Pacific Northwest The U.S. Air Force's top weapons buyer said Wednesday that she expects the winner of a potential $40 billion refueling-aircraft...

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Pacific Northwest


The U.S. Air Force’s top weapons buyer said Wednesday that she expects the winner of a potential $40 billion refueling-aircraft contract will be announced after U.S. markets close Friday, Reuters reported.

“That’s my best bet for now,” Sue Payton, assistant secretary for acquisition, told the news service Wednesday after a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on the Air Force 2009 budget request.

The Air Force passed its tanker-contract recommendation Monday to the Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition Board.

Boeing is competing with a joint venture of Northrop-Grumman and Airbus’ European parent, EADS, for the job of building 179 tankers to replace part of the Air Force’s Eisenhower-era KC-135 fleet.


Analyst lowers rating of shares

The stock of Costco Wholesale fell 3 percent — the most in three weeks — in Nasdaq trading Wednesday after Goldman Sachs Group cut its rating to “neutral” from “buy” because of slowing consumer spending.

The shares of the Issaquah-based warehouse-store chain dropped $1.97 to $64.49 after Goldman Sachs analyst Adrianne Shapira downgraded the shares. Shapira’s 12-month target price remains at $71.

Consumers have trimmed spending as they face higher gasoline and food costs. Monthly-sales growth at stores open at least a year has been around 3 percent, excluding gasoline and foreign-exchange gains, rather than the 3 percent to 6 percent range of last year, Shapira wrote Wednesday in a report.

“Recent results have been weaker,” Shapira said. Costco “has shown some vulnerability to current macro pressures.”


Company to buy Israeli startup

Microsoft agreed to buy Israeli startup YaData, which develops online-advertising tools, for an undisclosed sum.

The Israeli business daily Globes valued the deal at as much as $30 million, without citing anyone.

“YaData’s technology will help Microsoft’s efforts to improve advertisers’ return on investment and provide more focused and relevant advertising,” said a news release posted on the Tel Aviv-based company’s Web site.

YaData’s team will join Microsoft’s Israeli research and development center after the completion of the acquisition, which is subject to regulatory approval, the statement said.

National Business Briefs

Liberty Media

News Corp. stake traded for DirecTV

Two media giants completed a long-awaited $12 billion agreement Wednesday that sent Liberty Media’s 16 percent stake in News Corp. back to Rupert Murdoch and gave John Malone control over satellite TV provider DirecTV.

Liberty Media, a holding company with interests in cable programming and Internet commerce, also acquired three regional sports networks as part of the exchange, including FSN Northwest.

The announcement, which had been expected for months, proved a quiet end to a years-long dispute that began when Malone surprised the industry by acquiring the stake in News Corp.

Under the final terms, Liberty Media exchanged a 16 percent stake in News Corp., worth roughly $11 billion, plus $625 million in cash for a 41 percent interest in DirecTV.


$468M loss posted despite higher sales

Cable company Charter Communications reported a $468 million fourth-quarter loss Wednesday even as sales rose.

The cable company controlled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen reported losses of $1.27 per share, versus a year-ago loss of $396 million, or $1.08 per share.

Increased telephone and high-speed Internet connections pushed revenue up 10 percent to $1.55 billion for the quarter.

Chief Executive Neil Smit told analysts during a conference call that Charter would continue its bid to win more customers by bundling more services together — offering customers cable TV, telephone and Internet products through one cable connection.

He said an increase in phone subscriptions was a sign that Charter is slowly winning more customers from competitors. The company announced it has surpassed 1 million phone customers for the first time.

Commerce Dept.

New-home sales lowest since 1995

In more bad news for the beleaguered housing industry, sales of new homes fell in January for a third straight month, pushing activity down to the slowest pace in nearly 13 years. The median price of a new home dropped to the lowest level in more than three years.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that new-home sales fell by 2.8 percent last month, the slowest pace since February 1995.

The median price of a new home dropped to $216,000 in January, down 4.3 percent from the December median sales price, the point where half the homes sold for more and half for less.


$2.7B lost after Daimler departure

Chrysler lost about $2.7 billion in the two months after Daimler sold controlling interest in the U.S. automaker to a New York private equity firm, Daimler said in its annual report Wednesday.

The figure, for the period from Aug. 4, 2007 to Sept. 30, was calculated under international financial reporting standards used in Europe and not under U.S. accounting standards, Daimler said.

The net loss also includes about $466 million in expenses incurred in the fourth quarter of last year, including Chrysler restructuring costs and costs related to a new four-year contract with the United Auto Workers, Daimler said in its report.

Chrysler sales were down 3 percent last year as falling truck and SUV sales erased gains on the car side.

Toll Brothers

Luxe-home builder loses $96M; sales off

Luxury-home builder Toll Brothers said Wednesday it swung to a loss in the first quarter as write-downs on properties it could no longer sell at a profit more than doubled and its sales tumbled 23 percent.

Chief Executive Robert Toll said in a conference call with analysts that the selling season that started in mid-January has been “weak for the third year in a row,” but there were a few “glimmers of hope” in areas such as Naples, Fla., and suburban Washington, D.C.

The Horsham, Pa.-based company lost $96 million, or 61 cents per share, in the three months ended Jan. 31 compared with profit of $54.3 million, or 33 cents per share, a year earlier.

Robert Toll quickly dampened any speculation that the housing market has bottomed.

“I’m not ready to say on this call that we’re back,” he said. “It’s a glimmer and let’s hope the good times stick.”

Stock and bond funds

Fidelity loses most in January outflows

Fidelity Investments lost more money to outflows than any rival in January as investors pulled $9.9 billion from stock and bond funds, according to data compiled by Financial Research.

Vanguard Group collected $8 billion in deposits last month, the most of any U.S. fund firm, according to the research firm. Investors had deposited $2.3 billion into Fidelity’s funds in December, $2.9 billion in all of 2007.

Financial Research’s data doesn’t include money-market funds, said Vin Loporchio, a spokesman for Boston-based Fidelity. Clients deposited $20.3 billion into the company’s money funds last month, he said. Including money funds, Fidelity added $86.1 billion in 2007, Loporchio said.

American Funds, run by Capital Group, had $2 billion in deposits in January. Vanguard last year unseated American Funds as the best-selling mutual-fund company for the first time since 2002.

Fidelity is the world’s largest mutual-fund company, followed by Vanguard.

Investors pulled $22.9 billion from stock and bond funds in January as markets tumbled worldwide. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index declined 6.1 percent in January.

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