Seattle-based insurer Safeco said Chief Executive Officer Paula Rosput Reynolds will take on the added duties of chairman of the board...

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Seattle-based insurer Safeco said Chief Executive Officer Paula Rosput Reynolds will take on the added duties of chairman of the board May 7.

She will replace Joseph “Jay” Brown, who is stepping down, the company said Tuesday. Robert Cline, the chairman of the board’s audit committee, will become lead director. Board member Maria Eitel is also stepping down in May to focus on her role as president of the Nike Foundation, the company said.

InfoSpace

Quarter might surprise analysts

InfoSpace said Tuesday that it may report a first-quarter profit, defying analysts’ predictions of a loss. The news, released after the market closed and InfoSpace released its fourth-quarter financial results, pushed InfoSpace stock up 72 cents, or 7.4 percent, to $10.50 in extended trading.

Owner of the Dogpile and WebFetch Internet search engines, InfoSpace said its first-quarter sales will be $35 million to $37 million and earnings will range from break-even to a profit of 4 cents a share.

Analysts had forecast a net loss of 6 cents, the average of three estimates compiled by Bloomberg, on sales of $34.6 million, the average of eight estimates.

For the fourth quarter, InfoSpace, based in Bellevue, reported a profit of $57.8 million, or $1.74 a share, compared with $27.6 million, or 83 cents, in the year-earlier period. Its latest results included a one-time gain of $140 million from the sale of discontinued operations. The loss from continuing operations was $2.21 a share. Sales rose 15 percent to $39.1 million, topping analysts’ estimates of $34.5 million.

Wilcox Family Farms

Unprofitable dairy will close

Wilcox Family Farms is closing its 130-employee dairy in Roy, Pierce County, saying the dairy-processing business is dominated by big business and has not been profitable at Wilcox for several years, particularly in Western Washington.

The 99-year-old company will continue to operate a dairy in Cheney, Spokane County, and will focus on expanding its natural, organic and cage-free egg production in Roy and Aurora, Ore.

About 365 people work for Wilcox; some of the Roy dairy employees will move to the egg side of the business.

Propel Biofuels

Biodiesel station opens in Bellevue

Propel Biofuels said Tuesday that it has opened a biodiesel station in Bellevue. The fueling point, at a Shell station on Northeast 32nd Street and Richards Road in Factoria, will provide a fuel blend containing 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel.

Seattle-based Propel already operates two biodiesel fueling stations in Kenmore and Ballard. The company said it plans to open nearly 40 stations on the West Coast this year.

Aviation

Beijing-to-Seattle service planned

China’s Hainan Airlines said Tuesday that it will begin the first nonstop service between Seattle and Beijing in June.

Seattle will become the first North American city served by China’s fourth-largest carrier, which was founded in 1993 and is privately held.

Hainan said it will initially operate Airbus A330-200 planes for the route but will begin using Boeing 787s as soon as they are available.

The new service will likely provide Seattleites their first opportunity to fly out of this city on a Dreamliner. Hainan was one of five Chinese airlines scheduled to take delivery of a Dreamliner in June 2008. While those deliveries are now pushed into 2009, Hainan could still get one of the first seven planes — and it’s the only early customer with service out of Seattle.

Beginning June 9, the flight will operate four times a week: on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Agriculture

Farmers lose bid to collect cash owed

Washington sugar-beet farmers came up empty-handed in their bid to collect millions of dollars owed them by a defunct sugar producer, after a U.S. appeals court said the government had first dibs on any cash the company had.

A Washington, D.C., appeals court ruled Tuesday in favor of the government, because it lent money to Pacific Northwest Sugar as part of a program to prop up the domestic sugar market.

The ruling was a victory for the Commodity Credit Corp., an arm of the Agriculture Department that makes loans to processors and administers farm-price subsidies.

The farmers received only 55 percent of the money they were due.

Starbucks Coffee Japan

Nine-month profit jumps 61 percent

Starbucks Coffee Japan, 40-percent owned by the Seattle-based coffee-chain operator, said nine-month profit rose 61 percent on higher beverage sales and new stores.

Net income was 2.96 billion yen ($27.6 million) in the nine months ended Dec. 31, up from 1.84 billion yen a year earlier, the company said Tuesday. Revenue gained 16 percent.

Starbucks Japan is facing increasing competition after McDonald’s in August began converting some of its outlets into cafes.

Starbucks Japan added 61 stores in the period, taking its total to 747.

Nation / World

Markets

Asian markets fall after steep U.S. drop

Asian markets plunged today after a steep drop on Wall Street overnight fanned investors’ fears the U.S. economy was sliding into a recession that could sap demand for Asian exports.

In Hong Kong, the benchmark Hang Seng index plunged 1,339.24 points, or 5.4 percent, to close the half-day session at 23,469.46. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index was down 3.8 percent in afternoon trading.

“It’s unbridled pessimism,” said Francis Lun, general manager at Fulbright Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong. “Everyone is concentrating on a U.S. recession, but Europe is also looking bad. … We are in for a bear market now.”

Some traders said today’s decline in Hong Kong was driven by investors keen to avoid risky exposure during the Lunar New Year holidays. Markets in Hong Kong and Singapore were closed this afternoon and will remain shut Thursday and Friday. Markets in China, South Korea and Taiwan are closed today through Friday for the holidays.

Walt Disney Co.

Earnings down, but revenue is up

The Walt Disney Co. reported lower fiscal first-quarter profit Tuesday due partly to prior-year gains from the media conglomerate’s sale of its interest in US Weekly magazine and the E! Entertainment channel.

Still, the company beat Wall Street expectations.

For the quarter ended Dec. 29, Disney reported net income of $1.25 billion, or 63 cents per share, compared with $1.70 billion, or 79 cents per share, in the prior-year period.

Revenue grew to $10.45 billion compared with $9.58 billion in the same quarter a year earlier.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had expected earnings of 52 cents per share on revenue of $10.04 billion.

Shares of Disney slipped 83 cents, or nearly 3 percent, to $30.07 Tuesday. After the results were released, shares climbed $1.50 in after-hours trading.

BP

5,000 more will be cut from work force

BP, the British oil giant, announced on Tuesday that it would cut an additional 5,000 jobs by the middle of next year, part of a plan by the chief executive, Anthony Hayward, to slim management and make the company more efficient.

The company also announced a fourth-quarter profit that missed analyst estimates, but said it would raise its dividend 31 percent, citing an “increasingly robust” outlook.

Profit in the last three months of 2007 rose 53 percent, to $4.4 billion, from $2.88 billion, in the period a year earlier. Excluding gains or losses from holding inventories or one-time items, profit was $4 billion, which was about 10 percent less than analysts expected.

BP said most of the additional job cuts would be at major corporate offices, like the London headquarters. The cuts will come on top of 9,500 jobs that are moving off BP’s payroll as part of a plan announced in November to sell gasoline stations in the U.S.

Toyota

Emerging markets, China boost sales

Sales growth in China and other emerging markets offset a decline in the United States to help push Toyota’s profit up 7.5 percent for its third fiscal quarter.

Toyota has been flourishing as soaring gas prices boost the appeal of the Prius and other smaller models reputed for fuel efficiency.

Toyota, which narrowly trailed U.S. automaker General Motors for the top spot in 2007 global vehicle sales, said Tuesday it sold 2.28 million vehicles in the October-December quarter, up 5.8 percent from a year ago.

Its sales growth in emerging markets, including China, Africa and South America, as well as in Europe, more than made up for declines in North America, where sales fell 8,000 vehicles from a year earlier to 756,000 vehicles.

GMAC

Housing slump batters division

GMAC said Tuesday it lost $724 million in the final quarter of 2007 as the housing slump and disruptions in the credit and capital markets battered the lender’s home-mortgage division.

The automaker owns 49 percent of GMAC after selling the remainder of the business in that year to an investment group led by Cerberus Capital Management for $14 billion.

Adobe Systems

Chief technology officer is named

Adobe Systems, the biggest maker of graphic-design software, named Kevin Lynch as chief technology officer.

Lynch, 41, is the first to hold the position at Adobe since co-founder John Warnock stepped down from the role almost seven years ago, company spokeswoman Katie Juran said Tuesday.

The San Jose, Calif., software maker has a campus in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.

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