A former European Union judge who presided over Microsoft's appeal of an EU antitrust ruling said he was "surprised" at the magnitude of a...

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A former European Union judge who presided over Microsoft’s appeal of an EU antitrust ruling said he was “surprised” at the magnitude of a subsequent 899 million euro ($1.4 billion) antitrust fine against the company.

The European Commission levied the penalty in February against Microsoft after the company failed to comply with the 2004 ruling. The fine brought the total penalty against Microsoft to 1.68 billion euros.

“I was surprised with the size of the fine,” Bo Vesterdorf told journalists after speaking at a conference in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Vesterdorf retired as president of the European Court of First Instance last September after the tribunal upheld the commission’s ruling that Microsoft abused its dominance in personal computer-operating systems.

He said in a speech that Microsoft should have appealed the EU court’s ruling to the European Court of Justice to ensure more clarity on how intellectual-property rights are treated.

Boeing

Issues surface with 787 system

General Electric said Thursday that its subcontractor Crane Aerospace, which supplies the brake-control monitoring system on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, will likely not complete all milestones for first flight on the schedule agreed with Boeing.

A spokeswoman for GE Aviation said GE has formed a joint team with the subcontractor at Crane’s facility in Burbank, Calif., to resolve “recently discovered design issues.”

On Monday, Boeing mistakenly identified the problematic supplier as Messier-Bugatti of France. Messier-Bugatti makes the 787’s brakes but is not involved with the brake-control monitoring system.

Labor Department

Jobless claims fall unexpectedly

The number of newly laid- off workers filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to the lowest level in a month.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for jobless benefits totaled 365,000, down by 9,000 from last week. Economists had expected claims to rise slightly.

Even with the unexpected decline, claims remain at a level that indicates the labor market is under stress from the sluggish economy.

The four-week average for claims rose slightly to 372,250, up significantly from a year ago when the four-week average was around the 300,000 mark.

American Axle

Workers OK pact; 3-month strike ends

Workers at American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings expect to return to their jobs early next week after overwhelmingly approving a new contract that contains steep pay cuts and other concessions.

United Auto Workers members at five sites in Michigan and New York voted 78 percent in favor of the four-year deal, while 22 percent opposed it, the UAW said Thursday night.

The vote ends a bitter strike by 3,650 workers that lasted nearly three months, crippling General Motors’ production of large sport-utility vehicles and pickups.

GM accounts for 80 percent of American Axle’s business.

Local 235 Shop Chairman Dana Edwards said union members didn’t have much choice but to accept the deal.

Société Générale

Bank’s managers blamed in scandal

Serious management failures by immediate superiors allowed a rogue trader at Société Générale to commit the biggest fraud in financial history, according to an internal report being released today.

The report raises questions about whether the trader, Jérôme Kerviel, had an accomplice at the bank.

His two direct supervisors face possible firing, as does his former trading assistant, say people with direct knowledge of the bank’s action.

The report, written by internal auditors, will suggest Kerviel himself probably did not manipulate the bank’s computer system to enter large unauthorized bets under someone else’s name.

By spreading the responsibility beyond Kerviel, whom the bank blames for bringing about $7.7 billion in losses, the report could make the French bank more vulnerable to a lawsuit seeking class-action status that has been filed in the U.S., lawyers said.

Airlines

Fuel costs delay new China routes

Two airlines that only months ago won U.S. approval for coveted routes to China are postponing the launch of the new services because of high fuel costs.

United Airlines has sought and US Airways plans to ask for a one-year delay in launching the routes, the carriers said Thursday. United won final approval and US Airways received the tentative go-ahead to launch the routes from the U.S. Department of Transportation in September.

The routes in question affect planned United service from San Francisco to Guangzhou, and US Airways flights between Philadelphia and Beijing.

United’s request for a delay was approved April 25, while the request from US Airways has not yet been received, Transportation Department spokesman Bill Mosley said.

TransCanada

Alaska urged to OK natural gas pipeline

Alaska’s governor Thursday recommended state lawmakers approve a proposal from TransCanada to build a natural gas pipeline from Alaska’s North Slope to a hub in Alberta, Canada.

Gov. Sarah Palin, along with the state’s natural-resources and revenue commissioners, said the Calgary-based company’s plan merits issuance of a license under Palin’s Alaska Gasoline Inducement Act, as well as a $500 million cash inducement from the state.

They said the multibillion-dollar project was far better than a competing proposal from oil giants BP and ConocoPhillips because TransCanada’s plan was binding and enforceable.

The application from TransCanada Alaska and Foothills Pipelines proposes a 4.5 billion cubic-feet-per-day, 48-inch-diameter pipeline running 1,715 miles from a gas treatment plant at Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope to the Alberta hub.

The Alaska part would be about 750 miles long, and have five natural-gas delivery points in the state.

Gap

Profit up 40% despite sales lull

Clothing retailer Gap boosted its first-quarter profit by 40 percent despite a persisting sales slump that seems likely to deepen as consumers scrimp to offset rising gasoline and food bills.

The San Francisco-based merchant said Thursday that it earned $249 million, or 34 cents per share, compared with $178 million, or 22 cents per share, a year earlier.

Revenue fell 5 percent to $3.38 billion.

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