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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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From staff and wire reports The Spokesman-Review

Downtown mall sees sales increase

River Park Square reported on Thursday its highest first quarter of sales since the shopping center reopened in 1999.

First-quarter sales exceeded those from the same time period last year by more than 7 percent, the shopping center’s management announced in a news release. Also, a boost in March sales produced 13.4 percent more revenue compared with the same month last year.

Same-store sales in March grew 5.9 percent over 2003, mirroring national trends. The International Council of Shopping Centers reported same-store March sales rose nationwide by 7 percent. Same-store sales are those at stores that have been open at least a year.

“After a few flat years, the retail industry growth is refreshing,” said Mike Gowrylow, Washington state Department of Revenue spokesman, in the release.

New retailers who have opened or plan to open soon in River Park Square include Regis Salon, Ben & Jerry’s, Chrysalis Home Interiors and Edo Japan.

Ben & Jerry’s first Eastern Washington store is scheduled to open June 4 in the center’s third-floor food court, said Bob Smith, River Park Square’s manager. When Chrysalis opens at the end of June next to the Rock City Grill, Smith said, the center’s first level will be full.

Sterling signs lease on Mexican property

Coeur d’ Alene Sterling Mining Co. has signed a final lease agreement on a Mexican silver property, and plans to begin production at the Baroness tailings property later this year.

The project is located in the Mexican silver district of Zacatecas. Sterling Mining will start construction of the remaining facilities there within the next several weeks. Construction will take about three months, and when the leach pads are completed, Sterling employees will begin leaching silver and gold out of the tailings.

Company President Ray De Motte said Sterling Mining is interested in acquiring other silver assets in Mexico.

“We view the recent downturn in silver prices as a significant opportunity to develop and acquire additional silver assets,” he said.

Software company wins business contest

A Spokane software company has won $5,000 in the first Eastern Washington University Business Plan Competition.

Game Energy LLC, created in 2001 by Spokane resident Clinton Ford, makes games for handheld computers and smart phones. It now moves on to compete for $25,000 in the final round of the University of Washington Center for Technology Entrepreneurship business-plan competition on May 17.

Ford, a former Microsoft developer, enrolled in 2002 in EWU’s business program.

Game Energy’s prize money came from Avista Foundation, ICM Asset Management, INTEC and two anonymous individuals.

Earning $2,000 in the EWU contest was a student company that developed and markets a new line of caffeinated breath mints, called Blueballs. EWU plans to make the competition a cornerstone of its Center for Entrepreneurial Activities, part of the College of Business and Public Administration’s graduate entrepreneurship program.

Mortgage rates are on the rise

Washington Rates on 30-year mortgages rose this week to the highest level in eight months amid signs that the economy is gaining traction and that the Federal Reserve may push short-term interest rates up this summer.

Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages went up to 6.12 percent, marking the seventh consecutive weekly increase since rates hit a low for the year of 5.38 percent the week of March 18, Freddie Mac reported Thursday.

The mortgage giant’s nationwide survey of rates showed that the increase, up from 6.01 percent last week, left 30-year mortgages at their highest level since they averaged 6.16 percent the week of Sept. 12.

Federal Reserve policy-makers, in deciding to hold short-term interest rates steady at 46-year low of 1 percent on Tuesday, dropped a promise to be patient before they start raising rates.

American Airlines adds fuel surcharge

Fort Worth, Texas American Airlines said Thursday it would raise fares by $4 per round trip within the United States to help offset the rising cost of jet fuel.

American, the largest U.S. carrier, said the increase was effective immediately.

Several major U.S. carriers, including American, tried to raise fares by $10 per round trip in early March but retreated when Northwest Airlines refused to go along. About 10 fare increases in the past year have faltered.

Last month, American and Houston-based Continental Airlines tried to raise a fuel surcharge that it adds to tickets from $20 to $30 per round trip for most travel within the United States and Canada. But it dropped the increase after rivals declined to match it.

Earnings roundup

• Playboy Enterprises Inc.’s first-quarter income nearly tripled on revenue growth and a favorable comparison with last year’s results, which included a debt-refinancing charge. The Chicago-based adult entertainment company Thursday reported earnings of $1.9 million, or 6 cents a share, compared with $632,000, or 2 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue climbed to $80.9 million from $74.3 million.

• XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. said it ended its first quarter with more than three times as many subscribers as it had at the same point last year. The Washington, D.C.-based satellite-radio company reported a loss of $172.4 million, or 96 cents a share, on revenue of $43 million, compared with a loss of $124.5 million, or $1.26 a share, on revenue of $13.1 million in the same quarter last year.

• Clorox Co.’s profit jumped more than 14 percent in its latest quarter, propelled by what the company said was the largest year-over-year sales increase in eight quarters. Net income for the fiscal third quarter ended March 31 rose to $126 million, or 59 cents a share, from $110 million, or 50 cents a share, a year ago.

• Alcan Inc., the big Canadian aluminum producer, Thursday said it returned to a first-quarter profit, as higher prices and contributions from recently acquired Pechiney SA offset the effect of the weaker U.S. dollar and higher costs for raw materials. The results were the first to include Pechiney, the French aluminum maker that Alcan acquired late last year for $5.08 billion.

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