The Recap: American, US Airways prepare for takeoff

Three months after warning that creating the world’s largest airline could cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars, the Justice Department announced that it had reached a settlement and dropped its opposition to the merger of American Airlines and US Airways. The deal requires the merged airline to relax its stranglehold on Washington’s Reagan National Airport, a mandate that will increase competition and could lower fares for flights to major cities. But it also may end some direct flights to smaller communities, officials said. The airline, which will retain the American Airlines name, will have 44 fewer departing flights from National under the agreement, but it will remain the airport’s major carrier, with 57 percent of all flights.

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The Environmental Protection Agency proposed smaller requirements for biofuel use in 2014, trimming targets for corn-based ethanol for the first time ever and setting ethanol use at 15.21 billion gallons, just less than 10 percent of motor fuel and 16 percent lower than targets established by Congress in 2007. The agency’s proposal angered farm groups, corn ethanol producers and supporters of biodiesel, but it mollified oil companies.

Bill Ackman’s hedge fund-firm, Pershing Square Capital Management, bought a 9.98 percent stake in the common shares of Fannie Mae that aren’t owned by the U.S. government, as well as a 9.77 percent stake in the Freddie Mac shares available to the public. The government owns
80 percent of both agencies since bailing them out in 2008. Also, Fairholme Capital Management, the mutual-fund firm run by Bruce Berkowitz, proposed that it and other preferred shareholders buy from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two insurers of mortgage-backed securities.

Patton Boggs, the Washington law and lobbying powerhouse, has dismissed 10 lawyers and 35 staffers, its second round of reductions this year. The latest departures are intended to save the firm $5.5 million in salary and benefits. Patton Boggs is in talks to merge with Texas-based law firm Locke Lord.

Berkshire Hathaway reported a stake — 40.1 million shares — in Exxon Mobil valued at more than $3.7 billion, as Warren Buffett’s company disclosed its largest new holding since International Business Machines Corp. in 2011.

Amtrak, the U.S.-taxpayer-supported passenger railroad, is losing tens of millions of dollars a year on food and beverage service even after years of cost cutting, its inspector general said.

Forbes Media, the closely held publisher founded by the family of Steve Forbes, is working with Deutsche Bank to explore a sale after getting interest from potential buyers. It reportedly expects at much as $400 million.

Google Books project doesn’t violate copyright law, a judge ruled, dismissing an eight-year-old lawsuit against the world’s biggest search-engine company.

A federal judge rejected a bid by former MF Global Holdings chief executive Jon S. Corzine to dismiss investor litigation seeking to hold him, other executives and many banks responsible for the futures brokerage firm’s rapid collapse. The plaintiffs are led by the Virginia Retirement System.

Google and Hewlett-Packard halted sales of their recently released Chromebook 11 computer after some users reported the device’s charger was overheating.

LivingSocial was back online Thursday after engineers spent the better part of two days working to fix an unspecified internal error that brought down the deal company’s Web site and mobile app.

Kmart is introducing a rent-to-own program charging the equivalent of
100-plus percent annual interest, a move into a business that has drawn criticism for hurting low-income consumers. The lease-to-own program allows customers without credit to take a product home right away, make biweekly payments, then decide whether to buy or return it.

Deals

Under Armour agreed to buy MapMyFitness for $150 million as the Baltimore-based maker of athletic apparel looks to compete with Nike in offering fitness buffs a way to measure their training and performance online.

The Brickman Group, a national landscaping company based in Gaithersburg, has been acquired by KKR for $1.6 billion.

Economy

Janet L. Yellen went before the Senate Banking Committee for her confirmation hearing to become the world’s most powerful economic policymaker. The Federal Reserve has taken meaningful steps to strengthen its scrutiny of the nation’s financial system and prevent another economic crisis, she said. Many of the lawmakers’ questions focused on what the Fed has done to shore up the banking sector and the central bank’s progress in crafting new regulations required under sweeping reforms passed by Congress three years ago. They also challenged Yellen to address ways to limit the dominance of the nation’s largest financial institutions, which have been dubbed “too big to fail.” A committee vote on Yellen’s nomination could come as early as this week.

The U.S. trade deficit widened in September as imports increased to the highest level in 10 months, while exports slipped. The deficit increased to
$41.8 billion, an 8 change from August. Exports slipped for the third month, slipping 0.2 percent to $188.9 billion. Imports rose 1.2 percent to $230.7 billion, the highest level since November. The deficit with China widened to an all-time high of $30.5 billion.

Ireland will exit an international bailout program next month as scheduled, officials said, without the need for follow-up financing from the International Monetary Fund or elsewhere — a first step in ending the IMF’s controversial support for the
17-nation euro zone.

Washington

President Obama relented to pressure from the public and his own party and changed one of the bedrock requirements of the new health-care law to fulfill his promise to allow people to keep their insurance plans if they want. While the move was aimed at solving a problem that was threatening the president’s credibility and public faith in the law, it raised a slew of new questions, including whether insurers would adjust, whether millions of customers would pay higher premiums and whether states would make the fix available.

Transitions

The United States produced more crude oil in October than it imported for the first time since early 1995, the Energy Information Administration said.

Gasoline prices have fallen to their lowest level in 33 months, dropping 55 cents a gallon since February.

— From news services and staff reports

$2.79 billion
Bagged-coffee settlement

Starbucks will pay Mondelez International $2.79 billion to settle a dispute over distribution of the coffee-shop chain’s bagged coffee, as grocery-store sales become a growing part of its business. The dispute began in 2010, when Starbucks offered $750 million to end a deal through which Mondelez, then known as Kraft Foods, distributed its coffee to food retailers. Kraft rejected the offer.

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