Pacific Northwest The federal Office of Thrift Supervision has approved Washington Federal's proposed acquisition of Bellevue-based First...

Share story

Pacific Northwest

The federal Office of Thrift Supervision has approved Washington Federal’s proposed acquisition of Bellevue-based First Mutual Bancshares, the final hurdle for the $189.8 million deal.

The Seattle-based thrift agreed last July to buy First Mutual, which has 12 branches in the Puget Sound area and just over $1 billion in assets. First Mutual shareholders approved the acquisition last October.

In twin regulatory filings, the two companies said they plan to complete the deal Feb. 1 at 11:59 p.m. Seattle time. After completion, Washington Federal will have 148 branches in eight Western states and total assets of $11.3 billion.

Starbucks

Stock price drops on analyst’s report

Starbucks’ stock sank this week after Bear Stearns downgraded it from outperform to peer perform, saying the company’s problems include high dairy prices and “its expanded customer base including less affluent consumers who react to economic pressures,” according to a report from analyst Joseph Buckley. Shares fell to 52-week lows after the downgrade on Wednesday, plummeting $1.16, or 5.7 percent, to $19.31, and another 61 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $18.70 Thursday.

InfoSpace

Firm narrows focus; 40 jobs cut

InfoSpace said Thursday it will lay off up to 40 employees to trim expenses by as much as $9 million this year after selling two business units.

Some of the bigger cuts will come from the top, where five executives have been let go. Employees already have been notified, but their last day will be Jan. 18. Employees will receive severance packages and help finding new jobs, said spokeswoman Stacy Ybarra.

Going forward, the Bellevue company will have 170 employees remaining, she added.

In September, InfoSpace sold Switchboard.com, an online phone-directory business, to Idearc for $225 million in cash. The following month, it sold its mobile infrastructure business to Motricity for $360 million.

InfoSpace is now solely focused on online search through its sites such as Dogpile and about 100 private-label partners using metasearch technology combining results from Yahoo, Google and others.

Newcomers flock to Oregon, Nevada

Several Western states continue to attract large numbers of newcomers, but Washington isn’t among them, according to a moving company’s analysis of its household-shipment traffic.

Last year, 59 percent of Nevada’s moves were into the state, United Van Lines found. Fifty-eight percent of Oregon’s traffic was also inbound, followed by Arizona with 56 percent.

Washington state and California, meanwhile, had almost equal percentages of incoming and outgoing moves. In Washington, 51 percent were moving in, compared with 49 percent leaving.

The figures were not broken down by cities.

Nationally, North Carolina had the highest rate of moves into the state, while Michigan had the highest rate of those leaving, a rank it has held for the past two years.

Life Sciences Fund

$28 million to be awarded in ’08

The state’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund said Thursday it will award up to $28 million in grants this year.

The money will come in two competitions. About $6 million to $8 million in grants will be shared by applicants working on health care.

The second competition will distribute between $18 and $20 million in new research programs that could strengthen the life-sciences sector.

Applications must be submitted by nonprofit organizations, but for-profit companies can collaborate, fund officials said.

The fund’s money comes from Washington’s tobacco-settlement bonus.

Yakima Herald-Republic

Cutbacks follow ad, circulation declines

Facing higher costs and lower advertising and circulation revenues, the Yakima Herald-Republic has laid off five employees, closed its Sunnyside bureau and eliminated its zoned edition for the Lower Valley.

Publisher Michael Shepard announced the moves Thursday to employees. In addition to the layoffs, the 38,000-circulation paper will discontinue its Lower Valley supplement, Voices of the Valley.

The Herald-Republic, which is owned by The Seattle Times Co., will leave several positions unfilled, including one reporter job.

It will revamp its Spanish-language weekly, El Sol de Yakima, partly by outsourcing some page production to Mexico.

It is also trimming the width of the daily paper from 12.5 to 11.5 inches.

Nation and World

Ford Motor

Indian carmaker top Jaguar bidder

An Indian automaker that will unveil the world’s cheapest car next week may soon produce two of the world’s premier brands as well.

Ford named Tata Motors the top bidder for its Jaguar and Land Rover brands Thursday and entered into “focused negotiations at a more detailed level,” meaning Tata was named preferred bidder for the storied British automakers.

Ford executives have said they expect to sell the two British automakers early this year.

Commerce Dept.

Factory-order jump not really positive

Orders to U.S. factories jumped in November by the largest amount in four months.

The increase was driven by higher petroleum prices and was not viewed as a sign of any newfound strength in manufacturing.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that orders for manufactured goods rose 1.5 percent in November, the biggest rise since a 3.4 percent surge in July.

But all the strength came in demand for nondurable goods, which shot up 3 percent, reflecting higher oil prices.

Orders for durable goods, everything from appliances to autos, actually fell by 0.1 percent, the fourth straight monthly decline.

Nymex

Gold prices flirt with new high

Gold prices neared a record high Thursday, propelled by a weakened U.S. dollar and surging oil prices — an inflationary combination that has boosted the precious metal’s appeal as a safe-haven investment.

An ounce of gold jumped $9.40 to settle at $866.40 on the New York Mercantile Exchange (Nymex), after earlier hitting $872 an ounce, just shy of the all-time high of $875 set in 1980.

Gold prices increased nearly 32 percent in 2007.

The greenback’s steep decline against the 15-nation euro has been a major driver behind gold’s advance from less than $650 an ounce in January 2007 to its current price.

Investors often use gold as a haven from falling currency values.

State Street Corp.

Earnings optimism pushes up stock

State Street Corp. cleaned house Thursday after investments tied to subprime mortgages soured.

But its shares surged more than 8 percent to an all-time high as the trust bank raised earnings expectations amid booming business serving institutional investors.

Boston-based State Street set aside $618 million to cover expected legal fallout and other costs from investments that deteriorated over the summer.

It also replaced the head of the investment management unit that oversaw those bond funds.

William Hunt resigned as chief executive of the State Street Global Advisors investment unit after three years and was replaced on an interim basis by Executive Vice President James Phalen.

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