Lukewarm sales: December was only a so-so month for many retailers - and pretty darn awful for a few. Locally, City of Industry-based Hot Topic saw same-store sales fall 5.1 percent. The teen-oriented chain, which has been struggling for some time, lowered its fourth-quarter earnings outlook. Its stock has taken a huge hit this morning, off 17 percent, to $11.23, in early trading. Meanwhile, L.A.-based Guess had a 9.6 percent jump in December same-store sales, in part because it sold more of its items at full price. Its stock is up a bit this morning. All told, December sales at stores open at least a year rose 3.1 percent, according to an index of 55 chains compiled by the International Council of Shopping Centers. That compares with a 3.5 percent gain for November. Bloomberg
SAG nominations: They're out this morning and there are a couple of surprises. Nominees for best actor are Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland" and Peter O'Toole in "Venus" - both expected - but then there's Will Smith in "The Pursuit of Happyness," Leonardo DiCaprio in "Blood Diamond" and Ryan Gosling in "Half Nelson." Best actress nominees are Helen Mirren in "The Queen," Judi Dench in "Notes on a Scandal," Kate Winslet in "Little Children," Penelope Cruz in "Volver" and Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada." Yesterday, the Producers Guild came out with its nominees for best picture. They are "The Departed," "Dreamgirls, "Babel," "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Queen." Reuters LAT
Interest by McCormick Foundation?: One of Tribune Co.'s largest shareholders said in a regulatory filing this morning that it's evaluating its investment. The foundation, which has an 11.7 percent stake, has established an advisory committee, hired the Blackstone Group as its financial adviser (hmmmmm) and signed an agreement to obtain confidential Tribune information. From the outside, it's hard to know what this means, but up until now the McCormick Foundation has been considered in lockstep with the Tribune Co. boys, who are still said to be interested in a management-led buyout. We'll keep an eye on this one. Reuters
State Farm plans cut: The state's largest home and auto insurer proposed a 20 percent rate reduction for its 1.4 million residential customers in California. The proposed cut is nearly double what the company had requested in September. State Farm also filed for a 10.1 percent reduction in auto coverage. The state Department of Insurance has been pushing for deeper rate cuts. LAT
Executive pay: Lots of coverage this morning on the departure of Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli - but especially his exit package that's valued at $210 million. Several stories note other large paydays for ousted CEOs, including Mattel's Jill Barad ($50 million), Disney's Michael Ovitz ($140 million) and Viacom's Tom Freston ($59 million). Left out of that lineup is KB Home's Bruce Karatz, who could wind up with $175 million (though there might be some resistance on that one from the board and major shareholders). Here's what WSJ's Alan Murray had to say:
Mr. Nardelli was old school. In an interview last fall, as his public-relations problems were compounding, he acknowledged he had gotten "too focused on the idea that you do your job, you take care of your numbers, and the rest will take care of itself." Some of Mr. Nardelli's numbers were hard to argue with. In six years on the job, he doubled Home Depot's sales and more than doubled its earnings. What Mr. Nardelli missed, however, is that in the post-Enron world, CEOs have been forced to respond to a widening array of shareholder advocates, hedge funds, private-equity deal makers, legislators, regulators, attorneys general, nongovernmental organizations and countless others who want a say in how public companies manage their affairs. Today's CEO, in effect, has to play the role of a politician, answering to varied constituents. And it's in that role that Mr. Nardelli failed most spectacularly.
Hollywood breakthrough: A company called Sonic Solutions is introducing a technology that will make it easier - and legal - for consumers to burn movies they download over the Internet onto a DVD. Called Qflix, the technology adds a digital lock to DVDs burned in a computer - and it's backed by the studios and TV networks. All DVD players come with a key that fits the lock and allows for playback. It was announced this morning. AP
Always on Sunday: Wescom Credit Union's 47 branches will be open Sundays to boost customer service and attract new customers (hours at most locations will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Sunday banking has not been embraced by most financial institutions and the Daily News quotes an analyst as saying "it would be a financial blow to the industry." The problem, explains Jim Bradshaw of D. A. Davidson, is that the limited extra business would not compensate for the extra operating costs - stuff like salaries and electricity.