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Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Business Digest

AWAS plane-leasing firm to be sold

Investment bank Morgan Stanley announced Monday it will sell Bellevue's AWAS, the one remaining aircraft-leasing company based in the region, to U.K.-based Terra Firma for $2.5 billion.

Terra Firma is a private equity firm that has not previously been involved in aircraft leasing. The sale is expected to close in the first half of 2006. It's unclear if the operation's headquarters will remain here.

Morgan Stanley acquired AWAS, formerly Ansett Worldwide Aviation Services, in 2000. AWAS has about 30 staff members in Bellevue and 119 worldwide. It owns 155 commercial jets.

In April 2004, California-based Aviation Capital Group acquired aircraft lessor Boullioun Aviation Services, also of Bellevue, for more than $2.5 billion. Terra Firma was one of the bidders for Boullioun.


Deal reached with strikers

Boeing said Monday it has agreed to a tentative contract with about 1,500 striking machinists at its rocket unit plants who are represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The workers affected by the contract, in Alabama, Florida and California, are to vote on the contract Wednesday, Boeing said. The workers went on strike Nov. 2 in a dispute over retiree health insurance.

The union called the changes offered in the contract "substantive, not substantial."

Boeing said the contract offered lump-sum bonuses and wage increases for all employees and pension increases for those retiring after March 1 but would eliminate retiree medical coverage for new hires after Sept. 1.


Company wins suit over patents

Microsoft has won a lawsuit accusing the company of infringing patents for a process to improve images on computer screens.

U.S. District Judge Manuel Real said three patents owned by Research Corporation Technologies couldn't be enforced because the inventors withheld "material information" from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and three others were invalid.

The suit, filed in December 2001 in Tucson, Ariz., accused Microsoft of infringing patents for creating halftones, breaking down pictures into dots of varying sizes.

Research Corporation plans to appeal the ruling.


Source code topic of meeting with EU

Microsoft met with European Union regulators Monday to try to convince them that its offer to license the source code for the Windows server product is sufficient to comply with their demands.

"We want to make clear to everyone that we're not holding back any technical information," said Horacio Gutierrez, associate general counsel for Microsoft Europe.

Microsoft last week offered to license the programming instructions as part of an effort to resolve an antitrust dispute. The EU has threatened to fine Microsoft as much as 2 million euros ($2.4 million) a day unless the company supplies information on its Windows operating system to competitors.

Monday's meeting in Redmond was between Microsoft technical experts, EU regulators and computer scientist Neil Barrett, who was named as a trustee to provide advice on Microsoft's compliance with the European Commission's 2004 antitrust order.

Jonathan Todd, a commission spokesman, declined to comment on the meeting.


Windows XP flaw drains batteries

Microsoft's latest Windows XP operating system contains a flaw that drains the batteries in laptop computers, requiring more frequent recharges.

The problem, uncovered Monday by Web site Tom's Hardware Guide, causes laptop batteries to lose power at a faster rate when devices such as printers, mice and iPod music players are connected. While Microsoft had acknowledged the problem internally and told some customers, it hadn't made the information widely known.

The flaw could hamper efforts by computer-chip makers such as Intel to produce notebook computers with longer battery life. Microsoft is "looking into the issue with Intel," Windows product manager Michael Burk said Monday in an e-mail. He declined further comment.

Mittal Steel

Arcelor vows to foil hostile offer

Steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal went on a charm offensive Monday to calm misgivings over his $22.5 billion unsolicited offer for Arcelor — as the smaller steelmaker went on the attack.

The Mittal Steel chairman and CEO pledged to create a European champion, protect jobs and respect European labor conditions. Arcelor warned against its predator's "irregular" profitability, pledging to consider "all options" to foil the hostile bid.

The India-born steel boss — ranked the third-richest man by Forbes magazine — was speaking at a Paris news conference after meeting Thierry Breton, the French finance minister. Breton said he still had to be convinced that a tie-up between the world's top two steel companies would be risk-free for France, where Arcelor employs 30,000 workers.

Eastman Kodak

Photography icon posts another loss

For the first time, Eastman Kodak is generating more annual sales from digital imaging than from film-based photography, yet its mammoth overhaul brought more pain Monday — a fifth consecutive quarterly loss largely due to restructuring costs.

The 125-year-old photography icon, which is in the midst of eliminating up to 25,000 jobs, lost $52 million, or 18 cents a share, in the October-December quarter, compared with a loss of $59 million, or 20 cents a share, a year ago.

Sales rose 12 percent to $4.197 billion, up from $3.76 billion in last year's fourth quarter.

Excluding one-time items, including an income-tax refund that boosted its profit by $243 million, Kodak earned $151 million, or 51 cents a share. The mean forecast among analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial was for earnings of 39 cents a share on sales of $4.15 billion.

Kodak shares fell 62 cents, or 2.4 percent, to close at $25.75 on the New York Stock Exchange.

U.S. Steel

Profit slides for steelmaker

U.S. Steel on Monday posted a sharp decline in fourth-quarter profit on lower steel prices and volume as well as an accounting change related to its Slovak operation that resulted in a one-time charge of $35 million.

Including the accounting change, net income slid to $109 million, or 85 cents per share, from $451 million, or $3.46 per share, a year earlier.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial were looking for per-share earnings of $1.06.

The results were announced after the close of regular trading on Monday. In regular trading, the steel company's shares dropped 9 cents to $58.64. They were off 5 cents more to $58.59 in after-hours trading.


Ebbers' conviction is questioned

Federal appeals-court judges Monday questioned the fairness of the conviction and 25-year sentence of WorldCom chief Bernard Ebbers in an $11 billion fraud.

As Ebbers, 64, watched from a front-row seat, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan put a federal prosecutor on the defensive for the conviction last March of Ebbers on fraud and conspiracy charges.

"There are many violent criminals who don't get 25 years in prison. Twenty years does seem an awfully long time," Judge Jose Cabranes said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Johnson said Ebbers hurt millions of investors in an accounting fraud that drove WorldCom into bankruptcy in 2002. It re-emerged under the name MCI. Verizon bought MCI in a deal that closed earlier this month.

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

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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