund a settlement with health plan members and providers in connection with claims dating to 1994. The settlement comes two days after the nation's second-largest health insurer agreed to pay $50 million to help establish a new independent pricing database, which the American Medical Association said would help provide accurate and transparent processing of health claims by consumers and their employers.

Chicago Tribune

Osiris gains 2nd FDA OK for early use of Prochymal

Columbia-based Osiris Therapeutics Inc. announced yesterday that the Food and Drug Administration granted the company permission to offer its adult stem-cell therapy called Prochymal to adults with life-threatening graft-versus-host disease. The decision allows Osiris to provide the drug before general marketing begins. The disease is a deadly complication affecting about half of patients who receive bone marrow transplants each year. Under the expanded access program, experimental drugs in late-stage clinical trials are provided to patients under certain circumstances when no alternative treatment is available. Prochymal is in late-stage clinical trials as a treatment for a type of Crohn's disease characterized by chronic intestinal inflammation, and two types of graft-versus-host disease. Last year, the FDA approved Prochymal for an expanded access program for pediatric patients with graft-versus-host disease. Osiris shares rose 87 cents, or almost 5 percent, to close at $18.59 yesterday.

Hanah Cho

Sandy Spring Bank parent to increase reserves

Sandy Spring Bancorp Inc., the parent company of Sandy Spring Bank, expects to increase its reserve for loan losses to about $17.8 million, the Olney-based company said yesterday. That increases the allowance for loan and lease losses to about 2.03 percent of outstanding loans and leases as of Dec. 31, up from 1.54 percent as of Sept. 30. The company said it is increasing its reserves "as a result of internal risk-rating downgrades to existing credits." Additional set-asides have been based on loans in the bank's residential real estate development portfolio, said Daniel J. Schrider, president and chief executive officer. Sandy Spring said it expects to announce fourth-quarter and full-year results Jan. 29.

Lorraine Mirabella

Saks plans to lay off 1,100 employees

NEW YORK : Luxury retailer Saks Inc. said yesterday that is eliminating 1,100 jobs and taking other steps to cut costs by about $50 million to $60 million in 2009 as the retail environment continues to deteriorate. Saks said the eliminated jobs are in both corporate support and store positions and amount to about 9 percent of the company's total work force. A spokeswoman said last night that the job cuts will not have a major impact on workers at the Saks distribution center in Aberdeen. Saks is also eliminating merit-based wage increases in 2009, suspending matching contributions to the company's 401(k) plan for at least one year and suspending benefit accruals for associates who remain in the company's pension plan.

Baltimore Sun staff and news services

New jobless claims rise, economy keeps shrinking

WASHINGTON : The number of newly laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, to a seasonally adjusted 524,000. The figures came a day after the government said retail sales dropped sharply in December and the Federal Reserve issued a gloomy economic assessment. Economists said the reports illustrate that the economy remains stuck in a downward cycle: Consumers initially cut back spending in response to the housing and credit crises, slowing the economy and leading companies to lay off workers, which spurs even more caution among consumers. President-elect Barack Obama's administration hopes a huge stimulus package will jolt the economy back to life. Yesterday, House leaders proposed legislation with $825 billion of federal spending and tax cuts.

Associated Press

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