L.A. drop modest: The Moody's Economy.com study on a projected decline in home prices has gotten lots of play, but little noticed is the relatively minimal drop - 4.8 percent - that's expected in Los Angeles. By comparison, Cape Coral, Fla. is tops on the list of price decliners, at 18.6 percent. Reno is at 17.2 percent, Washington, D.C. at 12 percent, Vegas 12.9 percent, Phoenix 9.3 percent and San Diego 8.5 percent. The research firm pegs the housing peak in L.A. to the second quarter of 2006 and doesn't expect the bottom to be reached until the fourth quarter of 08. WSJ (subscription required) has chart laying out the numbers.
Why gas is falling: Futures traders are being cited, the same folks who drove up prices a year ago when the hurricanes caused heavy damage to production facilities in the Gulf. Here's how an oil analyst explained it to the WSJ:
In July, speculators expecting hurricane damage to Gulf of Mexico refineries placed heavy bets on a further surge in gasoline prices. But starting at the beginning of August, they began to unwind their positions, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. When no storms had hit the coast by September, "a massive liquidation of gasoline contracts" began, says Larry Goldstein, president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation in New York, a consulting firm. A chief influence on the selloff, analysts say, has been a decision by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to reduce the weighting of gasoline futures in its Goldman Sachs Commodity Index, the market's largest commodities index.
Retail sales: The September numbers look very good, suggesting that U.S. consumers are in a spending mood (lower gas prices didn't hurt). Among local firms, L.A.-based Guess ? Inc. reported an 11.3 percent rise in same-store sales that was far better than the 4.3 percent estimate. But struggling Hot Topic Inc. fell 7.3 percent, worse than the 5.6 percent projection, and the City of Industry-based company warned of lower earnings. Federated Department Stores, which owns half the world under its Macy's brand, had a same-store sales gain of 6.2 percent, better than the 5.5 percent estimate.
Who needs NFL?: Not sure whether the Coliseum Commission's decision to explore other options besides pro football was some sort of negotiating ploy, but it sounds like the right thing to do. Coliseum officials have been cutting short-term lease deals while the NFL makes up its mind, and after all these years of waiting, it's time to move on. L.A. simply doesn't need the NFL and it's looking like the feeling is mutual.
Hilton/union pact: A three-year contract with a hotel workers' union is expected to be announced today. Under terms of the deal, wages will be increased, the current health insurance coverage will be maintained and the hotel promises to hire more African Americans. Could be a good omen for labor contracts that are set to expire at two dozen L.A.-area hotels on Nov. 30.
SAG squabble: Actress Anne-Marie Johnson has been replaced as the Screen Actors Guild's first national vice president by Kent McCord (the "Adam-12" guy). The vote was 17-16. LAT story says the ouster is a sharp rebuke of SAG President Alan Rosenberg, who wants to take a harder line in studio negotiations. Johnson's credits include TV shows "In the Heat of the Night" and "In Living Color."
Going overboard: San Jose Mercury News columnist Mike Langberg questions whether Attorney General Bill Lockyer is going too far in his criminal investigation into Hewlett-Packard. He opens by stating the obvious - H-P is no Enron and ousted chairman Patricia Dunn, who was indicted on Wednesday, is no Kenneth Lay or Jeffrey Skilling.
...Let's take a deep breath and step back. Enron, WorldCom and other corporate scandals from the bubble era, circa 2000, were about greedy executives who defrauded investors and ultimately destroyed their companies. Their misconduct threatened the underpinnings of our economy. We need to trust the leaders of big public corporations to act with honesty and integrity, because most Americans own stock, either directly or through mutual funds and pension plans. The HP scandal, in contrast, revolves around what should have been a small problem: plugging a leak on the board of directors.
Tower day: The music retailer goes up for sale in a court-sanctioned auction in Wilmington, Del. The bidders include a liquidating firm, which would dispose of Tower's inventory, and two private investment firms that would seek to keep Tower going.
Story of the day: And it has nothing to do with L.A. and it's only available to WSJ subscribers online. But I loved it. The Journal surveys restaurants in seven cities around the world on the reaction to a doggie-bag request. In the U.S., 91 percent of restaurant-goers take leftovers hom at least occasionally, according to a survey.
The doggie bag - or at least its predecessor, called "Can I take home the leftovers?" - has a long and glorious history. Food historian Francine Segan found references to it when she did research for her book on medieval cooking called "Shakespeare's Cooking." She explains that hosts used "oversized napkins in those days, in part because they ate with their hands, but also to provide a huge container for leftovers. Hosts liked to get extra points with guests by being very generous with leftovers."
But apparently it's not caught on in many parts of the world.
"Are you joking?" asked the waitress in Moscow's chic Galleria Cafe, where dinners run around $150 to $400 a person. Under duress, she brought the leftovers of an exquisite crab dish, plus plates of lamb and buckwheat, back to the table in an attractive paper bag with cloth handles custom-made for Galleria...In Paris also, we got a looked that might be translated as "zoot alors." At the elegant La Braisiere, specializing in food of the French southwest, "our server was taken aback at our request to take the leftovers home," our correspondent says. But-since high-end Parisian restaurants make it a point to cater to the eccentricities of patrons' whims, the packages arrived neatly wrapped in aluminum foil and plastic wrap, and labeled in black marker pen "fish" and "lamb." When the chef made the rounds of the dining room later that evening, our diner asked how many people request doggie bags. "None," he replied.