Among other items: Unemployment tax to decline in 2005; Perkins Coie closing Hong Kong branch; Bothell biotech raises $57.4 million; and ex-Microsoft official joins Gates on Icos board.

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Bellevue-based HouseValues said yesterday that it priced its initial public offering at $15 a share, or the top of its estimated range.

At that price, it will sell $93.8 million in shares. The company is offering about 4.2 million shares, while its shareholders are offering about 2.1 million shares. None of the proceeds by selling shareholders will go to the company.

If there is increased demand, there is a 30-day option to purchase up to an additional 937,500 shares. If those shares are sold, the offering will grow to $107.8 million.

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HouseValues will trade on the Nasdaq National Market under the symbol SOLD. The company, which sells services to real-estate agents online, increased its offering by 25 percent earlier this week.


Unemployment tax to decline in 2005

Washington businesses will see their unemployment tax shrink slightly next year, the result of an overhaul of the unemployment-tax laws passed during the 2003 legislative session.

Tax payments per employee will decrease from an average of $600 in 2004 to $578 in 2005.

Individual rates will vary, and some employers may see an increase, according to the state Employment Security Department.

Effective Jan. 1, unemployment taxes will be based on an employer’s history of layoffs or retention.

The first tax payments under the new rate are due April 30.

Perkins Coie

Law firm closing Hong Kong branch

Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie will shut its Hong Kong office as of March 31, firm spokesman Mark Usellis said.

“The combination of the technology downturn and 9/11 and SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] prevented us from getting the kind of traction we thought we needed,” Usellis said. Perkins Coie’s Hong Kong office, which had opened in 1992, has 15 attorneys: six partners and nine salaried lawyers, called associates. The lawyers will be leaving the firm, Usellis said.

The branch’s main activities included representing companies looking to invest in China, doing general Asian corporate work and helping companies list on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

Nastech Pharmaceutical

Bothell biotech raises $57.4 million

Nastech Pharmaceutical said yesterday it has completed its secondary offering, raising $57.4 million by selling 4.25 million shares of stock at $13.50 apiece.

The underwriters of the offering — Citigroup Global Markets, Needham & Co., WR Hambrecht and Delafield Hambrecht — have options to buy 637,500 shares to cover over-allotments.

The financing provides a significant boost to the Bothell biotech company. It had $19.2 million in cash at the end of September.


Ex-Microsoft official joins Gates on board

Icos, a Bothell biotech company, said yesterday that Robert Herbold, the former chief operating officer of Microsoft, has been named to its board of directors.

Herbold will join Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who has been on the Icos board since 1990.

Herbold, 62, currently serves on the boards of Weyerhaeuser, Agilent Technologies, First Mutual Bank and Cintas. He will join the Icos board March 16.

Getty Images

Earnings forecast above expectations

Getty Images, the No. 1 stock photography and images provider, said yesterday that it expects to earn more than analysts had forecast for 2005, or between $2.05 and $2.15 a share.

Wall Street analysts had expected the Seattle company to earn $2 a share next year, according to Reuters Estimates.

Getty said it expects revenue in 2005 to rise between 12 and 14 percent to a range between $690 million and $700 million.

The news helped pushed the company’s stock up $1.90, or 3 percent, to $65.50 yesterday.

SeaBright Insurance

IPO to make up nearly half of equity

SeaBright Insurance Holdings will sell nearly half of its total equity in its planned initial public offering, which is expected to raise $67.5 million to $82.5 million.

The Seattle-based workers’ compensation insurer plans to offer 7.5 million shares at $9 to $11 apiece, according to an updated filing this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Common stock outstanding after the offering is expected to total about 15.3 million shares.

Nation / World


Oil-production cut planned next year

OPEC will cut back on oil production early next year in a bid to stave off a further decline in the world price, Kuwait’s oil minister said yesterday.

The comments by Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al-Ahmad Al Sabah revealed what delegates to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries had agreed in informal discussions ahead of their formal meeting today.

Asked when the cut in production would start, Al Sabah said: “Everyone has committed for next month, maybe to start from February.”

Al Sabah spoke following a meeting of Gulf oil producers, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.


U.S. sales increase for 20th month in row

McDonald’s yesterday reported a solid 4.2 percent gain in worldwide comparable sales for November and racked up a 20th straight monthly increase for its U.S. business.

The 7.1 percent increase at U.S. restaurants open more than a year left sales in McDonald’s domestic business up nearly 10 percent for the year over the same 11-month period in 2003. Total sales in the U.S. rose by 7.6 percent in November.

The U.S. sales gain was down from last November’s 10.2 percent, largely because that number was matched up against a 2002 period when McDonald’s was mired in a slump. Since then, the company has boosted sales by adding pricier new menu items such as entree salads and chicken strips, focusing more on basic restaurant operations and keeping more outlets open overnight.

McDonald’s shares rose 28 cents to close at $31.78 yesterday — their highest closing price since January 2001.

America West

No bidding war for bankrupt ATA

America West Airlines backed away yesterday from a potential bidding war for bankrupt ATA Airlines, paving the way for AirTran to take over ATA operations.

The announcement came the night before ATA Airlines was to submit plans for restructuring under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

America West spokesman Carlos Bertolini said the bid fell apart because the airlines couldn’t come up with acceptable lease terms on enough of ATA’s aircraft to make the deal worthwhile.

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