Coinstar, a Bellevue owner and operator of self-service coin-counting machines, laid off about 100 employees scattered throughout the United...

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Coinstar

Company lays off about 100 workers

Coinstar, a Bellevue owner and operator of self-service coin-counting machines, laid off about 100 employees scattered throughout the United States last week.

The laid-off employees, who represent about 6 percent of Coinstar’s U.S. work force, were primarily involved with maintaining or manufacturing entertainment equipment, including kiddie rides and skill-crane machines with plush toys as prizes, spokeswoman Marci Maule said.

Coinstar, which employs roughly 2,000 worldwide, had announced it would remove or relocate about half of its entertainment equipment from the front of Wal-Mart stores as the world’s largest retailer seeks to improve customer traffic flow.

Earlier this month, Coinstar reported a fourth-quarter loss of $37.2 million, down from a profit of $5 million a year earlier. The company also said it will add up to 2,700 DVD movie-rental kiosks and 1,600 coin-counting machines in Wal-Mart stores over the next 12 to 18 months.

Organic To Go

Private-equity firm to provide $10M

Organic To Go said Tuesday that it signed a deal to raise $10 million from a global private-equity firm.

In exchange, the Seattle cafe chain and organic retailer is giving Inventages Venture Capital Investment about a quarter of its shares and a warrant to buy more stock. Inventages has offices in Geneva, Nassau and Auckland, New Zealand.

Organic To Go trades in the loosely regulated Over The Counter market.

Harsch Investment

Property firm buys 2 industrial parks

A Portland real-estate company has bought two industrial parks south of Seattle for a total of more than $19 million.

Harsch Investment Properties of Portland said Tuesday that it had acquired the 126,000-square-foot Kenyon Industrial Park in Seattle’s South Park area for $11.75 million, and the 113,000-square-foot Furniture Factory Direct building in Kent for $7.5 million.

Both are near other industrial parks already owned by Harsch, whose portfolio includes 21 million square feet of office, industrial, retail and apartment properties in five Western states.

Boeing

Iraq planning purchase of planes

Iraq will place an order for 40 Boeing aircraft and for a smaller number from Canada’s Bombardier, an Iraqi official said Tuesday.

“We are engaged with the government of Iraq and airline officials to assist them with their fleet-renewal plans,” said Jim Condelles, a Boeing spokesman in Seattle.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told state-run television that a decision had been made to buy 40 new airplanes from Boeing that will be delivered within 10 years.

He did not provide details on the planned order and was not immediately available to comment further.

Hewlett-Packard

Profit is up, forecast bright

Hewlett-Packard (HP) reported fiscal first-quarter profit above analysts expectations, up 38 percent on strong computer sales, and it forecast a brightening future.

HP made $2.13 billion, or 80 cents per share, for the three months ended in January, according to an earnings report released after the close of trading Tuesday.

That compares with net income of $1.55 billion, or 55 cents per share, in the same period a year earlier.

If not for expenses stemming from past acquisitions, HP says it would have earned 86 cents per share. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial estimated, on average, earnings of 81 cents per share on that basis.

Revenue for the period totaled $28.5 billion, a 13 percent increase from the previous year.

HP stock, which rose 8 cents, or 2 percent, to close at $43.95 in regular trading Tuesday, was up $2.69 to $46.64 in after-hours trading.

Apple

Price reduced for iPod Shuffle

Apple, the maker of the iPod media player, cut the price on the Shuffle model by 38 percent after shipment growth for the devices slowed last quarter.

The 1-gigabyte iPod Shuffle, the company’s smallest model, will cost $49, Apple said Tuesday. The old price was $79. Apple also introduced a version with double the storage for $69.

The bigger Shuffle, which clips onto clothing, can hold about 500 songs.

“This makes the Shuffle more competitive in terms of a price-capacity ratio,” NPD Group’s Ross Rubin said. “While Apple had a good holiday season, the market has been slowing down somewhat.”

Apple rose $1.49 to close at $126.12 Tuesday. The shares had declined 37 percent this year.

The Shuffles come in colors including blue, green, silver, red and purple. The 1-gigabyte version holds about 240 songs and can play music for as long as 12 hours, according to Apple’s Web site.

This month, Apple introduced pricier models of the iPod with double the storage of older versions to encourage shoppers to spend more. Apple has sold more than 140 million of the devices.

Wal-Mart

Bargain shoppers seen to boost sales

Defying the gloom that many retailers are feeling, Wal-Mart expects a more profitable year selling to penny-pinching shoppers after its renewed focus on low prices paid off over the holidays with a 4 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit.

The world’s largest retailer, emerging from a yearlong turnaround effort after sales stumbles in 2005 and 2006, said Tuesday that aggressive holiday discounts and improvements in its more than 4,000 U.S. stores boosted sales despite consumer worries.

Chief Financial Officer Tom Schoewe told The Associated Press that Wal-Mart expects a spending boost as consumers receive federal income-tax rebates under the $168 billion economic-stimulus plan.

Wal-Mart shares rose 22 cents to $49.66 on Tuesday, still near the top of their 52-week range of $42.09 to $51.48.

Whole Foods Market

Acquisition costs a drag on earnings

Whole Foods Market reported that profit fell 27 percent to $39.1 million in the most recent quarter as the cost of its acquisition of Wild Oats dragged on earnings.

The natural-foods grocery chain reported Tuesday that it earned 28 cents per share in its first quarter, which ended Jan. 20. That compares with $53.8 million, or 38 cents per share, in the same period last year.

The company has routinely posted double-digit profit gains for years. But in recent quarters, earnings have been weighed down by the cost of opening new stores and an expensive legal fight to acquire rival Wild Oats Markets, a deal that closed in August.

Shares of Whole Foods fell 80 cents, or 2 percent, to close at $38.32 before the results were released. They lost an additional 5 cents in after-hours trading.

Hershey / Mars

Info sought on pricing practices

The European Commission has asked for information on pricing practices by candy makers, a signal that regulators across the globe are taking a broader look into allegations of an industrywide price-fixing scheme.

In its annual report released Tuesday, Hershey said it has fielded a request for information from the European Commission. A spokeswoman for Mars also said Tuesday that the company received a request from the body in mid-January. Both companies said they are cooperating, and declined to say what kind of information was requested.

Hershey said it and other companies are named in about 50 civil antitrust suits in the United States and three in Canada on behalf of consumers and distributors in connection with price-fixing allegations.

The company’s annual report contains the first indication that European regulators are now looking at the U.S. candy maker, which does only a small portion of its business in Europe. While the United States’ approximately $16 billion candy market is the biggest in the world, Europeans eat more candy and chocolate per person than people anywhere else.

Facebook

Revenue officer is leaving company

Facebook’s chief revenue officer, Owen Van Natta, who played a key role in Microsoft’s investment in the social-networking company, is resigning to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

He plans to transition out of his position in the next few weeks, Facebook said in an e-mailed statement.

Van Natta, 38, told The Wall Street Journal that he wants to lead a company. That’s unlikely at Facebook because 23-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg has no immediate plans to leave, the Journal said.

Electronics

Sony now biggest LCD TV maker

Sony overtook Samsung as the world’s biggest maker of liquid-crystal display televisions, according to researcher DisplaySearch.

Sony raised its share of worldwide LCD TV revenue to 19.5 percent in the fourth quarter from 15.9 percent three months earlier, while Samsung’s portion of global sales rose to 19.3 percent from 18.7 percent, DisplaySearch said in a report Monday. Philips Electronics and Sharp shared third place, with 10.1 percent each, the report said.

LCD televisions outsold traditional glass-tube sets for the first time in the fourth quarter as manufacturers lowered prices of the flat-screen models and boosted capacity. The technology accounted for 47 percent of TVs shipped in the three months ended December, compared with 46 percent for cathode-ray tube sets, DisplaySearch said.

The overall LCD TV market grew 40 percent last year to $68 billion, DisplaySearch said.

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