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Originally published Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Business Digest

Coinstar proxy contest resolved

Pacific Northwest Bellevue-based Coinstar, an owner and operator of self-service coin-counting machines, said Wednesday it reached an agreement...

Bellevue-based Coinstar, an owner and operator of self-service coin-counting machines, said Wednesday it reached an agreement with Shamrock Activist Value Fund of Burbank, Calif., to resolve a proxy contest.

Shamrock, which owns about 13 percent of Coinstar's outstanding shares, had presented an opposition slate to three incumbent board members up for re-election.

Coinstar agreed to create an eighth position on its board and fill it with Arik Ahitov, a vice president with Shamrock Capital Advisors. Also, Coinstar said it will proceed with plans to add an additional independent director to its board by March 1, 2009, and accept nominations from major stockholders, including Shamrock.

In return, Shamrock agreed to not solicit proxies for Coinstar's June 3 shareholders meeting and to vote in favor of all the board's nominees. Shamrock also agreed to not participate in any contested elections involving Coinstar's directors through the completion of its 2010 annual shareholder meeting.

Labor market

Metro area adds 33,800 jobs

The Seattle metro area ranked fourth in the nation among large cities for year-over-year job growth in April, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report released Wednesday.

The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area added 33,800 jobs in the past year, the agency said.

Leading the nation with year-over-the-year employment gains was the Houston area (up 71,000 jobs), followed by the Dallas-Fort Worth area (up 66,800 jobs) and the New York-northern New Jersey area (up 57,600 jobs). On a percentage basis, the BLS said the Kennewick-Pasco-Richland area had a 4.3 percent increase in jobs year-over-year, good enough for fifth in the country. Growth in the Seattle metro area was 2 percent, which didn't place it among the leaders.

Liberty Bank

Capital raised for Kitsap bank

A group of Kitsap County businesspeople has received approval from federal regulators to begin raising capital for a proposed community bank.

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The organizers of Liberty Bank of Washington hope to raise $11.5 million to $14 million in initial capital. In a statement, the organizers said potential investors representing 75 percent of those funds already have signed letters of intent.

The bank would target small businesses, their owners and professionals. It plans to open its first office, on Seventh Avenue Northeast in Poulsbo, later this year.

Dow Chemical will raise its prices by up to 20 percent almost immediately to offset the soaring cost of energy, and the CEO of the chemical giant lashed out Wednesday at the U.S. government for failing to develop a sound energy policy.

Dow supplies a broad swath of industries, from agriculture to health care, and any sizable price jump would likely affect almost all of them.

The price increases will take effect Sunday and will be based on a product's exposure to rising costs. Dow said it spent $8 billion on energy and hydrocarbon-based feedstock, or raw materials, in 2002 and that could climb fourfold to $32 billion this year.

"For years, Washington has failed to address the issue of rising energy costs and, as a result, the country now faces a true energy crisis, one that is causing serious harm to America's manufacturing sector and all consumers of energy," Chairman and Chief Executive Andrew Liveris said.

Liveris said soaring costs for Dow are "forcing difficult discussions with customers."

Dow Chemical, based in Midland, Mich., makes everything from the propylene glycols used in antifreeze, coolants, solvents, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, to acrylic, acid-based products used in detergents, wastewater-treatment and disposable diapers.

It makes key ingredients used in paints, textiles, glass, packaging and cars.

Dow shares rose 60 cents to $40.83 Wednesday.

Airlines

United, US Airways CEOs will meet

The CEOs of United Airlines and US Airways are scheduled to meet today as talks aimed at combining the carriers progress despite concerns that threaten to scuttle the deal, according to two people briefed on the discussions.

The attempted pairing, which would create the world's largest carrier, faces numerous hurdles but is still possible despite published reports that the talks may have broken down, the people told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

One of the people, who did not want to jeopardize the talks and requested anonymity, said United CEO Glenn Tilton and US Airways CEO Doug Parker will meet to discuss some of the issues holding up the deal and how to resolve them.

A key sticking point is labor complications that could delay any cost savings from a deal.

United and US Airways declined to comment.

Microsoft

Office standard decision appealed

South Africa is appealing a decision to make Microsoft's Office Open XML format an internationally recognized standard for electronic documents, officials said Wednesday.

The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) sent a letter of protest to two Geneva-based organizations that held a worldwide ballot on Microsoft's application last month, complaining that the process was poorly conducted and rushed.

"We challenge the validity of a process that, from beginning to end, required all parties to analyze far too much information in far too little time," SABS Chief Executive Martin Kuscus said in the May 22 letter to the International Standards Organization and the International Electrotechnical Commission.

Supporters of a rival format called OpenDocument Format have claimed that Microsoft used strong-arm tactics to win approval of the application.

Commerce Department

U.S. factory orders

better than forecast

Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket items besides autos and airplanes showed surprising strength last month, raising hopes that manufacturing can help the economy shake off the slumping housing market and credit crisis.

Overall, orders for durable goods dipped by 0.5 percent in April, reflecting steep declines in commercial aircraft and autos, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

The decline, however, was just one-third of what experts expected.

Take out the volatile transportation sector and orders rose 2.5 percent, the largest gain in nine months.

Nymex

Oil futures rise

on Nigerian threat

Oil futures rose back above $131 Wednesday, recovering from early losses as threats against Nigerian oil facilities led investors to at least temporarily set aside concerns about falling U.S. gas demand.

At the pump, meanwhile, gas prices rose to a new record over $3.94 a gallon.

Light, sweet crude for July delivery rose $2.18 to settle at $131.03 on the New York Mercantile Exchange (Nymex), after spending the morning swinging between gains and losses.

At its lows, oil was down nearly $3 a barrel, compounding a $3.34 drop in crude on Tuesday. It passed $135 for the first time last Thursday.

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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