Pacific Northwest The Justen Co., a Seattle developer, has filed an application with the city for a 38-story hotel-condominium tower at...

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Pacific Northwest

The Justen Co., a Seattle developer, has filed an application with the city for a 38-story hotel-condominium tower at the southwest corner of Second Avenue and Virginia Street.

The building would include 186 condos, 139 hotel rooms, street-level retail and parking for 294 cars above and below ground.

The 1915 Terminal Sales Annex Building, on part of the site, will be preserved and incorporated in the tower design, said Marty Goodman, a Justen principal.

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Justen also has applied for a 39-story tower with 234 condo units across Virginia Street. Goodman said the two towers wouldn’t be twins but would be “architecturally compatible.”

Groundbreaking is at least a year away, he said, and timing will hinge in part on market conditions.

Microsoft

Foundation gift trims Gates’ stake

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates gave 24.4 million shares in his company to his charitable foundation.

Gates held 8.9 percent of Microsoft, or 833.1 million shares, at the end of last year, he said Thursday in a regulatory filing. His stake, worth $23.7 billion at Thursday’s closing price, is down from the 9.2 percent he held in November.

Gates donated the shares, worth $695 million at Thursday’s price, on Nov. 20 to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which then sold the stock, according to the filing.

Cell Therapeutics

New shares reduce debt; price tumbles

Cell Therapeutics shares fell 17.4 percent Thursday after the Seattle biotechnology company said it had issued 6.85 million shares of stock to cancel $9.1 million of convertible debt due in June 2008.

The stock closed down 29 cents at $1.38.

The company had 48.2 million shares outstanding as of September, so the new stock adds 14 percent to the total. A statement did not identify the debt holders receiving stock in the private placement.

The statement added that “the company continues to have approximately $10.7 million of convertible notes due in June 2008 as well as a significant amount of debt outstanding and due in future years and will need to raise additional capital to fund its operations in 2008.”

Boeing

India’s Tata group gets more contracts

Boeing and India’s Tata Group will start a venture in India to supply more than $500 million of defense-related aerospace components to the U.S. company.

The venture will be set up by June, India’s Tata Industries said in an e-mailed statement Thursday. The company would initially get contracts from Boeing to make components for planes used by the U.S. Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other overseas defense contractors are partnering with Indian companies ahead of their bids for India’s $11 billion fighter-jet order, the biggest order for combat planes in 15 years. The winner of the deal must order at least 50 percent of defense component purchases from India.

Boeing also announced a partnership earlier this month with Tata’s TAL Manufacturing Solutions to make floor beams for the 787 Dreamliner commercial jet.

Airlines

United, Continental close to combining

United Airlines and Continental Airlines are in advanced negotiations and could complete a combination quickly if Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines strike a deal, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

However, there are still significant issues yet to resolve, according to the person, who was not authorized by the companies to talk about the deal.

United spokeswoman Jean Medina and Continental Airlines spokesman Dave Messing declined to comment.

Delta and Northwest have been intently discussing a deal for several weeks, according to people familiar with the situation. But issues such as combining work forces remain obstacles.

Sharper Image

Crisis-management expert named chief

Sharper Image named a crisis-management expert as its new chief executive Thursday, marking the third time in 17 months that the struggling specialty retailer has ushered in a new leader as it tries to survive a worsening sales slump.

The San Francisco-based company brought in Ron Conway, who runs a New York-based turnaround firm, as its CEO less than a year after hiring direct-marketing veteran Steven Lightman to steer Sharper Image’s 183-store chain.

The company’s headaches date to 2004 when Sharper Image’s hodgepodge of high-tech novelty items began losing their quirky appeal.

Consumer Reports magazine delivered a particularly damaging blow to Sharper Image’s image when it derided the retailer’s “Ionic Breeze” line of top-selling air purifiers as ineffective, triggering a legal fight that the company ultimately lost.

Peet’s Coffee & Tea

Gourmet retailer’s Q4 profit jumps 53%

Peet’s Coffee & Tea, a gourmet-coffee retailer, said fourth-quarter profit jumped 53 percent as sales gained.

Net income advanced to $3.32 million, or 23 cents a share, from $2.18 million, or 16 cents, a year earlier, Peet’s said in a statement.

Sales jumped 18 percent to $70.9 million, boosted by gains in both the retail and specialty-sales units. Retail revenue rose to $47 million from $40 million, helped by seven new retail stores and growth in existing stores, Peet’s said. Specialty sales increased to $24 million from $20.2 million as the company expanded its grocery-store distribution.

Peet’s declined 83 cents to $22.05 Thursday before the earnings were released.

DataQuick

California’s pace of home sales grim

California home sales tumbled to the lowest level in more than 20 years last month and many areas posted hefty price declines as buyers met difficulty obtaining financing for jumbo mortgages or held off on entering the turbulent housing market.

A total of 19,145 homes were purchased statewide last month, a 41 percent drop from January 2007’s total and down about 25 percent from December’s sales, DataQuick Information Systems said Thursday. The firm’s statistics go back to 1988.

The state has seen sales decline year-over-year for 28 straight months as the once-booming housing market tanked and a nationwide credit crisis forced mortgage lenders to scale back so-called jumbo mortgages that exceed $417,000.

The decline in jumbo mortgages has made it harder for buyers to finance higher-end homes, and that’s contributed to a steady decline in the state’s median home price.

In January, it fell to $383,000, a drop of about 17 percent from $462,000 a year earlier and down about 5 percent from December.

The statewide median home price peaked last spring at $484,000.

Clear Channel

Currency exchange boosts bottom line

Radio and billboard giant Clear Channel earned $320.6 million in the final three months of the year, up 52 percent from the same period in 2006.

Clear Channel said its revenue was boosted by foreign-currency exchange rates, which particularly affect the company’s billboard and outdoor advertising segment — the company’s major growth driver in recent years.

The company held no conference call with analysts as it waits for closure on a private equity buyout led by Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital Partners, something it still expects by March 31. The Department of Justice signed off on the deal Wednesday, removing the last regulatory hurdle.

But investors have been skeptical the Clear Channel sale will go through, as other big deals have collapsed in the tightened credit market. The stock has been trading roughly $10 below the buyout price of $39.20 per share for weeks.

It closed up 64 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $30.13 Thursday. In aftermarket trading, the stock was up another 77 cents to $30.90.

Comcast

Cable operator to pay dividend

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, reported a 54 percent increase in fourth-quarter profit on solid revenue gains that were boosted by acquisitions and customers’ increased spending for cable TV.

In a bow to the desires of agitated shareholders unhappy with its weakened stock price, Comcast also said it will start paying a 6.25-cent quarterly dividend starting at the end of April that it expects will increase over time.

Moreover, the Philadelphia-based company is pledging that by the end of 2009 it will spend the remaining $6.9 billion it has allotted to buy back shares to try to satisfy a growing chorus on Wall Street to step up its repurchases.

Investors cheered the news, driving Comcast’s stock up by $1.43 to $19.24.

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