Other items: Gates, Knight invest in Bass-started fund; Trial for Enron founder, ex-CEO set in '06; Rating may be cut on several airlines ...

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Nordstrom said yesterday it will repurchase up to $500 million in shares after completing a $300 million buyback program in the fourth quarter.

The shares will be repurchased during the next two to three years, Nordstrom said.

It has benefited from rising demand for luxury items and better systems to control inventory and markdowns. That helped raise fourth-quarter profit 34 percent to $140 million as sales gains led those of rivals including Federated Department Stores. Nordstrom had $400 million cash as of Jan. 29.

Venture capital

Gates, Knight invest in Bass-started fund

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Nike Chairman Phil Knight invested in a new buyout fund of as much as $2.5 billion being raised by Oak Hill Capital Partners, a firm started by Texas billionaire Robert Bass. Their participation was disclosed by Oak Hill managing partner J. Taylor Crandall during a fund-raising pitch to the Oregon Investment Council yesterday.

Bass, Knight and Oak Hill’s 32 professionals invested a combined $500 million in the new fund, Crandall said. The size of the investment by Gates wasn’t disclosed.

The organization, run from Menlo Park, Calif., and New York, acts as a family office for Bass and Knight and manages more than $10 billion for individuals and institutions.

Nation and World


Trial for founder, ex-CEO set in ’06

The fraud and conspiracy trial of Enron founder Kenneth Lay and former Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling has been set for Jan. 17, a federal judge said yesterday.

The trial is expected to be the premier case to emerge from the Justice Department’s investigation of a rash of corporate scandals that began with its swift fall into bankruptcy after an accounting scandal unwound in December 2001.

Skilling and Richard Causey, former chief accounting officer, face more than 30 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and other charges. They are accused of being in on or knowing about various schemes to manufacture profits and hide debt in the years leading to Enron’s crash.

The case against Lay is narrower, alleging in seven counts of fraud and conspiracy that he took control of the ruse when Skilling abruptly resigned less than four months before Enron crumbled.

Standard & Poor’s

Rating may be cut on several airlines

Credit-rating agency Standard and Poor’s warned yesterday that it may cut the rating of several airlines on rising bankruptcy fears. The agency said it had placed American, Northwest Airlines, Continental Airlines and America West Airlines on a “watch list” for a potential downgrade. The ratings cover $13.2 billion in debt secured by the four airplanes.

Credit analyst Phil Baggaley said high fuel prices, too much industry capacity and increasing competition have put the airlines at risk for “widespread simultaneous bankruptcies.”

Marsh & McLennan

Ex-official pleads guilty to bid rigging

A former managing director at Marsh & McLennan pleaded guilty yesterday to criminal charges in a state investigation of bid rigging and price fixing in the insurance industry.

Kathryn Winter, 50, of Manhattan, pleaded guilty in Manhattan’s State Supreme Court to a felony count of scheme to defraud.

She admitted that from 2001 to 2004 her schemes “resulted in clients being tricked and deceived by a deceptive bidding process.”

Winter’s plea agreement with Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office requires her to cooperate with his ongoing investigation and testify when needed.

This is the same deal Spitzer has with nine other former insurance executives who have pleaded guilty.


New music player can hold 15,000 songs

Dell began shipping a digital music player that can hold 15,000 songs to tap into consumer demand for a device that Apple Computer helped popularize.

The $299 Digital Jukebox 30GB has 30 gigabytes of storage and 12 hours of battery life, Gretchen Miller, Dell’s director of mobile marketing, said at a company event in San Francisco yesterday.

Dell offers two other players, a $199 model that holds 2,500 songs and a 20-gigabyte, $249 player that stores 9,900.

The world’s largest personal-computer maker is working with music services such as Napster Inc. and says customers will be able to buy songs from sites using Microsoft’s music software standard.

Compiled from Seattle Times business staff and Bloomberg News.

Knight Ridder Newspapers