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Originally published Friday, August 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Business Digest

Microsoft to add Iowa data center

Microsoft plans to build a data center in West Des Moines, Iowa, to host large, global Web services, the company and the governor of Iowa...

High-tech

Microsoft to add Iowa data center

Microsoft plans to build a data center in West Des Moines, Iowa, to host large, global Web services, the company and the governor of Iowa announced Thursday.

"Iowa provided the best all-around combination of attributes that we evaluate in an important selection such as this," Michael Manos, general manager of data-center services for Microsoft, said in a statement.

The company had been evaluating several sites around the country. It will be the company's fourth U.S. data center.

Iowa expanded its major tax breaks for manufacturers to include data-center operators. Google is also building a data center in Iowa.

Retail

Wal-Mart to pay former exec $6.75M

Wal-Mart Stores said it will pay $6.75 million to end a compensation dispute with a former vice chairman who once admitted to stealing money from the company and spending it on dog care and a truck upgrade.

The company initially agreed to a $17 million retirement package for Vice Chairman Thomas M. Coughlin, a friend of the Wal-Mart's late founder, Sam Walton, and then asked a court three years ago to cancel the accord, according to a statement the company filed Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

A trial was scheduled to begin Thursday in Arkansas state court, said Daphne Moore, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.

Coughlin in February was sentenced to 27 months home detention after pleading guilty to five counts of wire fraud and one count of failing to report income from the fraud on his 2000 tax return. He previously paid $411,218 in restitution and a $50,000 fine.

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Commodity

No relief at pump for holiday

A weaker dollar and rising tensions between Russia and the West sent oil prices roaring more than $5 higher Thursday, a move that all but erases hopes that the cost of gasoline would keep falling ahead of Labor Day travel.

Analysts cited the slumping value of the dollar, the lingering standoff between Russia and neighboring Georgia, and traders rushing to cover their bets that oil prices would decline.

"It was a combination of things, and they all came together to cause the move we saw today," said Michael Busby, manager of oil trading at NIC Holdings Corp. in Melville, N.Y.

Oil's advance Thursday was part of a broad rally in commodities.

Retail

Barnes & Noble posts 2Q profit drop

Barnes & Noble, the nation's largest bookseller, posted a 15 percent drop in second-quarter profit Thursday as it struggles with sluggish consumer spending.

The New York-based retailer also projected that sales at established stores would be weaker than expected, but reiterated its earnings guidance for the year.

Investors were not appeased, sending shares of the company down more than 4 percent, or $1.07, to $24.67 in Thursday trading.

Airline

Merger inevitable for Qantas?

Qantas Airways, facing a wave of industry consolidation, will have to merge with another carrier "sooner rather than later" because of a slowing economy and oil-price volatility, the carrier's chief executive officer said.

"We are in a position of volatility," Geoff Dixon told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio Thursday. "Other airlines are starting to merge and we must be part of that — it will be sooner rather than later."

Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines pilots earlier this month approved a new joint contract, clearing the way for combining their unions after a merger that will create the world's largest carrier.

Banks

3 more banks settle over risky securities

Merrill Lynch & Co., Goldman Sachs Group and Deutsche Bank on Thursday joined other major financial companies in settling with regulators over their roles in selling risky auction-rate securities to retail investors.

The agreements bring to eight the number of global banks that have settled the five-month probe into claims they misled customers into believing the investments were safe.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, leading the investigation on behalf of state and federal authorities, has now reached deals to buy back $57 billion worth of auction-rate securities.

Cuomo said Thursday he is far from finished in examining both large and small players in the market, and said the investigation will intensify against Bank of America. He also warned that the investigation might shift its attention to individual brokers and bank employees who sold the investments.

Mortgage companies

Fannie, Freddie rescue costly

A government rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could be costly for scores of investment, banking and insurance companies that hold billions in preferred shares of the mortgage-finance giants as assets.

Speculation has been building on Wall Street that a government investment to rescue Fannie and Freddie would come in the form of a cash infusion through the acquisition of preferred shares in the companies.

Those shares, which pay a bondlike yield, get preference over common shares in the event a company is liquidated. While existing common stockholders would likely see the value of their stakes reduced to zero, the outcome is less-certain for preferred shareholders.

Retail

Judge objects to Steve & Barry's plan

Steve & Barry's bid to sell its assets for $168 million was criticized by a judge who said a provision protecting its executives from lawsuits was improper.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper in Manhattan said Thursday that Steve & Barry's can't sell its assets to BHY S&B Holdings LLC, a newly formed affiliate of Bay Harbour Management LC and York Capital Management, under the current proposed agreement. Steve & Barry's co-founders Steve Shore and Barry Prevor are investors in BHY S&B Holdings.

Gropper, who said he might change his mind, objected to a provision that would remove legal claims against the company's executives.

Steve & Barry's has five stores in Washington state: Everett, Auburn, Spokane, Olympia and Vancouver.

Compiled from Bloomberg News, Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

UPDATE - 09:46 AM
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UPDATE - 09:32 AM
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UPDATE - 08:04 AM
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UPDATE - 07:54 AM
Underwater mortgages rise as home prices fall

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