Tuesday morning headlines

Crop damage: It's looking like 70 percent of the orange crop - basically whatever was left on the trees - is ruined or severely damaged as a result of the current cold snap. That's about $700 million and would surpass the losses from the 1998 freeze. It's also certain to hike prices on oranges and lemons - that is, if supplies hold up. As reported yesterday on LABO, crops can be damaged if temperatures fall below 28 degrees for five hours or longer. LAT

KB writedowns: The charges announced this morning in an SEC filing cover more than $300 million in the fourth quarter and reflect the L.A.-based homebuilder's inability to sell off their inventory at a profit. KB will also book a charge of $88 million related to land option contracts it won't pick up. The company had warned last month that it would be taking a writedown. Meanwhile, Pasadena-based IndyMac Bancorp Inc., the second-largest independent U.S. mortgage lender, said today that fourth-quarter earnings fell substantially below its own forecast because of "deteriorating'' conditions in the home-loan market.

Home prices climb: The news isn't all bleak on the real estate front. December's median price of a home in L.A. County was $522,000, up 2.4 percent from the previous month and the highest level since last July. For the full year, the median home price rose 8.5 percent, while sales fell 16.8 percent, according to Dataquick and reported in the LAT. Fewer homes are available and they're staying on the market longer. "What we're seeing is a market that is rebalancing itself after the surge we had," said John Karevoll, chief analyst for DataQuick. "The question, as we come off the top, is how far off the top we're likely to come."

Rushing "24" to DVD: We're talking about this week's season premiere of "24." By this morning, DVDs of the first four hours will be on retailer shelves. In years past, studios and networks were happy to box a season's worth of shows - some going back several years - but selling current season episodes has become one of the hotter growth areas. Why anyone would want to pay good money to see something that's available for free is a mystery to me, but it's happening. Also included are 12 minutes of next week's episode. LAT

CAA pushing sports: WSJ reports that the Bev Hills-based talent agency is expected to acquire the sports rep business of Leon Rose, who handles superstars LeBron James and Allen Iverson. CAA has been ramping up its sports management operations by hiring sports agents Tom Condon, Ken Kremer and Casey Close. The agency also had a hand in luring David Beckham to the Galaxy in a five-year deal. From the WSJ:

CAA officials have been reluctant to discuss their moves into sports management. But they come at a time when entertainment talent firms generally are pressured by attempts in Hollywood to rein in the cushy deals for actors, directors and producers that agencies like CAA have long lived on. With perhaps the largest assortment of marquee entertainment clients and successful ancillary businesses like marketing and film financing, the 32-year-old firm is arguably better positioned than its rivals. But how to grow in a challenging environment remains a concern.

Katz settles patent suit: Name ring a bell? This is the guy who formed Telecredit and came up with the technology that allows check or credit cards to be authorized over the phone. He has 50-some-odd patents covering most means of interacting with customers on the phone - and he has initiated 3,000 patent claims over the past 15 years, many involving big companies like Sears and IBM. Under terms of his most recent settlement, announced this morning, PNC Financial Services Group will get a nonexclusive license from Katz's portfolio that involves interactive voice applications. AP

Defending your plane: Northrop will begin testing a new system that can guard against shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. The Guardian, which clings to the rear of a plane's belly, has four sensors and will be tested on nine different FedEx planes through March 2008. The system uses a laser to disrupt a missile's guidance signals and throws it off course. The laser does not actually destroy the missile. Northrop estimates it would cost about $1 million to fit each aircraft, with a total cost to the U.S. airline industry of about $7.5 billion. Daily Breeze

Lacter on radio: This morning's business chat with KPCC's Steve Julian covered crop losses from the freeze, why gas prices aren't going down and the latest from the supermarket talks. (Segment is now at 7:05 and is posted on the KPCC Web site later today or tomorrow.)

More by Mark Lacter:
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Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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