The Securities and Exchange Commission has ended an investigation of WSB Financial and its Westsound Bank subsidiary without taking any...

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Banking

The Securities and Exchange Commission has ended an investigation of WSB Financial and its Westsound Bank subsidiary without taking any action, the Bremerton company said Tuesday.

In December, the SEC’s regional office in San Francisco asked WSB for documents concerning “various issues that have been the subject of recent public disclosure.”

The issues that attracted the SEC’s attention were not further identified. However, in March, federal banking regulators found that Westsound Bank had “engaged in unsafe or unsound banking practices” related to its loan portfolio, and in February the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco designated Westsound as a “troubled” institution, placing it under closer supervision.

In addition, several shareholders have sued WSB in connection with its December 2006 initial public offering.

In a letter dated June 19, the SEC office said its staff investigation was over and no enforcement action had been recommended to the full commission.

Real estate

Developer buys bank property

Bank of America sold its Capitol Hill branch property this week to a Spokane developer who plans a mixed-use, residential and retail project on the site.

SRM Development bought the 0.9-acre property at Broadway East and East Thomas Street for $9.3 million, according to county records.

Melissa Wechsler, project manager for Runberg Architecture Group, SRM’s architect, said a four-story apartment building with ground-floor retail will be built first, in the parking lot behind the 41-year-old bank building.

After the bank relocates, the old branch will be demolished and a six-story mixed-use building will be built on the site, she said.

Altogether, the complex could have 120 to 130 apartments, Wechsler said.

The property is one block from Sound Transit’s proposed Capitol Hill light-rail station.

Brewing

Redhook-Widmer merger is official

Redhook Ale Brewery and Widmer Brothers Brewing completed their merger Tuesday to create a new company called Craft Brewers Alliance, headquartered in Portland. It will trade on Nasdaq using Redhook’s former ticker symbol, HOOK. Shareholders of each former company now own about half of the combined company, with Anheuser-Busch owning a minority equity stake.

Labor

Dockworkers work without a contract

Thousands of West Coast dockworkers are working without a contract after negotiators failed to reach an agreement on a new labor pact.

Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said Tuesday that workers agreed to stay on the job while negotiations continue.

The previous six-year contract with shipping companies expired Tuesday.

Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shippers and terminal operators, says the organization is committed to keeping West Coast ports running.

Contract talks began in March. About 26,000 workers would be affected at 29 ports in California, Oregon and Washington.

Software

Microsoft’s bid to improve search

In its bid to improve Internet search, Microsoft purchased a San Francisco company working on so-called semantic search technology, it said Tuesday.

Powerset hopes to better match search results with a searcher’s actual intent. Its search engine, now limited in scope, is designed to understand natural-language queries.

Microsoft has research groups working on similar technologies and the company has vowed to improve Internet search as it tries to close the huge market-share lead Google holds. It also recently launched a recruiting push in Silicon Valley.

“We’re buying Powerset first and foremost because we’re impressed with the people there,” the senior vice president in charge of search, Satya Nadella, wrote on a Microsoft corporate blog.

Automotive

Lithia forgoes earnings forecast

Lithia Motors, the Medford, Ore.-based operator of 110 U.S. auto dealerships, said it’s withdrawing its earnings forecast for the second quarter and full year because of “weakness” in June sales.

“Until these factors stabilize, predicting future earnings is difficult,” Chief Executive Officer Sid DeBoer said Tuesday in a statement.

Lithia had predicted on April 29 a profit of 25 cents to 30 cents a share for the second quarter and $1 to $1.30 for all of 2008. The company also forecast full-year sales of $3.1 billion to $3.2 billion.

Lithia announced a plan June 2 to eliminate jobs and sell as many as 15 stores as rising gasoline prices reduce vehicle sales. As part of the strategy, the company raised $45.1 million of new capital in the second quarter from the financing and sale-leaseback of real estate, DeBoer said.

Nation and World

IEA Oil prices spike on supply worries

Oil closed at nearly $141 a barrel Tuesday, another record, on worries about tight supply and mounting tensions in the Middle East. In the United States, prices at the gas pump edged to their highest point yet.

Crude prices resumed their advance as the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) said the world is experiencing its “third oil-price shock,” comparing the effects of today’s prices with the oil crises that began with the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the 1979 revolution in Iran.

IEA Chief Nobuo Tanaka added that OPEC is pumping oil at record levels and other producers “are working at full throttle.”

Blockbuster

Circuit City bid is withdrawn

Blockbuster said Tuesday it is withdrawing its proposal to buy Circuit City, the big-box retailer whose sales have tumbled this year.

Chief Executive James Keyes said in a written statement that the proposed deal, at a price of $1 billion or more, didn’t make sense because of market conditions.

Blockbuster, the nation’s largest movie-rental chain, will still try to merge content such as movies and games with the sale of electronic devices under one roof — but it will be at Blockbuster’s own stores, Keyes said.

Dallas-based Blockbuster announced in April that it had offered at least $1 billion for Circuit City and planned to create a 9,300-store chain.

Blockbuster went public with its offer after its initial overtures were ignored by Circuit City’s board. Eventually, the Richmond, Va., company agreed to open its books to Blockbuster.

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