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Originally published Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Business Digest

Starbucks pulling organic milk off the menu

Pacific Northwest Starbucks will stop offering organic milk in U.S. stores next month. The Seattle-based coffee company began making organic...

Starbucks will stop offering organic milk in U.S. stores next month.

The Seattle-based coffee company began making organic milk available at an extra cost in 2001 to satisfy customers who wanted dairy products from cows that had not been given artificial growth hormone, said spokesman Brandon Borrman.

But when Starbucks completed a transition to artificial-hormone-free dairy products in all of its U.S. stores earlier this month, it eliminated customers' primary reason for requesting organic milk, Borrman said.

"We heard our customers loud and clear," he said. "They wanted dairy that comes from cows that weren't treated with synthetic growth hormone, and we've delivered."

Borrman said orders for organic milk consistently have been "very low," though he would not disclose sales figures. Starbucks plans to remove organic milk from stores by Feb. 26.

F5 Networks

Stock falls after rating lowered

F5 Networks stock fell 8.3 percent Wednesday after Jefferies & Co. lowered the company's rating to "hold" from "buy" because of concern about slowing technology spending among financial institutions.

Seattle-based F5, whose products allow companies to use software applications on multiple networks, slid $1.86 to $20.68. The stock has declined 48 percent over the past year, compared with a 4 percent retreat for the Nasdaq.

"Considering the current concerns with respect to U.S. economic slowdown, we are revisiting the fundamentals of the companies in our enterprise networking coverage," analyst William Choi wrote in a note to investors. "Our checks indicate that several large financial institutions have cut back their IT budgets for 2008."

Microsoft

Deal made for ads on SEC filings site

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Microsoft signed an exclusive agreement to sell Internet advertising on Edgar Online's Web site for Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Microsoft will provide graphic, video and text ads for the site, which has more than 2 million visitors a month, the companies said Wednesday. Edgar Online will also provide access to SEC filings on Microsoft's MSN Money site.

Amgen

Study: Drug helps kids with psoriasis

Amgen's Enbrel, a drug used to treat adults with psoriasis, helped children overcome symptoms of the skin disease for the first time in a large clinical trial.

More than half of children on Enbrel had 75 percent improvement in skin lesions, while about one in 10 did that well on a placebo, researchers said in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.

Amgen has submitted the findings to U.S. regulators, and it hopes to win expanded marketing approval before the end of September. Enbrel was developed for rheumatoid arthritis during the late 1990s in Seattle at Immunex, which Amgen acquired in 2002. Amgen has about 1,000 employees in the Seattle area.

Enbrel, an injection, is designed to work by soaking up an excess inflammatory protein called TNF. The protein can attack the skin and lead to psoriasis, or strike joints, causing rheumatoid arthritis, researchers say.

IDC / Gartner

PC shipments beat predictions

The rapid growth curve for computer shipments in last year's third quarter extended into the year's final months, two technology-research firms reported Wednesday.

The U.S. growth rate beat predictions that spending in the U.S. technology sector would slow and eventually hurt overseas tech markets.

And Hewlett-Packard maintained its slight edge over Dell as the world's largest computer maker, with little change in market share.

Research firm IDC said shipments in October through December rose 15.5 percent, to 77.4 million units, up from 67 million a year earlier.

Gartner Inc. pegged the growth at a slightly slower 13.1 percent, with 75.9 million units shipped, up from 67.1 million in last year's fourth quarter.

Fannie Mae

Raines may get papers released

A federal judge said he may order the regulator for Fannie Mae to give former Chief Executive Officer Franklin Raines 180,000 internal e-mails and documents related to a probe into the company's $6.3 billion earnings overstatement.

"That is where it is headed," U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon said at a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Leon said he would limit access to attorneys for Raines, former Chief Financial Officer Timothy Howard and former Controller Leanne Spencer, who are defending themselves from shareholder and government lawsuits over their role in the accounting manipulation.

Raines is a Seattle native who served as former President Clinton's budget director before joining Fannie Mae.

Forcing the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) to release the records would discourage government examiners in the future from expressing controversial views about accounting and other matters at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, agency officials testified.

"All the years we have spent working to have a more open culture at OFHEO would be down the drain," Deputy General Counsel David Felt told the court. Raines, Howard and Spencer could use details from the papers in their defense against a lawsuit filed in an administrative- law court in 2006 by OFHEO, Felt said. The agency is seeking $215 million in damages.

JPMorgan / Wells Fargo

Big banks warn of lending crisis

The bill for America's excessive borrowing during the housing boom has arrived, and more people are having trouble paying it.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., two of the nation's biggest banks, on Wednesday joined a growing chorus warning that the subprime mortgage mess is just the start of a sweeping lending crisis. And some fear that consumers falling behind on all kinds of loan payments could tip the economy's scale toward recession.

Strapped consumers are having a tough time making payments on credit cards, home-equity loans and even for their cars. This has caused three of the top five U.S. commercial banks that have already reported damaging fourth-quarter results to set aside some $12.5 billion to cover future loan losses — and that number will likely grow as the year wears on.

Countrywide Financial

81,000 borrowers aided, lender says

Countrywide Financial said Wednesday it helped more than 81,000 borrowers keep mortgage payments manageable in 2007, part of a stepped-up campaign by the nation's largest home-loan provider to stem growing defaults and foreclosures.

The company, which was servicing more than 9 million loans as of Dec. 31, said it worked with 81,266 borrowers to modify loan terms, work out long-term repayment plans or take other actions.

Countrywide modified loan terms for about 69 percent of those borrowers, the company said.

The company said 1,000 of its customers ended up losing their homes through short sales, when a home is sold for less than the amount owed on the mortgage.

An additional 178 agreed to deed their property back to Countrywide.

Countrywide agreed last week to be acquired by Bank of America for $4.1 billion in stock.

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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