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Lakeland’s earnings grew in ’12

Lakeland Financial Corp. on Friday reported record annual earnings of $35.4 million for 2012, or $2.15 per diluted common share, a 15 percent increase over the $30.7 million, or $1.88 a share, posted for 2011.

The Warsaw-based parent of Lake City Bank also reported fourth-quarter earnings of $8.6 million, or 52 cents per diluted common share, a 4 percent increase over the $8.26 million, or 50 cents a share, posted for the same three months of the previous year.

Michael Kubacki, chairman and CEO, said the 140-year-old company has set earnings records 24 of the past 25 years.

“We believe that these consistent results are a reflection of our relentless focus on taking care of our customers every day in every office,” he said in a written statement.

Exxon tops Apple as most valuable

Exxon has again surpassed Apple as the world’s most valuable company after the iPhone and iPad maker saw its stock price falter.

Apple Inc.’s stock has been on the decline since the company’s quarterly earnings report Wednesday suggested that its fast growth phase, rare for a company of its size, may be coming to an end.

Apple’s stock fell 2.4 percent to close Friday at $439.88 for a market capitalization of $413 billion. That followed a 12 percent drop Thursday, the biggest one-day percentage drop for the company since 2008.

Exxon Mobil Corp. gained 38 cents Friday to $91.73 for a market capitalization of $418 billion.

Apple first surpassed Exxon in the summer of 2011, displacing the oil company from a perch it had held since 2005.

Court: EPA overstated capacity for biofuels

A federal appeals court has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency is overestimating the amount of fuel that can be produced from grasses, wood and other nonfood plants in an effort to promote a fledgling biofuels industry.

At issue is a 2007 renewable fuels law that requires a certain amount of those types of fuels, called cellulosic biofuels, to be mixed in with gasoline each year. Despite annual EPA projections that the industry would produce small amounts of the biofuels, no production materialized.

There have been high hopes in Washington that the cellulosic industry would take off as farmers, food manufacturers and others blamed the skyrocketing production of corn ethanol fuel for higher food prices.

Those groups said the diversion of corn crops for fuel production raised prices for animal feed and eventually for consumers at the grocery store.

New-home sales dip but best since 2009

Sales of new U.S. homes cooled off in December compared with November but for the entire year were the best since 2009.

The Commerce Department said Friday that new-home sales fell 7.3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 369,000. That’s down from November’s rate of 398,000, which was the fastest in 2 1/2 years.

For the year, sales rose nearly 20 percent to 367,000. That’s the most since 2009, although the increase is coming off the worst year for new-home sales since the government began keeping records in 1963.

Sales are still below the 700,000 level that economists consider healthy.

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