Pacific Northwest Seattle-based Blue Nile once again is looking for a chief financial officer. The online diamond retailer said Monday that...

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Pacific Northwest

Seattle-based Blue Nile once again is looking for a chief financial officer.

The online diamond retailer said Monday that its CFO of six months, Robin Easton, will resign March 31.

Terri Maupin, vice president of finance and controller at Blue Nile, will take over as principal financial and accounting officer while the company looks for a new CFO.

Easton was treasurer at truck maker Paccar in Bellevue before replacing Diane Irvine, now chief executive and president at Blue Nile, as CFO in September.

Blue Nile initially named Scott Devitt, a managing director and senior analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in Manassas, Va., to replace Irvine, but he changed his mind, citing a desire not to move his family, the company said.

Shares of Blue Nile dropped $2, or 4.8 percent, to close Monday at $39.96. They have traded in the past 12 months between $38.31 and $100.50.

Microsoft

Price of Xbox 360 lowered in Europe

Microsoft cut the price of its Xbox 360 video-game system in Europe for the second time in eight months to win customers from rivals Sony and Nintendo.

The basic Arcade console will cost 199.99 euros ($306.95), down from 279.99 euros, the company said Monday in an e-mailed statement. It also reduced the 20-gigabyte model by 80 euros, to 269.99 euros. Microsoft had lowered the prices of both models in August. The new cuts take effect March 14.

Microsoft is betting lower prices will help the Xbox attract customers in Europe, where Sony began selling cheaper versions of its PlayStation 3 in October, propelling holiday sales there to 1.2 million. The cuts come in advance of the April 29 release of the next edition of Take-Two Interactive Software’s top-selling “Grand Theft Auto” game, which runs on both systems.

Aviation

Airfares rise again: Blame fuel prices

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines raised round-trip ticket prices by as much as $10 to help recover record jet-fuel costs.

The fees apply to most U.S. markets for leisure and business tickets, said spokesmen for American, Delta, Continental and US Airways. That brings the total fuel surcharge to $50 on certain round-trip U.S. flights.

The increase follows a similar move last week by United Airlines as fuel costs surpass labor to become the largest expense for many carriers. Jet fuel for immediate delivery in New York Harbor has risen about 75 percent in the past year, and reached a record $3.17 a gallon last week.

Soaring fuel prices “do not bode well for scoring many cheap airline tickets this year,” Rick Seaney of fare-tracking Web site FareCompare.com said in an e-mailed statement. “Travelers should seriously think about locking in prices at the current level.”

EADS

Airbus parent eyes acquisition in U.S.

Airbus parent EADS hopes to make an acquisition in the U.S. this year.

European Aeronautic Defence & Space Chief Executive Louis Gallois proposed two takeover projects to the board “in the fields of defense, security or services” of which one “at least should be in the United States,” according to a letter sent to staff and read to The Associated Press by an EADS employee who asked not to be named because the document was intended only for EADS staffers.

Gallois said in January that Airbus is planning acquisitions in the United States to take advantage of the dollar’s weakness and reduce its exposure to shifting exchange rates. EADS is aiming at “medium-sized companies,” he said, without naming any potential targets.

EADS and its U.S. partner Northrop Grumman won a competition with Boeing on Feb. 29 to build refueling tankers for the Air Force. The Airbus A330 aircraft that will be delivered under the contract will be modified at a new factory in Alabama. Boeing said Monday, however, that it would protest the contract award.

ECB

Bank chief criticizes currency’s volatility

The president of the European Central Bank (ECB) on Monday criticized the increasing volatility of the currency markets, which have repeatedly sent the dollar to record lows against the euro.

The remarks by Jean-Claude Trichet, carefully phrased to question the euro’s sharp moves rather than its overall strength, had the effect of sending the currency briefly downward.

“Excessive, volatile and disorderly movements are undesirable for economic growth,” Trichet said after a meeting of central bankers at the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. “We’re concerned about excessive exchange-rate moves in the present circumstances.”

He last commented on currency fluctuations — calling them “brutal” — early in November, when the euro was trading just over $1.46. On Monday, it rose slightly in New York trading to settle at $1.5352, up from $1.5349 late Friday.

McDonald’s

Coffee, breakfast give sales a boost

Consumer spending and confidence may be waning, but people still need that jolt of morning caffeine to wash down an egg sandwich.

McDonald’s big push on coffee and new breakfast items in its U.S. restaurants contributed to a double-digit jump in same-store sales last month, accompanying even stronger growth in Europe, the company said Monday.

The world’s biggest fast-food chain reported that sales from its outlets open at least 13 months climbed 11.7 percent over a year earlier — evidence that the economic slowdown hasn’t dealt it the blow that some investors had earlier feared.

While its new specialty coffees won’t be available in all its U.S. restaurants until next year, analysts said they have heard positive feedback on how the products are faring in the 1,000-plus McDonald’s where they are served. In the meantime, the company said the premium roast coffee it rolled out two years ago helped fuel U.S. same-store sales growth of 8.3 percent in February.

Shares of McDonald’s, one of the 30 Dow stocks, gained $1.53 to $53.80.

Blackstone Group

Equity firm posts loss for 4th quarter

Private-equity firm Blackstone Group said Monday it swung to a loss during the fourth quarter due to a write-down on its investment in bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance and deterioration in the credit markets.

Blackstone lost $170 million during the fourth quarter, compared with earnings of $1.18 billion during the final quarter in 2006.

Adjusted net income, which was adjusted for special revenues and expenses tied to the company’s public offering, fell to $88 million, or 8 cents per share, from $808.1 million, or 72 cents per share, during the year-ago period.

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