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Microsoft

The next version of Microsoft’s Xbox game console will be available in the United States two days before Thanksgiving, in time for the all-important holiday shopping season, the company said yesterday.

The Nov. 22 launch of Xbox 360 in North America will be followed by a Dec. 2 launch in Europe and a Dec. 10 launch in Japan.

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The releases will allow Microsoft to get a head start over rival Sony’s PlayStation 3, which is scheduled to replace the market-leading PlayStation 2 sometime next spring.

Blue Frog Mobile

$16 million raised in VC funding

Seattle-based Blue Frog Mobile, which provides content for mobile phones, said it raised $16 million in a first round of funding that was led by Canaan Partners with MK Capital participating.

Blue Frog Mobile will use the new capital to offer more content and add to its marketing and advertising efforts.

RealNetworks

Director payment outlined in filing

RealNetworks said in a government filing yesterday that it will begin paying nonemployee members of its board $20,000 a year. The chairman of the board’s audit committee will receive an additional $12,000, and chairmen of other committees will receive smaller amounts.

The company also announced a stock-option grant program that will give nonemployee directors a grant of options to buy 45,000 shares of stock each year.

Plum Creek Timber

Little damage seen from storm

Plum Creek Timber, the largest U.S. owner of timberland with 7.8 million acres, said damage from Hurricane Katrina was limited to downed trees in Mississippi.

“We are still assessing the damage but we don’t believe it was material,” Rick Holley, chief executive of Seattle-based Plum Creek, said yesterday at a UBS conference in New York. The company owns 100,000 acres of timberland in Mississippi. There was no damage at properties in Arkansas, Louisiana or Alabama, he said.

The fallen trees are quickly being moved to market, Holley said.

Compiled from The Associated Press, Seattle Times staff and Bloomberg News

Google

Stock sale to help fend off advances

Google, the most-used Internet search engine, raised $4.18 billion in a stock sale that will fuel acquisitions and product development to fend off advances by Yahoo! and Microsoft.

Google sold 14.2 million shares at $295 each, the company said yesterday in a statement. That’s lower than Google’s closing share price yesterday of $303.

The stock has surged 6.3 percent since Google first announced the sale, signaling continued demand from investors who expect the company to enter new markets and keep winning a bigger slice of the market for Internet advertising. Google has enhanced its search engine and developed related products such as Google Talk, which lets customers use their computers to make phone calls.

Google, which hasn’t given specific plans for the money, may focus on expanding overseas and making small purchases, investors and analysts said this week. Google said it may use the proceeds of the sale to acquire companies and noted that it has not committed to any purchases.

Unite Here

Union decides to leave AFL-CIO

A union representing almost half a million apparel and hospitality workers has decided to bolt the AFL-CIO and join a half-dozen other unions seeking to focus labor more on recruiting.

“It is time for the labor movement to make some changes,” Unite Here’s general president Bruce Raynor said yesterday.

Unite Here’s general executive board voted unanimously on Tuesday to end its affiliation with the giant labor federation. The AFL-CIO includes more than 50 unions representing about 9 million workers.

Unite Here joins the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Carpenters in forming a dissident federation that calls itself the Change To Win Coalition.

General Electric

Growth expected despite hurricane

General Electric reaffirmed its profit forecast yesterday, saying it expects to achieve double-digit earnings growth this year despite the impact of Hurricane Katrina.

GE said it still expects earnings per share of 43 cents to 44 cents in the third quarter and $1.80 to $1.83 per share for the year.

GE officials did not disclose how much the company expected to lose as a result of the hurricane. GE and its employees have contributed more than $21 million for storm relief, CEO Jeffrey Immelt said.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were expecting earnings of 44 cents for the quarter and $1.82 for the year.

TJX

Retailer’s CEO resigns abruptly

The chief executive of TJX resigned abruptly, saying that some of the off-price retailer’s smaller divisions “have not met expectations” in the past year and would benefit from a “fresh perspective.”

Edmond English, 52, has worked for the company for 22 years, the past five as CEO.

The company’s largest divisions — clothing and housewares retailers Marshalls and T.J. Maxx — “have experienced strong growth,” English said in a statement. But other divisions “have not met expectations over the past year despite actions taken to improve their performance. After much reflection, I have come to the conclusion that these businesses would benefit from a fresh perspective at the top.”

Oppenheimer

Groups to settle SEC proceedings

Oppenheimer Funds and a subsidiary brokerage distributor yesterday agreed to settle Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proceedings involving revenue-sharing deals that put Oppenheimer Funds on brokers’ “preferred lists” of mutual funds.

Oppenheimer Funds and its subsidiary, Oppenheimer Funds Distributor, weren’t fined by the SEC, but agreed to make changes to ensure that fund-distribution charges aren’t paid by the funds.

Oppenheimer Funds reimbursed the affected funds last year, returning $15.8 million of revenue-sharing payments from 2000-03, about $3.3 million more than the benefit received by the firm, according to SEC estimates.

Oppenheimer settled without admitting or denying the SEC’s claims that it rewarded brokers with fund-trading commissions rather than direct payments by the fund-management company, and left fund shareholders and directors in the dark on details of the revenue-sharing deals.

Compiled from The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and Dow Jones Newswires