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In brief

UGI PNG gas price drops

Starting Sunday UGI PNG will pass along to customers a nearly 5.5 percent drop in the price it pays to purchase natural gas at the wholesale level.

The average residential heating customer’s monthly bill will decrease to $130.68 from $138.32, the utility said Friday.

By law UGI PNG and other utilities cannot earn a profit on the natural gas commodity cost. Instead they pass that price directly on to customers.

State unemployment at 7%

Pennsylvania’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose by six-tenths of a percentage point in January to 7 percent, according to the Labor and Industry Department. The nationwide rate was 7.6 percent. Since January 2008, Pennsylvania’s rate has risen 2.3 percentage points, while the U.S. rate was up 2.7 percentage points.

The number of people working or looking for work in Pennsylvania rose to 6,446,000 in January, up 5,000 from December. The labor force was up 100,000 compared to January 2008.

GE slashes dividend

General Electric Co. is cutting its third quarter dividend by 68 percent, a move that will save the struggling conglomerate $9 billion a year.

GE, one of the nation’s largest companies, said Friday it will pay shareholders a 10-cents-per-share dividend beginning in the third quarter, down from the company’s original plan of 31 cents.

In a statement Friday, CEO Jeff Immelt said that GE cut its payout to strengthen its balance sheet and provide “additional flexibility.”

Blackstone losses continue

Private equity firm Blackstone Group LP said Friday it continued to lose money during the fourth-quarter as the ongoing credit crisis — which the company’s chief operating officer called a “depression” — hurt the value of its investments.

The buyout shop, which makes its money buying distressed companies and then selling them for a profit, said its “economic net loss,” which excludes compensation charges tied to its June 2007 initial public offering, totaled $827.1 million during the fourth quarter, compared with income of $128.2 million during the same quarter in 2007.

Judge: Scammer not crazy

A federal judge ruled Friday that hedge-fund cheat Samuel Israel III is well enough to stand trial — or plead guilty — for skipping out on prison.

Judge Kenneth Karas, relying on a medical report from the Bureau of Prisons, said there is no reason to think Israel, 49, “is suffering from mental disease or defect.”

Israel’s lawyer, Barry Bohrer, said he and Israel are “working toward” a guilty plea, but he cautioned that given the various twists in the case, “we should not anticipate anything before it happens.”

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