Pacific Northwest American Airlines — hit by soaring fuel prices and by costly maintenance that temporarily grounded its older, gas-guzzling...

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American Airlines — hit by soaring fuel prices and by costly maintenance that temporarily grounded its older, gas-guzzling MD-80 jets — said Wednesday it will accelerate replacement of those jets with new 737-800s. The carrier anticipates taking 70 of the 737s in 2009 and 2010.

Announcing a $328 million loss in the first quarter of the year, largely due to a $665 million jump in the price of jet fuel, American executives said they expect to take delivery of 34 of the 737-800 aircraft in 2009 and 36 more in 2010.

Of these, American has firm commitments for 27 to be delivered in 2009 and three in 2010.

American also has a firm order for seven Boeing 777s. Those deliveries were deferred to 2013 after Sept. 11, but American has the option to move those forward, said Henry Joyner, a senior vice president at American.

Nation / World

Labor Department

Energy prices boost inflation

Inflation rose again last month, reflecting big jumps in the cost of energy and airline tickets. And the forecast is for even bigger energy-related increases to come, including the possibility of $4 per gallon gasoline by Memorial Day.

The Labor Department said consumer prices rose by 0.3 percent in March, after being unchanged in February, as energy prices jumped by 1.9 percent and airline fares, reflecting higher fuel costs, increased 3 percent.

SRG

Retailers continue heavy markdowns

Clothing prices dropped in March as retailers continued heavy markdowns to move merchandise, the latest indicator of a tough economic environment that shows no signs of easing.

“Retailers are pushing the panic button,” said Burt Flickinger III, managing director of consumer industry consulting firm Strategic Resource Group (SRG). “If you have a bad March, which is typically the best month between New Year’s Day and Memorial Day, you’re going to have a really bad year at retail.”

Labor Department

Consumer prices rise 0.3% in March

Inflation rose again last month, reflecting big jumps in the cost of energy and airline tickets. And the forecast is for even bigger energy-related increases to come, including the possibility of $4 per gallon gasoline by Memorial Day.

The Labor Department said consumer prices rose by 0.3 percent in March, after being unchanged in February, as energy prices jumped by 1.9 percent and airline fares, reflecting higher fuel costs, increased 3 percent, the biggest one-month gain in six years.

IBM

Profits leap 26%, way above forecasts

Quarterly profits at IBM leapt 26 percent and blew past analysts’ forecasts Wednesday, with U.S. operations showing surprising strength given the faltering economy. The technology company also increased its earnings forecast for the year.

In the first quarter, IBM earned $2.32 billion, or $1.65 per share, well ahead of its profit of $1.84 billion, or $1.21 per share, in the same period of 2007.

Revenue rose 11 percent to $24.5 billion, better than the $23.7 billion expected by analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial. The consensus earnings forecast had been $1.45 per share.

IBM’s sales numbers were boosted by weakness in the dollar, since deals done in other currencies now translate into more greenbacks. IBM said its revenue would have risen just 4 percent if not for currency fluctuations.

IDC / Gartner

Computer makers’ shipments way up

Anemic U.S. growth didn’t prevent computer makers from posting another double-digit gain in shipments worldwide in the first quarter, according to two technology research firms that both said the increase beat their forecasts.

IDC and Gartner on Wednesday also said Dell’s recent initiative to offer computers in retail stores is helping it gain ground on Hewlett-Packard, which wrested the title of world’s largest PC maker from Dell in late 2006.

Both firms ranked Dell the U.S. market leader, however, with about 31 percent of the market to HP’s nearly 25 percent.

eBay

Weak dollar helps profits rise 22%

Benefiting from a weak dollar, online auction company eBay beat Wall Street’s expectations on Wednesday with a 22 percent hike in first-quarter profit and raised its outlook for the rest of the year.

The e-commerce company reported net income of $460 million, or 34 cents per share, on revenue of $2.19 billion in the quarter that ended March 31. In the year-ago quarter, eBay earned $377 million, or 27 cents per share, on revenue of $1.77 billion.

More than half of eBay’s business — including its core online auction, fixed-price and store listings, PayPal, Skype and classifieds — takes place overseas. Sales in those stronger foreign currencies translate to more dollars for eBay.

The company also raised its outlook for 2008.

Compiled from Seattle Times staff, The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times