Other items: Capital One buying Southern bank; Founder of Wizards conjures new business; Starbucks to buy more African coffee ...

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Gas prices at the pump rose nearly 7 cents in the past two weeks as the cost of crude oil jumped, and a combination of factors could push prices even higher, industry analyst Trilby Lundberg said yesterday.

The average retail price for all three grades increased 6.71 cents to $2 per gallon between Feb. 19 and Friday. The most popular grade, self-serve regular, was priced at $1.97 a gallon.

During the past two weeks, crude oil prices rose $5.43 to $53.78 per barrel. Lundberg said even higher prices can be expected at the pump.

Capital One

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Credit-card giant buying Southern bank

RICHMOND, Va. — Credit-card issuer Capital One Financial said yesterday it had agreed to buy Louisiana regional bank Hibernia for $5.35 billion in a move designed to expand from direct-mail marketing to branch banking.

The boards of Capital One and New Orleans-based Hibernia met yesterday and approved the cash-and-stock deal, said Capital One spokesman Richard Woods.

McLean, Va.-based Capital One wants to buy a bank to bolster its credit-card distribution to compete with large institutions such as Bank of America.

Hibernia has more than $22 billion in assets, 293 branches and operations in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.

Hidden City Games

Founder of Wizards conjures new business

Peter Adkison, the founder and former chief executive of game company Wizards of the Coast, said he has formed a new company that will launch its first product in the collectible-games business this summer.

Adkison’s new company, Hidden City Games, is developing a game called Clout Fantasy that is played with poker-style chips instead of cards.

Adkison sold Wizards of the Coast to Hasbro in 1999 for nearly $500 million.


Desktop-search tool now widely available

SAN FRANCISCO — Google last night made its desktop search widely available as it takes on Microsoft and Yahoo! in the race to help users find e-mail and files stored on computer hard drives.

Google Desktop Search locates e-mail, AOL chat sessions and previously viewed Web pages. It searches file types, from PDFs and Microsoft Word files to audio, video and photo files.

Microsoft, which recently rolled out its own Web-search product to attack Google’s position, has offered its own desktop-search tool on a trial basis for the last three months. Yahoo! in January released its own test version.


Company to buy more African coffee

Starbucks plans to increase coffee purchases from Africa, although the bulk will still come from Latin America, company executive Colman Cuff said yesterday.

Starbucks Coffee Trading Co., a unit of the Seattle company, will seek to expand its Africa purchasing via the CAFE Practices certified-coffee program that allowed it a direct link with farmers and promoted fair prices, said Cuff, director for trading.

In 2004, Starbucks paid producers of CAFE Practices coffee a premium price of $1.20 a pound.


Quebec machinists approve new contract

Machinists at Bombardier in Quebec ratified a new six-year contract aimed at winning key production work on a new family of passenger jets.

Though the pact ratified by the 6,300 workers does not have wage concessions, it contains measures aimed at meeting the company’s goal to cut its Quebec labor costs by $120 million, the Machinists union said.

Bombardier sought cuts as it decides whether to build new C Series jets, which would seat 110 to 135 passengers, in Montreal, Toronto or Northern Ireland.

Bombardier’s board is expected to decide on a location March 15. The new assembly plant would create some 2,500 jobs.

Internet banking

Calif. bank plans auction-based IPO

An Internet bank is the latest entrant in the new world of auction-based initial public offerings.

San Diego-based BofI Holding, holding company for Bank of Internet USA, is expected to sell 2.25 million shares of stock at a range of $9 to $13 a share in coming weeks.

But unlike a traditional IPO, in which underwriters set the final share price by privately gauging investor interest, BofI plans to follow Google’s lead and run an auction for its stock through investment bank WR Hambrecht.

The savings bank, launched in 2000, has only one “bricks and mortar” location in San Diego. It focuses on retail banking.


Use of Firefox browser up 39% in 3 months

The number of U.S. Web surfers using Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox browser has grown 39 percent in less than three months. Meanwhile, usage of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) has declined 2 percent, according to an analysis by analytical firm WebSideStory.

The firm’s report estimated IE’s share of the market at 89.9 percent in mid-February, Firefox with 5.7 percent and Netscape’s Mozilla at 2.5 percent (down from 2.8 percent in December).

Compiled from Seattle Times business staff, Reuters and The Associated Press