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Tuesday, January 23, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Business Digest

PSE privacy violations bring settlement

Puget Sound Energy will pay $995,000 for violating consumer-privacy laws by giving information on thousands of customers to an outside marketing company and will permanently abolish the program under a settlement approved Monday by the state Utilities and Transportation Commission.

Under the settlement agreement, the utility agreed to pay a $900,000 penalty, contribute $95,000 to its low-income heating-assistance program and avoid such violations in the future.

The utility acknowledged transferring, through its PSE Connections marketing program, more than 65,000 phone calls, as well as basic information on new and relocating customers, to Georgia-based Allconnect between November 2001 and March 2006. Due to a two-year statute of limitations, only 18,992 call transfers were made subject to penalties.

Under state regulations, privately owned gas and electric companies cannot release or sell customer information to a third party for marketing purposes without written permission from customers.

"We discontinued the program last March as soon as the commission raised the issue of there being privacy issues," utility spokeswoman Martha Monfreid said Monday.

Washington Mutual

Execs' bonuses are held steady

Washington Mutual held bonuses steady for top executives after it posted 3.8 percent profit growth in 2006.

Top executives are eligible for a bonus of 350 percent of base salary if internal performance targets are met, the Seattle-based thrift said in a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday. If targets are exceeded, an executive could make an additional 150 percent. If minimum targets aren't met, no bonus will be paid, the company said.

Washington Mutual didn't disclose specific targets in the filing.

Washington Mutual, like other thrifts, is struggling with profit margin as higher interest rates have cooled demand for home loans and prompted depositors to shift money to accounts that paid more.

Melodeo

Music venture aimed at China

Major music labels and Seattle-based Melodeo plan to announce today that they will work on a joint venture in China to distribute music and other content over mobile phones.

As part of the partnership, Warner Music Group and Sony BMG Music invested about $2 million in Access China Media Solutions, a joint venture between Melodeo and Access, a Tokyo-based technology company.

With the investment, Warner, Sony and Access China Media Solutions will jointly develop music applications for wireless carriers and handset manufacturers.

The companies said the partnership has been formed to make it easer to sell music in China, where piracy has been a problem. They added that mobile phones are inherently more secure and feature a built-in payment system.

NorthSound 1380

Everett station to reach larger area

Everett's NorthSound 1380 radio station (KRKO-AM) said Monday it has been approved to increase its power from 5,000 to 50,000 watts to serve a larger coverage area.

The radio station, which has been family owned for 85 years, will now be able to reach more Snohomish, Island and King County residents.

Construction is expected to be completed later this year. As part of the upgrade, the AM station will also start broadcasting in high definition.

Venture capital

$25.5B invested; highest in 5 years

Venture capitalists invested $25.5 billion in 3,416 U.S. deals in 2006, the most invested since 2001, according to the MoneyTree Report being released today.

The report is compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the National Venture Capital Association and Thomson Financial.

In Washington, the report found that $1.01 billion was invested in 135 companies last year, also making it the most invested since 2001 when 138 companies received $1.14 billion. The state's software sector received the most dollars in 2006, trailed by medical devices, biotechnology, energy and telecommunications.

Pfizer

Drug maker to cut jobs, close plants

Pfizer, struggling with fierce competition from makers of generic drugs, announced Monday it will cut 10,000 jobs and close at least five facilities to slash its annual costs by up to $2 billion.

The drastic measures being taken by the world's largest drug maker highlight the challenges faced by many pharmaceutical companies these days.

In addition to patent expirations, big drug companies are struggling with a business climate where insurers and other large purchasers of medicines are demanding lower prices and more evidence of products' worth.

It's the second time in two years that the maker of Viagra and Lipitor has announced a major cost reduction plan in order to combat the loss of about $14 billion in revenues this year due to expiring patents on key drugs.

The company is at risk of losing 41 percent of its sales to generic competition between 2010 and 2012, according to one analyst.

Gap

Struggling retailer loses its CEO

Gap Chief Executive Officer Paul Pressler resigned Monday following a miserable holiday shopping season that hurt the retail chain's fourth-quarter profit.

The announcement after the markets closed came amid speculation that the struggling retailer was close to a takeover after hiring investment firm Goldman Sachs to consider offers or other dramatic changes.

Under the terms of his contract, Pressler will receive a severance package totaling about $14 million in salary, bonuses and stock options, according to company officials.

Robert Fisher, chairman of Gap's board of directors, will serve as interim CEO and company president as the board searches for a permanent replacement.

Sun / Intel

Alliance is set on server chips

Sun Microsystems will begin building a line of servers that run on chips from Intel and will receive Intel's endorsement of Sun's Solaris operating system, executives from both companies said Monday.

The long-term alliance, announced by Sun Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Schwartz and Intel CEO Paul Otellini, was seen as a sizable victory for both companies as they fend off threats from competitors in the high-margin server market.

Sun, which plans to begin shipping the Intel-based products in the first half of this year, said the companies are currently working on ways to improve and expand the market presence of Solaris.

Citigroup

CFO reassigned to lower-profile job

Sallie Krawcheck, chief financial officer at Citigroup and one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, was reassigned Monday to head the company's brokerage and private banking business — a lower-profile job with narrower responsibilities.

The move comes after last month's appointment of Robert Druskin as the bank's chief operating officer.

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

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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