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Falstad Column: West End prepares for openings
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Jan Falstad HAVE YOU HEARD

Krispy Kreme doughnuts plans to hole up on the West End of Billings.

Lincoln Spoor, who is the area developer for five states, has confirmed that the popular chain has looked at several locations in Billings, all on the West End.

The top location is near Famous Dave's Ribs on King Avenue West.

"We are looking seriously at it. I can't say it is close. If we can agree on terms, the closing may not be for three or four months," Spoor said from Las Vegas.

The chain doesn't usually sell single doughnuts, but sells them by the dozens. Krispy Kreme had 100 stores in 1999 and now sits at 265 stores.

According to Knight Ridder News, if you plopped down $210 to buy 10 shares of this company when it went public three years ago, your investment - with two stock splits - would have soared to more than $1,760 last winter.

However, the company's stock has slipped 37 percent since then.

But fans don't care about the money. They care about the dough.

Of all the companies covered in this column, none brings on the calls and letters and e-mails that Krispy Kreme does.

The cultist doughnut devotees want to know one thing: When will Krispy Kreme open in Billings?

"Depending on zoning, which I don't think is a problem up there, we could open in the first quarter of next year," Spoor said.

News that qualified For folks who don't have enough heavy reading in their lives, financial news releases are getting longer and longer.

Under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, companies write "forward-looking statements" that disclose risks and uncertainties about the news they just disclosed.

When NorthWestern Corp. announced Friday that it is deferring interest payments on its trust preferred securities, the disclosure was two paragraphs longer than the news itself.

Trust preferreds perform like a fixed income security and act like a preferred share of stock.

The move buys the company some breathing room. NorthWestern will save $30 million a year in interest investors expected to be paid.

The announcement is one more serious setback in a string of bad news about the South Dakota utility that bought the last assets from Montana Power Co.

NorthWestern is reorganizing to reduce its heavy debt, including borrowing to buy MPC's transmission and distribution properties in Feb. 15, 2002.

The company received a 35 percent interim rate increase on its Montana gas prices, which it wants to make permanent.

The utility has said it has enough cash to last this year, but it must win the trust of its bankers to re-negotiate debt.

Not paying interest to investors is one more sign that the utility may file for bankruptcy protection.

The stock closed Friday at $2.56. The shares have traded as low as $1.41 and as high as $18.51 over the past 52 weeks.

MDU sailing along Meanwhile, another utility in Bismarck, N.D., is flying high.

MDU Resources Group, which serves 23,608 electricity and 71,193 gas customers in Montana, had a great week.

The utility set 52-week highs last week, closing Friday at $31.90.

The previous high was $31.32.

Laugh de jour Signs in businesses:

In a nonsmoking area: "If we see smoke, we will assume you are on fire and take appropriate action."

On a fence: "Dog food is expensive. Salesmen welcome !"

And my personal favorite - a sign on a plumbers truck: "We repair what your husband fixed."

Jan Falstad can be contacted at (406) 657-1306 or at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com

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