V-Day: Florists will be averaging $30,000 per shop today - part of the annual lovesfest in which 189 million roses will be sold, according to the Society of American Florists (two-thirds of today's flower purchases will be made by men). Restaurants, of course, will be jammed (might be a good night to stay home and cook). The Daily News offers the names of a few places that may still have openings.
Credit card follos: Lots of coverage on Bank of America's new program to offer credit cards to immigrants who may not have Social Security numbers, many of them in the U.S. illegally. In Washington, Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., accused the bank of aiding terrorists, and is asking Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to look into the matter. Wells Fargo, which began a pilot program last year that offers home mortgages to immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least two years, may follow Bank of America's lead on credit cards. It'll be interesting to see whether political scare tactics wind up trumping sound business decisions. LAT
Grand Avenue coverage: Love it or hate it, the $2.05 billion makeover of Grand Avenue is a milestone for the city and Tuesday's lopsided votes by the City Council and County Board of Supervisors got big treatment. The development would come in three phases (only the first phase was approved). If fully realized, it means at least five new high-rises and 3.6 million square feet of development. The final phase wouldn't be completed until 2018. LAT DN
Wi-Fi questions: It's one thing for L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to boldly announce plans for city-wide wireless Internet access by 2009. It's another thing to actually make it happen. More than 300 municipalities nationwide have launched plans for similar networks, but the LAT points out that there are numerous obstacles, starting with who would pay for the service and how it would be installed. Municipal Wi-Fi networks cost, on average, $125,000 per square mile to set up and maintain. The winning bidder would probably pay for the installation, while the city would donate space for antennas.
Is Zillow accurate?: Many have found the online real estate service that estimates the value of a home to be wildly off the mark, but the WSJ took a more careful look by analyzing transaction prices recorded for 1,000 recent home sales - and then compared those prices with Zillow estimates that didn't yet reflect the sales. The median difference between the Zillow estimate and the actual price was 7.8 percent (pretty close to the 7.2 percent median "margin of error" reported by Zillow itself). But when Zillow was off, it was really off. A four-bedroom, five-bath house in Fall City, Wash. recently sold for $2.7 million. The Zillow estimate? $661,756.
Loan clampdown: Santa Monica-based Fremont General, a major subprime lender, has stopped providing "piggyback" mortgages, a risky type of loan that allowes borrowers to finance up to 100 percent of the purchase price. There's been a tightening of credit standards by these subprime lenders who have seen increases in defaults (that's what happens when you allow people who can't afford a downpayment to buy a house). From the WSJ:
Lenders are "getting back to the old-fashioned, makes-sense lending that prevailed before the last few years," said Daniel Jacobs, chief executive officer of 1st Metropolitan Mortgage, a nationwide mortgage brokerage firm based in Charlotte, N.C. Some are cutting back on piggybacks by making them more expensive and denying them to people with very weak credit records, Mr. Jacobs said. Mortgage brokers collect fees for signing borrowers up for loans. Lenders also are tightening up in other ways, such as insisting borrowers provide pay stubs and other proof of their income or by making them put down at least a small down payment.
Tribune decision nearing: The outside offers, including those from the Chandler family and billionaires Broad and Burkle, have essentially been rejected. The company is now focusing on its own restructuring, which would involve spinning off the Tribune television stations while taking on more debt to pay shareholders a special dividend or share buyback. One holdup, according to the Chicago Tribune, could be concerns about that added debt. So they're searching for an equity partner. From the Tribune:
One scenario that has been discussed would be to pay a dividend to shareholders, including McCormick Tribune, which would use its payout to buy Tribune stock, possibly out of the block owned by the Chandlers. In a share-buyback scenario McCormick Tribune could keep its shares, allowing Tribune to buy more from others, including the Chandlers.
Living wage saga: The L.A. City Council gave preliminary approval to its revised living-wage ordinance for a dozen LAX-area hotels (a final vote is expected next week), but business groups remain opposed and threaten to challenge the legislation in court. Basically, the business folks say that the council's revisions didn't amount to much, while supporters say that substantial changes were made. Under the new measure, hotels would pay workers $9.39 an hour with health benefits or $10.64 an hour without. In return, the city would make $1 million in streetscape improvements, spend $50,000 as part of a marketing campaign and undertake studies on the impact of a living wage. Daily News