Other items: Microsoft to open new R&D center in Ireland; Bookstore debut marks 35th year for Seattle's Best Coffee; and more.

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Puget Energy expects to earn between $1.30 and $1.40 a share from continuing operations this year and between $1.40 and $1.55 a share next year, the company announced yesterday.


The Bellevue-based utility will host a conference call today at 7 a.m. to discuss the company’s 2005 and 2006 earnings guidance. The conference call will also be broadcast on Puget Energy’s Web site and archived for two weeks at www.pse.com.

Microsoft



New R&D center to open in Ireland

DUBLIN, Ireland — Microsoft announced plans yesterday to open a new research and development center in Ireland to design parts of the next edition of its Windows operating system, code-named Longhorn.

The announcement came during 20th anniversary celebrations of Microsoft’s 1985 arrival in Dublin. The software giant employs 1,200 people in suburban south Dublin and has made Ireland one of its main European bases for customer support, production and research.


Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said the new facility was expected to employ about 100 people recruited from throughout the 25-nation European Union.

Seattle’s Best Coffee



Bookstore debut marks 35th year

Seattle’s Best Coffee will mark its 35th anniversary tomorrow by opening the first cafes inside Borders Books and Music stores throughout Washington.

More than 400 existing Borders cafes will be converted to Seattle’s Best Coffee cafes over the next few years, as part of a national licensing agreement the companies announced in August. The first locations to open cafes include Borders stores in Redmond, Tukwila and Lynwood.


Seattle-based Starbucks, which owns Seattle’s Best, operates cafes inside Barnes & Noble stores.

Jones Soda



Favorite flavors to be frozen treats

Seattle-based Jones Soda yesterday said it signed a licensing agreement with Kroger to manufacture and sell a line of frozen treats based on three of its soft-drink flavors.

Under the exclusive agreement, the Cincinnati-based supermarket chain will carry Jones Frozen Soda Pops in its roughly 2,500 stores — including Fred Meyer and QFC stores — for a year and manufacture the product for three years.


Kroger will pay Jones Soda a licensing fee based on sales. The product will be available next month.

Valve Software



“Half-Life 2” named “game of the year”

“Half-Life 2,” the PC game developed by Bellevue-based Valve Software, won the “game of the year” award Wednesday night at the annual Game Developers Choice Awards, an annual video-game-industry awards event. The game also won for best character design, best technology and best writing. Microsoft’s “Halo 2” won for best audio.

Compiled from Seattle Times business staff and Bloomberg News


Delta Air Lines


Bankruptcy warning causes shares to fall

Delta Air Lines shares plunged yesterday after it warned it will post another substantial loss this year despite a recent round of pay cuts and other cost reductions. It also said a bankruptcy filing remains a possibility.


The disclosure in a regulatory filing fueled talk that the nation’s third-largest carrier may need to sell one or more of its feeder carriers.

Delta shares tumbled 56 cents, or 11.5 percent, to close at $4.33 yesterday. That’s the largest percent drop since its shares fell nearly 19 percent on Oct. 15, 2004, when Delta was previously on the verge of bankruptcy. The stock has traded in a 52-week range of $2.75 to $9.17.


Toys R Us


$5 billion offered in buyout, report says

Shares of Toys R Us rose more than 2 percent yesterday after a published report said an investment group has proposed paying about $5 billion for the nation’s second biggest toy retailer. Another report said a different bidder also offered to buy the entire company.


The company has been considering splitting its toy-retailing business from its more lucrative Babies R Us operations.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter, reported yesterday that an investment group including Cerberus Capital Management made an opening offer last month of $23.25 a share for the entire company.


Federal Reserve


Greenspan calls deficit biggest risk

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said yesterday that future budget deficits pose a bigger risk to the economy than record trade imbalances and the country’s extremely low savings rate.


In a wide-ranging speech, Greenspan said the United States’ flexible economy would be able to deal with current concerns over trade and savings.

“The resolution of our current account deficit and household debt burdens does not strike me as overly worrisome, but that is certainly not the case for our fiscal deficit,” Greenspan said in prepared remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.


Walt Disney Co.


Ex-directors critical of search for CEO

Former Walt Disney Co. directors Roy Disney and Stanley Gold yesterday said the company is making a “mockery” of its search for a new chief executive officer by including CEO Michael Eisner in candidate interviews.


Roy Disney and Gold also pressed the board to investigate allegations made in James Stewart’s book “DisneyWar” that executives withheld information from the board to cover up mistakes related to the 2001 purchase of Fox Family Worldwide.

Roy Disney and Gold have been publicly critical of Disney’s board since they left in 2003 amid disagreements with Eisner. Their campaigning against Eisner contributed, in part, to his decision to step down in 2006. The board is searching for a successor and has said it will make a decision by June.


HealthSouth


Analysts describe figures as unsettling

Analysts saw unsettling financial numbers from HealthSouth but had no idea of the massive accounting fraud at the medical-services chain until it unraveled, testimony showed yesterday at the trial of ousted Chief Executive Richard Scrushy.


Merrill Lynch analyst A.J. Rice said financial reports made public by HealthSouth showed capital expenditures that were “significantly higher” than those of similar companies. From 1999 through 2001, he said, HealthSouth’s capital spending was twice the industry average.

“That was something we came to question over time, and so did other investors,” Rice said.


Scrushy is accused of leading a conspiracy to inflate HealthSouth earnings to make it seem the rehabilitation company was meeting Wall Street estimates. Prosecutors claim Scrushy made millions off the fraud.

WorldCom



Ebbers jurors look at new document

The jury weighing the case against former WorldCom chief Bernard Ebbers examined a new document yesterday but failed to reach a verdict in its fifth day of deliberations.

Jurors asked to see a WorldCom management budget report from March 2002 and an internal revenue document called MonRev for the first quarter of 2002.


U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones told the panel there was “no such document” that applied to their first request. To the second, she noted that MonRev was a monthly, not quarterly, report.

Later, the jury clarified that it wanted to see MonRev reports for January, February and March 2002. The judge told jurors only March existed and provided them the document.


Ebbers, 63, is charged with fraud, conspiracy and false filings in the $11 billion accounting fraud that sank WorldCom in 2002.

Jurors will resume deliberations this morning.


WorldCom


More firms settle claims after collapse

Two investment-banking firms will pay $112.5 million to settle claims in a class-action suit brought after the $11 billion accounting-fraud collapse of WorldCom in 2002, New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi said yesterday.


WestLB of Germany will pay $75 million and Caboto Holding of Italy will pay $37.5 million to settle their cases, Hevesi. He has served as the court-appointed lead plaintiff in the global case. The banks were junior underwriters in WorldCom’s 2001 bond offering.

A number of other financial institutions settled earlier, including Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citigroup.


Compiled from The Associated Press and Bloomberg News