– U.S. manufacturing grows for 21st consecutive month

Manufacturing activity grew for the 21st straight month in April, fueled by a weak dollar that has made U.S. goods cheaper overseas. But the cost of raw materials rose for the fifth consecutive month, a growing concern for many companies.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, said Monday that its index of manufacturing activity dipped to 60.4 in April. That’s down slightly from March and February, the fastest month for expansion in nearly seven years. A reading above 50 signals growth.

Since the beginning of the year, manufacturing has grown at the fastest pace in 27 years, said David Resler, an economist at Nomura Securities. The index has topped 60 for four straight months, evidence that manufacturing remains one of the strongest components of the economy.


Construction spending rises 1.4 percent in March

Builders began work on more office buildings, hotels and factories in March, lifting construction spending after three straight monthly declines.

Construction spending rose 1.4 percent in March, the Commerce Department said Monday. It was the biggest advance since last April and was helped by a rise in spending on home-improvement projects.

The overall increase, however, came after building activity had fallen in February to the lowest level in more than a decade. Even with the advance, activity in March stood at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $768.9 billion, just half the $1.5 trillion pace considered healthy by economists.


Sony online gaming site shut down in new attack

Less than a week after news of a major security breach sparked an uproar, Sony Corp. has shut down its online gaming unit after a hacker infiltrated the network in the second such attack on the company in the past month.

Sony Online Entertainment, known for creating massive multi-player games such as “EverQuest” and “The Matrix Online,” suspended service Sunday night, according to a statement Monday.

Two weeks ago, an attack on Sony’s PlayStation Network and Qriocity music service exposed the personal information of 77 million customers’ accounts. Sony apologized and disclosed Saturday that 10 million credit card accounts may have been compromised during the security breach.


Humana earnings climb 22 percent in first quarter

Humana Inc. said Monday its first-quarter profit rose 22 percent as the health insurer benefited from enrollment gains in its Medicare offerings and slower growth in health care use in its employer-based insurance plans.

In a sign of its growing diversity, the Louisville-based managed care company also doubled pretax income in its health and well-being services segment in the period.

Humana said its first-quarter earnings benefited by 31 cents per share because claims left over from previous quarters came in lower than expected. That was down slightly from its benefit a year ago from slower health care use.

Teva Pharma to acquire Cephalon for $6.8 billion

Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd. will acquire Cephalon Inc. of Frazer, Pa., in a $6.8 billion deal, the two companies announced Monday.

In recent weeks, Cephalon has warded off a hostile takeover attempt by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc.

Valeant’s offer of $73 per share was trumped by Teva’s offer of $81.50 per share for all outstanding shares.

Executives from Teva and Cephalon said they were familiar with each other and had discussed an acquisition in the past. Valeant had prompted them to quickly revisit the topic, they said.