LA Biz Observed archive

Mark Lacter covered business, the economy and more here from 2006 until his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
 
The entire LA Biz Observed archive — more than 10,000 blog posts by Mark — remains online and available.
 
August 2006

End of an era

Shareholders of Golden West Financial Corp. (parent of World Savings) made it official today - approving the company's $24 billion sale to Wachovia Corp. AP cranked out a nice little feature about Herb and Marion Sandler, the husband-and-wife team who have been running things for 43 years. A couple of dozen shareholders showed up at Golden West's Oakland headquarters and snacked on cookies as they listened to the Sandlers one last time. Nice - except,...

Let's look at the bright side

This wasn't a very good day for Northrop Grumman Corp. It lost out to arch-rival Lockheed Martin Corp. for that huge NASA contract (see below), worth as much as $8 billion over the next eight years. That's "b" as in billion. But the L.A.-based company at least can count on the Business Journal (FD: my former employer) to help salve the wounds. Under the headline "Northrop Wins One, Loses Another," the paper gives equal treatment...

More global warming news

The state Senate passed a bill that limits the amount of electricity from coal-fired power plants that can be purchased by the state's electric utilities and large companies. The bill now goes to the governor, who is expected to sign it. It really just codifies existing state policy, covering both Southern California Edison and DWP. Along with the greenhouse legislation, it makes California the leading state in attacking global warming. Just a thought: Would...

Container fee bill lives on

Some nifty sleight of hand by State Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, has resulted in the Assembly passing legislation that would assess a $30 fee on cargo containers moving through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. If it makes it into law, the fee would generate $500 million a year. The money would be used for security enhancement, pollution mitigation and rail improvement. (Story got buried in this morning's LAT.) Lowenthal's original bill,...

Lockheed wins NASA contract

NASA has awarded Lockheed Martin Cop. a multibillion-dollar contract to design, develop and test the Orion manned spaceship that will replace the shuttles - and eventually return Americans to the moon. Lockheed was selected over a team led by Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Co. Based on several advance stories, this would appear to be an upset - and a huge blow to L.A.-based Northrop, whose CEO, Ronald Sugar, called Orion one of the company's...

Hollywood Palladium sale collapses

No deal could be reached between Palladium Investors Ltd. and Combined Properties Inc., which had planned to retain the 66-year-old venue and develop the adjoining parking lot, possibly with homes, stores and a hotel. The Palladium will continue to book concerts and other events, Larry Worchell, chairman of Palladium Investors, said in a statement. The owners said they couldn't comment on earlier reports that the Sunset Boulevard hall had been sold for $65 million (I...

Thursday morning headlines

Greenhouse deal: Lots of coverage on the agreement between Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Democrats in the statehouse to cut greenhouse emissions. It's the lead story in the LAT, NYT and WSJ. Among interest groups, there's outrage by business types and tepid praise by environmentalists (the bill's goals are less ambitious than those outlined in the Kyoto Protocol). Of course, this is just the start. Already, there's talk of legal challenges, which could delay the timetable....

Deal on greenhouse emissions

Looks like California is about to pass the nation's toughest state initiative to control greenhouse emissions. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democrat-controlled legislature have reached a compromise on the bill. It's expected to pass both the Assembly and Senate before the session ends tomorrow night. "I am happy to announce we have reached a historic agreement on legislation to combat global warming," Schwarzenegger said Wednesday. The measure apprently will include provisions to trade emission allowances...

Headline of the day

From the Women's Wear Daily Web site: "The Effects of the Middle East War on Retail." No, they're not talking about the impact on sales at your local Gap, but apparel, textile and retail companies in Israel and Lebanon....

*Casden executive pleads guilty

The guilty plea involves taking more than $100,000 in bribes from subcontractors in exchange for work on the company's projects. John Archibald was also charged with filing false tax returns. Under a plea bargain, Archibald is expected to be sentenced to 15 consecutive weekends at the Pasadena City Jail at his own expense. He also is expected to be fined $10,000 and ordered to pay $155,000 in restitution to Casden and $25,780 to the Franchise...

It's time to dial in some football!

If you're running out of people to call on your cell phone, well, there's always college football. ESPN will broadcast up to 25 live broadcats of college games a month through its wireless service ($25 a month above the regular calling plan). Walt Disney Co.-owned ESPN was able to snag the cell phone rights through digital media deals it has with several big conferences, including the Big 10 and the Big East. Major League Baseball...

L.A.'s fun facts

The Census Bureau's American Community Survey, sometimes called the "snapshot of America," has all kinds of facts and figures about L.A. County. Among them (numbers rounded off): -Population in labor force: 4.7 million -Population not in labor force: 2.6 million -Commuters who drive to work alone: 3.1 million -Commuters who carpool: 500,000 -Commuters who take public transportation: 279,000 -Commuters who walk to work - 109,000 -Number of jobs in manufacturing: 560,000 -Number of jobs in...

Wednesday morning headlines

Holiday crowds: LAX expects 810,000 travelers to depart and arrive on flights from Friday to Monday, an increase of 4 percent over the same Labor Day weekend last year. One reason for the increase is that the airlines are finally adding more flights - 4.2 percent on the domestic side and 1.9 percent international. It's the first significant increase in more than a year. KB cutting back: LAT reports that the L.A.-based homebuilder has sold...

Help wanted: Rick Dees' sidekick

When a radio station changes formats, it usually has to change staffs, too. In case you missed it, Emmis Communications' new Movin 93.9, which replaced country format KZLA-FM, is looking for a "sassy sidekick" for Rick Dees, who will return to the local airwaves as the station's morning host. Qualifications: "You must have a very pleasing voice, love Rhythmic pop music, be a pop culture junkie, know our targets 30+ Female lifestyle and love, music,...

Reviewing Movielink

Downloading movies continues to be a most elusive business. For all the new services being introduced, there always seems to be a catch. You can only playback the movies on a computer, the downloading process can be lengthy, the selection of titles is limited, etc. Business Week tech writer Ian Sager tried his hand at Movielink, which has been around since 2002 and is owned through a joint venture of Paramount, Sony, Warner Bros. and...

Cruise's "Plan D" plan

Defamer takes a shot at all those insiders taking a shot at Tom Cruise's weird development deal with executives from Six Flags - especially the unidentified agency executive who told the LAT: "This feels very Plan C, maybe even Plan D." And I dare you to read aloud that second sentence in one breath: This is just another example of reflexively conservative, insecure, thinking-inside-the-box Hollywood turning up its nose at those who dare to think...

It's magic time in Vegas

That's as in the Magic Marketplace trade show, where local retailers and apparel makers are peddling their latest wares and assessing their back-to-school seasons. Huntington Beach-based Quiksilver Inc. said that a hot summer helped jump-start sales of casual/surf appeal. The Quicksilver results ease earlier concerns about the action sports sector after Anaheim-based Pacific Sunwear of California reported a large drop in its second-quarter profit....

The rise of the six-figure income

Who can afford a median priced home in Southern California these days? Well-off people, of course. In his OC Register blog on real estate, Jonathan Lansner notes that between 1999 and 2005, Orange County added 71,000 households with incomes of $100,000 or more - a 32 percent increase. Households making less than six figures fell by 36,000, or five percent. Separately, Lansner mentions that Citigroup analyst P.J. Juvekar is telling clients that paint-related companies are...

Bizchat on KPCC

This morning's roundup of local business stuff with Steve Julian (89.3 FM at 6:55 and 9:55) covered the decline in L.A.-area auto sales, the unlikely dropoff in gasoline prices and the high cost of the gubernatorial campaign. It seems impossible, but next week will mark the two-year anniversary of my weekly gabfests with Steve. Aside from having to get up every Tuesday morning at a ridiculous hour, it continues to be a blast. Thanks to...

Tuesday morning headlines

Apple competitor: Universal Music is backing a new service called SpiralFrog that allows consumers to download songs for free and rely on advertising for its revenues. The service, which will begin in December, could represent the biggest threat Apple and its iTunes store have faced. I mean, free is a lot better than 99 cents a song, right? The music companies also want to recoup some of the lost revenues from illegal file-sharing networks. A...

Tom Cruise cuts development deal

Several news organizations are reporting tonight that Cruise/Wagner Productions has signed a deal with an investment group headed by Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins. Under terms of the agreement, Snyder, who also is chairman of Six Flaggs Inc., and Six Flaggs CEO Mark Shapiro will put up "a few million dollars each year for offices, staff and costs associated with developing movies at Mr. Cruise's Cruise/Wagner Productions." This sounds a little like the...

Car sales down in L.A.

Expect a 4.8 percent drop in Southern California car sales this year, according to a report by the Southland Motor Car Dealers Association. For the first six months of 2006, Honda, BMW, Lexus, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Hummer did the best in the percent increase of registrations from a year ago (the Hummer sounds like a surprise, but remember that the actual number of registrations for the first half of the year is a little over...

Maguire takeover buzz

We've been to this dance before, but it's still worth noting that shares of L.A.-based Maguire Properties Inc. are way up this morning on speculation that the real estate company is looking for a deal that would take it private - with Rob Maguire still running the show. At a little before noon, the stock was up almost 7 percent, at $40.07 - just shy its 52-week high of $40.36 earlier in the morning. Merrill...

Emmys draw low ratings

Coming before Labor Day, the numbers were expected to be low, but the fourth-smallest audience ever? That's what the preliminary Nielsen numbers indicate, with the Sunday telecast averging 16.1 million viewers, down 14 percent from an average 18.8 million viewers last year, when the program was carried on CBS. The awards show had a couple of big strikes against it: NBC pushed it to late August to make room for "Sunday Night Football," and many...

New York Times Co. buys Baseline

It's another small but telling example of old media trying to snap up an attractive new media company. Santa Monica-based Baseline Studio Systems has an impressive database that includes box-office numbers, cast and crew credits for thousands of films, plot summaries, celebrity bios, studio production schedules, and archived articles from the trades. Revenues come mostly from subscriptions, which the NYT Co. wants to continue. Purchase price was $35 million in cash. The Times is treading...

Monday morning headlines

Political commerce: L.A. remains by far the top market for political ads so far this year. Through Aug. 13, $76 million has been spent, followed by SF at $43 million and San Diego at $28 million. No coincidence that the top three cities are in California, considering all the big bucks going into the gubernatorial race. Good news for local broadcasters, though much of the action will likely go to cable. From the WSJ: Some...

From the weekend papers

Stop the presses: The L.A. Times cites job growth on the Westside for the increasing traffic congestion that's being felt from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica - and suggests that the only hope is either a light rail system or a subway to the beach. Now, maybe there's a chance such projects will be finished in our great, great, great grandchildren's lifetimes (though I doubt it). But what, prey tell, are we supposed to do...

My Space is not their space anymore

That's what happens when you sell your company - something MySpace founders Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe are discovering, now that their Web site phenomenon called MySpace is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., through the company's Fox Interactive Media unit. Take the matter of location. As explained in the current issue of Fortune, Anderson and DeWolfe were comfortable in the laid back confines of Santa Monica - a block from the beach - but...

Cruise vs. Mrs. Redstone

I really need to stop doing this, but today's Page 6 item in the NY Post is just too good. According to an "insider," whoever that may be, Redstone's wife, Paula Fortunato, might have been influential in the mogul's unexpected decision to dump Tom Cruise. Fortunato was apparently "incensed" by Cruise's criticism of Brooke Shields for taking prescription drugs to relieve her postpartum depression. Cruise recommended vitamins instead. To which Mrs. Redstone, according to that...

I forgot my cell phone!

You're out the door, onto the freeway and sipping you morning brew when all of a sudden you realize something awful has happened. You've left your cell phone back home. What to do? An informal online poll from the American City Business Journals group - not to be confused with the Los Angeles Business Journal - found that 46 percent would go back home. As for laptops, 21 percent said they would go back, while...

YouTube for sale?

The on-again, off-again buyout talk concerning the most popular video site (more than 16 million unique U.S. visitors in July) picked up steam this week when Sony Pictures grabbed the much smaller Grouper for $65 million. That's pocket change compared with the $2 billion that some say YouTube might fetch. But who would be interested at that rich price? Robert Routh, an analyst at Jefferies & Co., says the biggest media players might prefer to...

The Counter goes national

Everywhere, restaurant owners are singing the blues. High gas prices and a sour economy are keeping diners home, and business has suffered as a result. But none of it seems to be hurting The Counter, the hipster burger joint that's been packing them in on Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica for the past three years. Frankly, I still don't get it - jotting down the toppings you want on a pad (there are 300,000...

Friday morning headlines

Gas under $3: Not everywhere, mind you, but the Auto Club's weekly survey found pump prices at below $3 a gallon at some individual stations in the L.A.-Orange County area. The average price of self-serve regular is $3.183, which is five cents lower than last week, nine cents lower than last month but 39 cents higher than last year. The Auto Club says it's been a whacky summer for gasoline, with prices up when they...

SEC inquiry at KB

The L.A.-based homebuilder announced late this afternoon that the Securities and Exchange Commission will be conducting an informal inquiry into the company's stock option grants. The disclosure comes a couple of days after it was reported that KB Home was conducting an inquiry into the awarding of certain options to CEO Bruce Karatz. All this started with a shareholder lawsuit that accused the company of backdating those option grants to coincide with low points in...

PUC deregulates phone service

No more price controls for telecom providers like Verizon and AT&T. The California Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 to deregulate basic phone service after 18 years because the PUC concluded that Internet, wireless and cable can maintain competitive pricing. The phone companies will now be able to raise prices for services like caller ID with only a 30-day notice. Needless to say, consumer groups are not happy, though many acknowledge that the competitive landscape has...

Eau de Lindsay?

What do you get the bad girl who has everything? Why her own fragrance, of course. Women's Wear Daily reports that Lindsay Lohan was at the Chateau Marmont the other night talking up a possible deal with Coty, the $3 billion fragrance company. It wouldn't be much of a stretch - Coty, which had no comment on Lindsay's chatter, already has celebrity licenses with Jennifer Lopez, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kimora Lee Simmons, Celine Dion and...

My Space the magazine?

The My Space generation actually looking at ink-on-paper? Perhaps even reading ink-on-paper? Well, maybe. Advertising Age reports that the Santa Monica-based social networking site is considering a magazine that would complement its online property, now owned by News Corp. Editorial would probably center on standout My Space members and their likes (not much Mideast coverage, I would imagine). The probable publisher - through a licensing arrangement - would be the folks who put out New...

The Vernon mystique

The New York Times parachutes into Vernon, only to discover that outsiders aren't exactly welcome. The story focuses on the city's first contested election in 26 years that has Vernon officials refusing to count the ballots. That's a stalling technique as they await final resolution of a suit filed by the insiders against the outsiders who dared to run for City Council. As the NYT discovers, there's no getting up close and personal with Vernon's...

Offbeat: Piano man's doppelganger

Scott Rosenfelt is an L.A.-based independent filmmaker who happens to looks a lot like Billy Joel - and that can create some problems when he's traveling back east on business. Iíve tried disguises, like wearing a baseball cap or sunglasses. That only worsens the problem, because people expect a famous singer to be traveling incognito. Getting through the airport isnít the most difficult part. Itís the pressure of being stuck on a plane with other...

Thursday morning headlines

Cruise fallout: Not that there's much competition out there in the third week of August, but the Tom Cruise saga gets another round of stories. Sumner Redstone, chairman of Paramount parent Viacom and the guy at the center of the firestorm, sounded quite pleased with himself - and Viacom's stock price - in several interviews. "I don't see that any damage was done by what I said," he told the LAT (also noting that he...

Star Power

Tom Cruise is no slouch when it comes to box office mojo, but he's quite a distance from the actor whose films have brought in the biggest bucks. Want to take a guess? The answer is after the jump. Drum roll:...

Bad day for KB/Karatz

Let's see, what caused the most grief for KB Home shareholders today - the company reviewing questionable dates of stock options granted to CEO Bruce Karatz (see earlier post on Wednesday morning headlines), or a report showing a worse-than-expected decline last month in the number of existing homes sold nationwide? We'll just call it a combo platter. KB Home slumped $2.66, or 6.2 percent, to $40.53 - Wednesday's biggest loss in the S&P 500. Not...

Pricey office space

Having a tough time finding affordable office space? Join the club. Orange County has a 7 percent vacancy rate, among the lowest in the nation, while rental rates jumped almost 13 percent in the second quarter, to $2.47 per square foot per month. That's causing some companies to reconsider growth plans. Kurt Strasmann, regional managing director with brokerage Grubb & Ellis Co., tells the OC Register that there's a temptation to say "I don't want...

Shipping to Tacoma

The New York Times plays catch-up on the efforts of some shippers to find an alternative for the congested Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach - specifically the Tacoma/Seattle waterfronts. The Puget Sound area offers two big plusses: Its deepwater ports can handle the large container ships, and they are two daysí sail closer to Asia than Southern California. Of course, their numbers are still paltry compared to those in Socal. Last year, Seattle...

L.A.'s fastest-growing company

Ancillary Care Management ranked ninth on Inc. magazine's new list of 500 festest-growing companies - and as with so many of Inc.'s selections, it's barely on anyone's radar screen. L.A.-based Ancillary Care helps health plans manage the cost of biotech drugs - an important niche considering how pricey those treatments can be (average claim is $1,500). Annual revenue is $232.6 million and its three-year growth rate is an eye-popping 2,942 percent. The only coverage on...

Wednesday morning headlines

Cruise follos: Lots of coverage this morning, but it's the backstory that's especially intriguing. The Wall Street Journal's Merissa Marr, who first broke the story Tuesday afternoon (dutifully picked up by LABizObserved), reports that senior managers at Viacom, parent of Paramount, had wanted to dump Cruise after his lucrative production deal with the studio expired. Paramount offered a much-reduced deal, but as Marr reports, "senior Viacom managers, particularly (Chairman Sumner) Redstone, were eager to see...

*Cruise is out at Paramount

Paramount Pictures is ending its 14-year relationship with actor Tom Cruise, the Wall Street Journal is reporting tonight. Sumner Redstone, chairman of Viacom Inc., which owns Paramount, cited the actor's controversial and sometimes erratic behavior of the past year. "As much as we like him personally, we thought it was wrong to renew his deal," Redstone said in an interview with the Journal. "His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount." Cruise, of course,...

USC sues Tenet

The suit, filed in L.A. Superior Court, seeks to force a unit of Tenet Healthcare Corp. to give up ownership and control of USC University Hospital. The school claims that various lawsuits and investigations have impacted Tenet's ability to operate the hospital. The suit comes two months after the Dallas-based company (formerly based in Santa Barbara) resolved a four-year-long U.S. Department of Justice probe into Medicare and other billing disputes for about $900 million. Tenet...

Nine out of 10 Latino youths speak English well

That's according to a new Census Bureau survey - and raises a bunch of questions for U.S. marketers and media about whether and to what extent younger Spanish speakers will assimilate into an English-language orientation. At home, 76 percent of Hispanics ages 5-17 speak Spanish (alone or in addition to English), but that's compared with 89 percent of Hispanics 18-64 and 94 percent of those 65 and older. Longer term, does it makes sense for...

Concerns about homebuilding

The earlier post about all that new housing in L.A. County raises some uncomfortable questions about overbuilding. Alex Barron, a JMP analyst, sees worrisome similarities between Southern California's housing market and the one in Florida. Especially ominous, he told Dow Jones, is that builders are responding to slack demand by offering more incentives, steep price cuts and shockingly small deposits - in some cases less than one percent. That makes it a lot easier to...

Live Nation duking it out

Lots of buying and selling at Live Nation, the L.A.-based booking company that wants to focus on the music business. This week, a Louisville private investment group said it acquired three divisions of Live Nation's SFX Sports Group. The deal covers agent representation for tennis players, including 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick; a media operation that holds TV rights outside the U.S. for the U.S. Open and French Open tennis championships; and a division...

Tuesday morning headlines

Minimum wage agreement: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic lawmakers have cut a deal to give California the nation's highest minimum wage, at $8 an hour. The compromise does not include automatic increases tied to the inflation rate - something Democrats pressed for but Schwarzenegger rejected. The compromise is not great news for the state's restaurant industry, which had been lobbying against the higher minimum. Another downtown deal: Developers keep buying up parcels adjacent to the...

Tower Records files Chapter 11

The Sacramento-based music chain, which has a big presence in L.A., has sought bankruptcy protection and wants to sell its assets through a court-appointed auction - preferably by mid-October. That would provide enough time to prepare for the holiday shopping season. The question is who might want a chain that despite its storied name and history, has had a tough time competing with big box retailers like Wal-Mart - as well as online services. Phil...

An argument for $50 oil

Hooray for contrarians. Business Week's Mark Morrison says that the chances for $50-a-barrel oil are better than $100, pointing out the tepid response in the markets to both BP's partial shutdown of its Prudhoe Bay pipeline and the flare-up of fighting in the Middle East. His argument - and it's a reasonable one - is that overall economic growth has been slowing down and there's plenty of oil sloshing around. Of course, an unexpected disaster...

Food fight

There's definitely a bad case of indigestion over at Cheesecake Factory. The Calabasas Hills-based restaurant chain, one of Southern California's biggest success stories of recent years, received a letter from Nasdaq saying it was not in compliance with the exchange's listing standards because it has not yet filed a second-quarter report. The reason it didnít file is because itís in the middle of reviewing the way its stock options have been issued. The Securities and...

Dog day Emmys

Most of the awards shows have been ratings disappointments this year, and the upcoming Emmy telecast on NBC could have particularly low numbers. Normally, the Emmy ceremony (the one for prime-time shows) airs around mid-September, when television audiences start to bulk up after the summertime doldrums. But this year, because of the network's broadcast of Sunday night football, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences got stuck with Aug. 27 (that's before the regular NFL...

Rags to riches to rags to riches

Remember Sasson jeans? Remember the "Oo-la-la Sasson'' jingle? Paul Guez went through a kind of rags to riches story as head of the high-fashion denim label, only to become addicted to cocaine and out of business. But in the August issue of Bloomberg Markets, Seth Lubove finds Guez clean and sober and back in the denim game. His new company, L.A.-based Blue Holdings Inc., controls or owns stakes in a network of premium jeans brands,...

Long Beach lookback

What can you learn about a community by examining its 1912 city directory? Long Beach Press-Telegram columnist Tim Grobaty discovers some bits and pieces about the area's business life. For instance, there were more barbers than attorneys (23 vs. 20) and you could buy hay and feed at more than a dozen feed yards near downtown. With those feed yards were also liveries, stables, blacksmiths and horseshoers. As for other stuff: There were no giant...

Monday morning headlines

Never mind Alaska: Pipeline corrosion is not just an issue in Prudhoe Bay. Turns out that California's maze of oil, fuel and natural gas pipelines have their own problems with maintance and safety. There have been some nasty incidents over the years, but overall the pipelines are still considered relatively safe. The third brother: When it comes to L.A. business, the name Gores is usually asssociated with either Alec, founder of Gores Technology Group, or...

From the weekend papers

Videogame Barbie?": Designers at El Segundo-based Mattel are focusing more of their attention on technology in response to growing demand by even young children. There's not much choice: second-quarter sales for Barbie and Hot Wheels were down, though overall sales at ther toymaker were up. Mattel recently announced plans to buy Radica Games, maker of electronic toys, for about $230 million. Is anyone watching?: When AOL published the searches of 658,000 AOL users on a...

Remembering the early department stores

With Federated Department Stores and its Macy's flagship ready to take over the retail world, it's worth remembering what department stores used to be - all-in-one emporiums, often family owned, that guided the tastes of a community in a way that's long gone. Catherine Seipp looks back on the golden age in her review of Jan Whitaker's new book, "Service and Style," appearing in Friday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required). Seipp generally has good things...

Reader beware - a pension fund post

The pension fund disaster in the city of San Diego is bound to raise the question: What about L.A. and other cities? Standard & Poor's just completed a study of pension liabilities in 20 cities and discovered that the numbers look pretty good. The study measured the actuarial value of assets divided by accrued liability, coming up with something called the "mean funded ratio." The average funded ratio of the cities surveyed was 84 percent...

L.A. jobless rate takes dip

Tougher times might be around the corner, but you wouldn't know it based on the L.A. job numbers that were released this morning. July unemployment in Los Angeles County slipped to 4.5 percent from 4.6 percent in June and 5.0 percent in July 2005. But the news wasn't all positive: employment for the month fell by 41,200 jobs. Most of drop was due to the end of the school year, with a loss of 26,100...

Boeing decides - sort of

Boeing Co. didn't quite announce the end of the C-17 program in Long Beach, but it came pretty close. Directing suppliers to stop work on any work that's not already in the pipeline "will be the first step in an orderly shut down of the production supply chain should no further orders be received from the U.S. government," the company said in a press release. Expect lots of spinmanship on this one. Boeing is offering...

Friday morning headlines

Glazed no more: Krispy Kreme's La Habra store, which opened with so much fanfare that lines were snaking out the street, is closing its doors, the victim of plummeting popularity (the no-carb fad didn't help) and some financial shenanigans at the corporate parent back in North Carolina. In 1999, the store's first year, sales reached $9 million. The local franchise still has 17 KK locations, down from 31. Affording a house: Just 19 percent of...

Real estate debate

How bad is the housing market? John Karevoll of DataQuick and Chris Thornberg of Beacon Economics (he was formerly with the Anderson Forecast) offered differing views on Larry Mantle's "Airtalk" on KPCC. Karevoll is hesitant about drawing too much from the recent batch of weak sales reports, while Thornberg, who predicted a housing bubble a couple of years back, expects tough times ahead. But even the bearish Thornberg doesn't expect a plunge in prices. Here's...

Selling steamy sex

That's more or less how the Girls of 3iYing - a pen name for a group of five women who run a N.Y. marketing and design firm - open a column that takes aim at the graphic sexuality that can be found on the Web site and in the advertising for L.A.-based American Apparel (among others). Yep, that's the same American Apparel that's owned by Dov Charney, who has made no secret of his interest...

L.A.'s wax quotient

Is Hollywood big enough for two wax museums? The Los Angeles Business Journal is reporting that Madame Tussaudís, the famed London wax museum, will be opening a 40,000-square-foot branch at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Orange Drive. The site is now a parking lot just west of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre. A formal rollout is expected later this week....

Gathering up C-17 B-matter

Not that I'm jumping the gun here, but should Boeing announce the shuttering of its C-17 program in Long Beach tomorrow, it will truly be the end of an era - the aerospace era in Southern California. The industry dates back to the early 1900s and has included the likes of Howard Hughes, Jack Northrop and Donald Douglas. As with the movies, weather drew the fledgling business out here because year-round flying was possible. A...

Morning headlines

State Farms gives in: After a state appeals court turned down industry efforts to delay changes in how auto insurance premiums are set, State Farm said it would cut premiums an average of 8 percent. The state rules, which had been pushed by Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, outlaw the use of ZIP codes in determining rates. The other major carriers are expected to follow. Gathering crude: The state's refiners don't expect any cutbacks in gasoline...

Bracing for C-17 loss

A meeting of C-17 employees is scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday at Boeing's Long Beach facilities, union officials told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. That will surely add to the speculation that the Chicago-based aircraft maker is ready to call it quits on the cargo plane. As noted this morning, BusinessWeek was reporting that lacking a commitment to build more planes, the company would soon notify suppliers that it will stop making the C-17. Despite efforts...

Nixing business travel?

This may just be a passing thing, but long lines at airports and the inconvenience of checking in bags have made some business travelers think twice about making that trip to Chicago or Dallas. Bloomberg columnist Matthew Lynn, who is based in Europe, suggests different ways be found to get business done. The Internet has made video conferencing more practical. It may not have the intimacy of physical contact. Yet it is fast and reliable,...

Casting call for weirdos

There was a bit of buzz about what turned out to be a phony MySpace page for supermarket tabloid queen Bonnie Fuller. Well, it turns out that the mystery MySpacer is a Hasidic Jew named Shmuel "Shmuly" Tennenhaus. The 25-year-old former Web marketer tells Advertising Age that it was a desperate stunt to be cast on "One Park Avenue," the planned reality show set at Bonnie's employer, American Media. "Big P.R. spin to the whole...

The Tower watch

Still no peep from the record retailer on its financial woes, but say this - company officials are sounding upbeat about the future. At least in their press releases. Tower has announced a three-year sponsorship deal of Seattle's Bumbershoot music and arts festival. "Tower Records has embraced and celebrated the Seattle music scene and creative culture," said Russ Eisenman, Chief Marketing Officer of Tower Records. "We are elated to partner with Bumbershoot in bringing first-class...

The Adelphia effect

Time Warner Cable's takeover of Adelphia Communications is getting lots of ink locally, but it's being dismissed by investors because, well, Time Warner has all those AOL issues to deal with. But the acquisition could turn out to be the best thing TW has going for it. The cable unit gains more than 7.6 million homes, many of which have been stuck with Adelphia's deteriorating service. There's also the cost-cutting possibilities. But the biggest plus...

Unfair labor case filed against News-Press

Maybe there will be justice at the Santa Barbara News-Press after all. An unfair labor practice charge has been filed with the National Labor Relations Board. The filing centers on allegations that the newspaper's management engaged in coercive and intimidating tactics related to a unionizing effort. Among the claims: that the newspaper changed reporters' beat assignments without properly notifying them; and that a reporter who became a leader in the unionizing effort was intimidated with...

Morning headlines

End of the line?: BusinessWeek is reporting that Boeing Co. will send out notices to suppliers on Friday telling them to stop producing certain parts for the C-17, which Socal legislators are trying to keep going. Notices would go first to those suppliers who make the parts with the longest lead times, such as landing gear. This is the first step in shutting the assembly line. Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked President Bush to...

As the Tribune turns

Lots of speculation today about what shareholder activist Nelson Peltz might be up to with his purchase of 2.8 million shares of Tribune Co. stock for the quarter ended June 30. That's 1.2 percent, more than enough to create a little heat. Peltz, a billionaire who has been embroiled in a boardroom battle with H.J. Heinz Co. (he's seeking five seats), is not exactly known as a wallflower. Phil Rosenthal at the Chicago Tribune described...

LAUSD gets Gateway computers

Shares of Irvine-based PC maker Gateway were climbing today on word that the company had been selected by the Los Angeles Unified School District as the hardware vendor for its "Business Tools for Schools" project. The agreement is for more than 1,200 E-4500 desktop PCs with 17-inch LCD monitors. Terms of the deal were not disclosed in a press release, which seems a little unreasonable given that Gateway is a publicly held company and the...

Hotels are packed

L.A. is on its way to a very strong tourist summer, at least judging by the June report from PKF Consulting. The occupancy rate for L.A. County was 81.1 percent, compared with 78.9 percent a year earlier (anything over 70 percent is considered decent). Nine areas were over 80 percent, including: Santa Clarita (91.0 percent); LAX (86.0 percent); West Hollywood (85.6 percent); Pasadena (84.4 percent); San Fernando Valley (83.9 percent); Hollywood (83.5 percent); I-5 Corridor/Whittier...

Morning headlines

Ford scales back: There are 134 Ford dealers in Southern California, which is more than the automaker believes is financially viable. So at a meeting in Las Vegas, Ford executives said they will encourage some consolidation. By the way, Toyota has only 75 dealers in Socal. New worry: A Caltech study warns that a magnitude 7.9 earthquake could topple steel-framed high-rises that were built to the latest codes. The study reinforces previous concerns by some...

Gas prices inch up

The average gallon of self serve regular in the Los Angeles area was $3.248 for the period ended Aug. 14, up from $3.232 a week earlier. That's the first time since early July that prices have risen, according to a survey by the federal Energy Information Administration. Different surveys are finding different results, but the numbers are not moving much. Oil industry analyst Triby Lundberg expects retail prices to slide, barring any dramatic news bulletins....

Delta adds LAX service

Delta Air Lines, which has been rejiggering its flight schedules while still in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, will add nonstop flights from Los Angeles International Airport to 11 destinations in Mexico and Central America. Beginning in December, Atlanta-based Delta will offer nonstop flights to La Paz, Acapulco, Loreto, Mazatlan, Culiacan, Manzanillo, Zacatecas, Hermosillo and Torreon in Mexico; and to Liberia, Costa Rica; and Guatemala City. The airline will also add nonstop flights from LAX to Las...

Debating container fee for ports

Would a $30 container fee for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have much impact on shipping? A study released today by the Coalition for Clean Air suggests it wouldn't. The study, funded by the coalition and the Natural Resources Defense Council, found that ship diversions resulting from a container fee would be less than 1.5 percent. The coalition is pushing legislation by State Sen. Alan Lowenthal that would impose the $30-per-container fee...

*Swimsuit saga

Kind of a juicy court case between Maxine Swim Group Inc., which makes branded and private-label swimsuits, and former CEO Vincent Rojas. As reported by California Apparel News, Maxine alleges that Rojas paid himself at least $700,000 in unearned bonuses and other money and that he supposedly comingled his own bank account with the swimwear company's account (he already was collecting an annual salary of $275,000). There's also some question about a licensing deal he...

Promoting 'Ugly Betty'

Arenas Entertainment in Beverly Hills will be marketing and promoting ABC shows to the U.S. Hispanic audience. of particular note are "Desperate Housewives," now entering its third season, and "Ugly Betty," a new series this fall that is an adaptation of a Colombian novella called "Yo Soy Betty La Fea." Ironically, "Betty La Fea" ran a few years ago on the NBC-owned Telemundo network. It's the story of plain and unfashionably dressed Betty who manages...

Morning headlines

"WTO" results: Lots of debate this morning about whether moviegoers were more or less inclined to see "World Trade Center" in light of last week's terrorist news. The $19 million gross ranked No. 3, but it sounds like that fell within expectations. Not surprisingly, grosses in New York exceeded those in L.A. by 10 percent. By comparison, ďTalladega NightsĒ took in 40 percent more in Los Angeles than N.Y. in its opening weekend. Relief at...

From the weekend papers

Life at Playa Vista: Despite its turbulent legal history, the planned community gets very positive reviews among residents interviewed by the Daily Breeze in a Sunday piece. "We're here. We're never going to go away," said one homeowner. Does everyone living there really feel that way? Meanwhile, there continue to be concerns among activitists about methane and a public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. Oil money: It's not quite Prudhoe Bay, but Long Beach oil...

Rehabbing Kate Moss

By now we all know about the cover treatment that Kate Moss is getting in the September issue of Vanity Fair. That includes an eight-page story and photo spread headlined "The Silent Beauty." What's getting lost in the shuffle is that Moss happens to be appearing in a slew of fashion ads that get prominent placement in that very same issue. (It's got to be a coincidence, right?) The ads include a four-page Calvin Klein...

Making money off Mel

Todd Hausberger's chance encounter with Mel Gibson at Moonshadows in Malibu will result in a payday of anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000. That's what photo agencies are willing to shell out to Hausberger and his two friends, who were at the right place at the right time. After finding out about Gibson's drunk-driving arrest, Hausberger began pitching the pictures to People, US Weekly, and the National Enquirer. As reported by BusinessWeek.com, he wound up cutting...

More sluggish housing numbers

L.A. County home sales fell 25 percent in July, the eighth straight month of declines, according to a survey by DataQuick Information Systems. The median price of all L.A. houses and condominiums closing escrow was $520,000, just a shade above the $517,000 in the previous month and up 6.6 percent from a year ago. DataQuick has San Diego's median price falling 1.8 percent to $487,000 last month from a year earlier. The numbers are slightly...

Greening the bottom line

As the big guns in Washington debate the nation's energy policy - and debate and debate and debate - it's refreshing to come across a few home-grown examples of how companies manage to cut back on energy consumption, save money and perhaps even help reduce global warming a little. A new report by Environment California Research & Policy Center, a citizen advocacy group, profiles a dozen businesses and institutions around the state that have collectively...

Morning headlines

Gas prices: This week's trouble with the BP oil field in Alaska hasn't had much impact at the local pumps. For the fourth straight week, gasoline prices in L.A. fell, though not by much. The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $3.234, which is nine-tenths of a cent lower than last week, six cents lower than last month and 57 cents higher than last year. Terror team coverage:...

Lots of gossip about Tower

The Hollywood Reporter's Chris Morris, citing a confidential source familiar with Tower Record's balance sheet, puts the company's debt to Warner Music Group's distributor WEA Corp. at $20 million. He suggests that total debt could total many times that amount, although he is just surmising. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that three major record labels had cut off CD shipments to the storied music chain because bills weren't being paid. Since then, barely...

Immigration not tied to unemployment

A big study by the Pew Hispanic Center finds no evidence that increases in immigration since 1990 led to higher unemployment among Americans. The study is national in scope and its author warned that jobs markets in some local areas could be impacted. But states with big increases in immigration were just as likely to have low unemployment as states with little immigration. Here's the report....

The war on dirty nails

State health officials are putting the boot on dirty footbaths that can harbor dangerous bacteria. It's no joke - a lawsuit alleges that unsanitary conditions led to the death of a Sunnyvale woman who became infected after a whirlpool pedicure. The dead woman's mother blames an infection associated with the aggressive bacteria transmittable through foot spas. From this morning's San Francisco Chronicle: A state inspection of Top Hair and Nails on Wednesday found nearly a...

What's Ron Burkle up to?

Funds associated with his private equity firm Yucaipa Cos. will to buy up to $680 million worth of stock in Supervalu Inc., the nation's second-largest grocery chain. Billionaire Burkle has met with Supervalu CEO Jeff Noddle to tell him that the private equity group's interest was for "investment purposes," the company said in a statement. Burkle, who practically grew up in the grocery business, has a long history of investing in supermarket chains, from Wild...

What now for day laborers?

Now that the AFL-CIO has agreed to help out day labor organizers, it's worth taking another look at a groundbreaking UCLA study earlier this year. The study, based on interviews with 2600 days laborers, found that wage theft is the biggest problem, that over three-quarters are undocumented immigrants and that more than a quarter were actually abandoned at the work site. From a summary of the report: The researchers say that the prevalence of abuse...

*Economy update

This morning's terrorist scare hasn't had much impact on the financial markets. Stocks are inching up and oil prices have fallen, apparently on the belief that people might be traveling less in the coming weeks. The fairly benign reaction is a good thing considering that mortgage demand and new home sales are taking a beating. I noted the concerns by Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo earlier this week, and now there's Robert Toll, CEO of...

Tracking terrorist plot story

Brace yourself for non-stop coverage of the thwarted plot to blow up multiple airlines between Britain and the United States (California was one of the reported targets). Most chilling quote so far comes from Paul Stephenson, the deputy metropolitan police commissioner for London. He told reporters: "We are confident that we have stopped an attempt to create mass murder on an unimaginable scale." Quite a few business-related angles to follow: Financial markets: All signs point...

ABC slump

Remember when ABC could do no wrong? The network was cleaning up with "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" - so much so that the financial fortunes at parent Walt Disney Co. quickly improved, and with it, the ascendancy of Robert Iger. But as we all know, what goes up in TV land eventually goes down. This summer, its viewership among the 18-49 crowd is down 18 percent - largely because several reality shows have...

Puck notices

L.A.'s most celebrated chef, Wolfgang Puck, gets some ink in the food sections of the L.A. Times and New York Times. His new steakhouse, Cut, receives a glowing three-star rating from LAT critic S. Irene Virbila. It's in the Regent Beverly Wilshire and designed by Getty architect Richard Meier. Here's a lay of the land: Hollywood A-listers and the assorted famous and infamous are seated at honey-colored wood tables, leaning back in slender mesh-covered Eames...

The local options list

By my count, 11 companies in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties are among the 78 that have come under scrutiny for questionable granting of stock options. The list, as compiled by the WSJ, includes companies that have disclosed government probes, misdated options, restatements and/or executive departures. Some companies have announced internal probes. You can find all 78 on WSJ.com. Here are the locals: Activision - Santa Monica Broadcom - Irvine Ceradyne - Costa Mesa...

Morning headlines

Disney earnings: Good-looking results reported this morning for the third quarter were helped by growth at the theme parks and strong DVD sales of "Chronicles of Narnia." Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. also reported gains at its film studio, which laid off 650 people last month as part of a major restructuring. Earnings beat analysts estimates by nine cents a share, which is a lot. DWP patrols: We've managed to escape from last month's outrageous heat,...

Pixar options questioned

Several reports that top executives at Pixar Animation Studios, the computer-animation company that was acquired by Walt Disney Co., received stock-option grants priced at the stock's annual lows in four years between 1997 and 2003. As noted in the Wall Street Journal story (subscription required), "the pattern of fortuitous timing raises questions about whether the options might have been backdated or otherwise manipulated to give executives the chance to increase their payouts." Pixar CEO Steve...

Wonder bucks

I'm not sure how they can measure this, but the placement of Wonder Bread in the Will Ferrell comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" translates to $4.3 million worth of exposure. Wonder Bread, which was on screen for 11 minutes and 32 seconds, is the main corporate sponsor for Ferrell's character. Other brands getting in the movie included Old Spice, Powerade, Applebee's and Perrier....

How much will Macy's cut ad spending?

The number being thrown around nationwide is $425 million, the result of Federated Department Stores overhauling its ad budget now that Macy's has pretty much taken over its operations. The Los Angeles Times and other papers have taken huge hits in recent years with the consolidation of department stores. It's one of the factors cited by the Times for its ad revenue woes. Fewer chains, fewer ad buys. Federated spokesman Jim Sluzewski declined to discuss...

*Update: So far, so good

A survey of gas statons by the AAA found that prices remained steady, even on the West Coast. Meanwhile, the cutoff in supplies might not be as large as originally feared. Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said it was possible that the western half of Prudhoe Bay could keep operating, though the eastern half would probably have to be shut down because of corrosion problems in feeder pipelines. (Expect this story to take several twists...

Morning headlines

What about gas prices?: The L.A. Times' Elizabeth Douglass provides an excellent look at how the BP oil field shutdown might affect local pump prices. Pessimists are talking $4 gas, but no one really knows. There are, however, several contingency plans that might mitigate the loss of so much oil. Another options case: Video game publisher THQ Inc. becomes the latest company to be scrutinized by regulators over the way it has granted stock options....

Dodgers on-demand

Now that they're winning again, this could be fun: a free on-demand channel on Time Warner Cable (formerly Adelphia) that will feature classic games, player profiles and press conferences. The channel, which will be on year-round, will be formally announced this week....

Hollywood futures

The Hollywood Stock Exchange is a kind of online game where "traders" use $2 million in play money to make box office predictions for upcoming movies. Turns out that several movie studios use the trades in making advertising and promotion decisions. Here's how it's described in Business Week Online: Hollywood may be ahead of a trend this time. Companies in other industries are just starting to use similar markets, called prediction markets, to let workers...

Google lands huge deal

The search company agrees to pay News Corp. at least $900 million to power the search functions on MySpace and other Fox Interactive Media properties, such as videogame site IGN.com. There had been a bunch of speculation on which of the major search companies would be getting the sought-after business for the social networking site. Is it just me or is that an awful lot of money for a site that's had trouble figuring out...

What happens to In-N-Out?

The death of In-N-Out Burger co-founder Esther Snyder is bound to raise speculation about where the storied chain is headed, especially given the juicy lawsuit late last year. The suit, which was filed by an executive at the chain, Richard Boyd, claims that Lynsi Martinez, Snyder's granddaughter, tried to take the chain national. In-N-Out countersued, claiming embezzlement and corporate deceit by Boyd. The suit was settled in May. In an interview with the Orange County...

BP shutdown could be big

When you have an economy teetering on the edge, it doesn't take that much to cause real problems. The shutdown of BPís Alaska oil field could be especially tough for California drivers because most of the crude thatís used to make gasoline here comes from Alaska. The irony is that gasoline prices had been holding steady for the past week or two Ė despite this being the peak of the summer vacation season. In fact,...

Morning headlines

Pipeline problems: The shutdown of BP's Prudhoe Bay oil field because of pipeline corrosion could signal local gasoline price hikes. Southern California refineries rely on that North Slope crude and looking for another supply chain might get complicated because of California's special requirements for producing gasoline. As expected, the pipeline damage is creating riples in the oil markets. Building & Safety questions: Los Angeles Board of Building and Safety Commissioner Efren Abratique was recently removed...

From the weekend papers

Satellite slump: The two major providers, El Segundo-based DirecTV and Echo-Star, have seen a sharp delcine in the number of new subscribers. Meanwhile, as reported by the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), the cable TV industry has been on a roll. Speaking of satellites: Is Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns a controlling share of DirecTV, still after EchoStar? Did Disney pay too much for Pixar? Columnist Richard Siklos in the New York Times suggests...

Housing numbers looking bad

The July numbers show another plunge in home sales - down 15 percent from January, which is typically a slow month. But perhaps more striking was that the median price of an L.A. County existing home fell to $550,000 from $555,000 in June. And prices are only up 6.8 percent from a year ago. Up to now, homeowners who were nervous about the sharp decline in sales took solace in steady price increases. But they...

MySpace may be hacker space

It also may be cybercrook space. Sites like Santa Monica-based MySpace.com use the very popular Ajax coding to manipulate pages. It turns out that Ajax can be rejiggered in lots of unpleasant ways. (Just Google it and you'll come across all kinds of "how to hack" sites.) Last year, the Samy worm was used to infect a million MySpace users. It took a day to clean up the mess. At a cybersecurity conference in Las...

Man bites dog

An oil company reporting a sharp drop in quarterly earnings? It happened to L.A.-based Occidental Petroleum, the result of oil fields that were seized by Equador. The nationalization of natural resources seems like the thing to do in Latin America these days (Bolivia just nationalized its oil fields). Oxy said it was optimistic about recovering its assets, but warned that it could take a while. For earnings watchers, second-quarter net was $857 million, down from...

Bring back morals clause?

That may be a drastic response to the Mel Gibson outrage - and it may be unrealistic considering that A-list stars won't stand for it. And let's not forget the damage that morals clauses caused during the McCarthy era. It also prevented African-American actors from dating Caucasions. Still, it's a topic sure to get more discussion by studio execs and entertainment lawyers. As pointed out in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Disney's decision to...

Scandalous real estate

One way of getting a good real estate deal is going after a property that's been tainted somehow by murder, sex scandals or messy divorces. They're known as "stigmatized properties" and there's an entire niche within the high-end real estate world that specializes in this stuff. The National Association of Realtors even publishes something called a "Field Guide to Dealing with Stigmatized Property" that lays out the dos and dont's. One suggestion: Enhance the home's...

Morning headlines

Job numbers: July's U.S. unemployment report got the markets excited because the smaller-than-expected gain in payrolls suggests that the economy is slowing. And a slower economy means that the Federal Reserve won't be so anxious to raise interest rates. Special deals?: Juicy story in the Times this morning about how the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety has favored construction projects sought by nine current and former city commissioners and donors to the mayor...

The risk of foreclosures

The numbers are still not huge, but they're growing - and fast. In her MSN Money column, Liz Pulliam Weston notes a pick up in activity at ByDesign, a Los Angeles-based credit counselor, as homeowners worry about not making their mortgage payments. The Mortgage Bankers Association, which tracks delinquencies and foreclosures, expects a "modest" uptick in both by the end of the year....

SEC looks at Cheesecake Factory

It's being called an "informal inquiry" into the company's past practices of granting stock options. The Calabasas Hills-based chain also disclosed the filing of two shareholders suits alleging a breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment related to its option granting practices. A couple of weeks ago, the company said it was voluntarily reviewing its stock option granting practice and would delay filing full second quarter results until the review is completed. The review was...

Tribune, Chandlers back at bargaining table

Tribune Co. management and the Chandler family are trying to resolve their differences, the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) is reporting this afternoon, citing "people familiar with the matter." The talks follow the nasty exchanges in June when the Chandlers called for Tribune to either be broken up or sold. Here's a snippet: The talks have been slow-going, these people said. The two sides are still far apart on their visions for the future of...

Morning headlines

You decide: July's retail sales numbers are out and the results, well, take your pick. From Reuters: "Retailers Sweat Through Lackluster July." From AP: "Nation's Retailers See Solid July Gains." In fairness, we're in a stretch where economists are having a tough time with their analyses. It's not so much a question of where we're headed - it's down - but to what degree. Dining out blues: Higher gas prices are putting a dent into...

Merck wins L.A. Vioxx case

The big drug maker was cleared of responsibility for the heart attack of a 71-year-old retired construction manager who took the painkiller Vioxx for about two years. The 12-person Los Angeles jury determined that while Vioxx posed knowable risks, those risks didn't present a substantial danger to users. So far, Merck has won five Vioxx trials and lost three....

Trade official named

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has announced plans to expand the city's trade office. Running the place will be Andre Winston Lewis, 42, who worked on international environmental and national security issues in the Clinton State Department. Even with the expansion, it's a pretty small office - three positions. The goal is to better retain and attract foreign investment and promote L.A. exports....

Still addicted to oil

Today's Wall Street Journal has a sobering, but not surprising, front-page overview (subscription required) on California's failed efforts to veer the marketplace away from fossil fuels and towards alternative-energy sources. All the efforts to roll out mandates and subsidies have been, for the most part, killed or watered down by the oil and automotive industries. They say alternative technologies would require public subsidies that voters won't go for. Here's the upshot, according to the Journal:...

To all Adelphia/Time Warner customers...

Buried in Time Warner's announcement today about giving away AOL to broadband customers were second-quarter results showing that the company's cable division had a 15 percent jump in revenues, to $2.7 billion. Cable was the biggest contributor to operating income, adding $1 billion. That's a 16 percent increase from last year. Guess where much of this growth came from? A jump in cable subscriptions. Time Warner said average revenue per basic cable subscriber rose 14...

Thornberg leaves UCLA forecast

Chris Thornberg, the economist at the UCLA Anderson Forecast who kept warning of a serious housing bubble, has left the school and is starting up his own consulting firm called Beacon Economics. He's been warning of a seriously overvalued housing market for over a year - often at odds with economists who predicted a benign "soft landing." He's not changed his tune - Thornberg told me this morning that prices should start to fall by...

Lions Gate redux

Fortune finally gets around to profiling Lions Gate Entertainment, the last of the independents. Lions Gate is known for its low-budget releases that find niche audiences and score profits. Of the 18 films the company released last year, 15 have made a profit - about as good a return as you'll find in Hollywood. There continue to be rumors about a possible sale (Paramount was interested for a while), but nothing has materialized. The big...

Morning headlines

Welcome to L.A.: Time Warner took over Adelphia operations just two days ago and already there are unhappy cable customers. The NFL Network was pulled from the channel lineup because of a dispute over carriage fees. Seems that the NFL wants to keep its channel on the basic cable package so it has access to more viewers, while Time Warner wants to put it on a digital pay tier. As noted earlier this week, Time...

Chinese quota woes ease

Local apparel companies were so freaked out last year about missing the quota cutoff for Chinese imports that they took a lot of their manufacturing operations out of China and into Vietnam (along with other parts of Asia and Central America). This year, the California Apparel News reports, Chinese imports are well under those quotas, while quotas on Vietnamese-made goods will be exhausted this fall. Apparently, employment costs in Vietnam are lower because, unlike China,...

What did Saban know?

L.A. billionaire Haim Saban told lawmakers in Washington today that his involvement in an offshore tax shelter was based on the advice of a tax adviser, who assured him that the transaction was legal. "I just said... is it kosher and can we get a reputable firm to say so?" Saban told a Senate subcommittee looking into the shelters. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issues a report today that says individuals evade $40 billion...

The LAX nightmare begins

Is it just me or does the estimated flight delays due to the runway rehabbing at LAX - six minutes - seem a tad optimistic? Work began yesterday on the two-year, $333 million project that will overhaul the airport's south runway and taxiway. Airport officials say they've spent months preparing for the runway closure, but no matter how you slice it, operational capacity is being cut by a hefty 25 percent, with no reduction in...

Who killed Pasadena's electric car?

The electric car can't seem to get a break. This week, the city of Pasadena is expected to surrender most of its Nissan Hypermini EV's after efforts to buy the fleet were turned down. Nissan says the leases to the city were part of a research program that the company extended well after its intended lifetime. Since last week, according to a story in the Pasadena Star-News, the mint- and silver-colored minis have sat in...

Some advice for Floyd and Mel

Crisis PR types live for the kinds of disasters that face Landis and Gibson. Busoness Week Online takes a look at the crisis PR game and how it could make or break both celebrities and corporations. One of the most successful rehab efforts - and arguably the first - came in 1982, when seven people died from ingesting poisoned Tylenol tablets. As noted in the piece: "PR firm Burson-Marsteller leapt into action to help pharmaceutical...

Morning headlines

More Mel coverage: Most of the attention this morning is focused on ABC's decision to drop plans to make a miniseries about the Holocaust with Gibson's production company, Icon. The Los Angeles Times manages to get a few prominent Hollywood executives to condemn Gibson's behavior. Best quote came from producer Arnon Milchan: "To make all of your money from Jews" and then "say you hate Jews is shocking." LAT, NYT. Inflation worries: Stocks are taking...