The labor contract with the largest union at Qwest Communications International expires today.

Share story

Telecom

The labor contract with the largest union at Qwest Communications International expires today.

The Communications Workers of America has voted to authorize a strike, which could theoretically begin as soon as Sunday. The union represents 20,000 Qwest workers in 13 states, including Washington.

“We remain hopeful that we’ll see a tentative agreement this weekend,” said Qwest spokesman Robert Toevs.

Energy

Biodiesel supplier loses contract

Imperium Renewables has lost a big contract to provide biodiesel to Royal Caribbean Cruises.

“Any financial or contractual relationships between our company and Imperium Renewables were ended by July 1, 2008,” said a Royal Caribbean spokesman Friday in an e-mail.

The cruise line had committed to buying 18 million gallons of biodiesel a year until 2011, according to an Imperium Renewables filing with federal regulators.

The loss of the contract underscores the difficulties faced by the Seattle-based biodiesel company, whose profit margins have been squeezed by skyrocketing costs for raw materials. The contract’s termination was reported Friday by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Beverages

Distributor jobs may come back

When Alaska Distributors in Kent sells its beverage-distribution businesses this fall, it expects that most of its 800-some employees will be hired by the purchasing companies, Alaska CEO Steve Loeb said Friday, explaining the layoff notice the company filed Wednesday with the state Employment Security Department.

Last month, Alaska made plans to sell its distribution businesses to CoHo Distributing of Portland, Odom in Bellevue and a joint venture of Odom and Miami-based Southern Wine & Spirits of America. The deals are expected to close in October, Loeb said.

After the transactions, Alaska Distributors will have some real estate left, mostly in the Seattle area.

Technology

Microsoft Word’s format adopted

The format used by Microsoft’s Office 2007 programs to save documents will become an international standard after appeals against the move failed to gather sufficient support, the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization said Friday.

The decision ends months of wrangling over whether Microsoft’s Office Open XML format should be considered an open standard — a requirement for many lucrative government contracts.

Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela had complained that an international ballot held in April was poorly conducted and rushed them into a decision based on incomplete information.

Technology

Cadence ends bid for Mentor Graphics

Cadence Design Systems, the world’s largest maker of programs for creating computer chips, scrapped a $1.6 billion bid for Mentor Graphics, saying the board refused to negotiate.

The stock of Wilsonville, Ore.-based Mentor plunged $3.67, or 26.2 percent, to $10.33 after Cadence ended its bid. Cadence disclosed the $16-a-share hostile offer in June after Mentor rebuffed earlier advances. Mentor, which had called the price “insufficient,” suggested the combination might have struggled to win regulatory approval.

Cadence, facing a slowdown in chip sales, planned to use the Mentor purchase to add semiconductor-testing software, speed up product design and cut operating expenses. Mentor’s failure to cooperate, coupled with a U.S. economic slump, have made financing terms “no longer attractive,” Cadence said.

Nation and World

Metal

Gold suddenly not as precious

Gold, which scorched into the record books earlier this year, has suddenly gone cold.

Prices for the precious metal — which touched $1,000 an ounce for the first time in March — have plunged in recent weeks, and on Friday tumbled below $800 for the first time since late last year.

“All of a sudden, it seems like the bottom fell out,” said David Beahm, a vice president at New Orleans-based gold dealer Blanchard and Company. The dramatic sell-off — gold has slashed more than $100 off its prices since Aug. 1 — comes amid a host of bearish factors that have dented the metal’s safe-haven appeal: The once-limping dollar is strengthening and crude oil is easing from record levels.

Media

Netflix refunds customers for delay

Netflix said it has resumed shipping from all distribution centers after “severe technical issues” caused delays for three days.

The company will give affected customers, about 30 percent of Netflix’s 8.4 million, a 15 percent credit on their next monthly bill, spokesman Steve Swasey said.

Retail

Price of Hershey’s products to rise

Hershey said Friday it plans to raises prices on its products by an average of 11 percent as it tries to stem the impact of soaring commodities costs, and trimmed its projections for 2008 and 2009.

The candy company known for its chocolate bars and bite-sized Kisses said the immediate increase was necessary to offset “significant increases” in the cost of raw materials, such as sugar, cocoa and peanuts — up as much as 45 percent since the start of the year — as well as the growing cost of fuel, utilities and transportation.

Retail

Cookie company files for bankruptcy

Mrs. Fields Famous Brands, the cookie and frozen-yogurt company based in Salt Lake City, said it plans to file for bankruptcy and began seeking support from creditors for a so-called prepackaged Chapter 11 plan.

The company filed the turnaround plan Friday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Unsecured creditors would be paid in full under the proposal, while equity holders would get nothing. Funds affiliated with Capricorn Investors are the majority owners of Mrs. Fields and support the restructuring, according to the SEC filing.

Banks

Wachovia agrees to buy securities

Wachovia agreed Friday to buy back up to $8.8 billion in auction-rate securities and pay a $50 million fine, the latest bank caught in a regulatory crackdown of bonds.

The market for auction-rate securities has been unraveling since Citigroup announced it would buy back $7.5 billion in the securities and pay $100 million in fines as part of its settlement with state and federal regulators. UBS, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Morgan Stanley have also settled with regulators. Merrill Lynch & Co. has said it will start to buy back the securities. Regulators say banks did not accurately represent risks to investors.

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