U.S. home sales tank: March was the worst sales month in 18 years, with a decline of 8.4 percent (still well below the Socal sales drops). There are all kinds of logical explanations - bad weather, the subprime mess, etc. – and so far the market seems to be taking it in stride (the Dow is down a touch after 90 minutes). Still, it could get some folks worried. Also, consumer confidence fell significantly in April. Bloomberg
Toyota tops GM: This had been in the cards for some time, but now it's official: Toyota Motor Corp. was No. 1 in sales during the first quarter, surpassing General Motors Corp. for the first time. Much of Toyota's strength, of course, is in its North American sales (HQ's in Torrance, by the way) – and those sales are helped by having six North American assembly plants. From Bloomberg:
"It's not about market share and it's not about world domination, it's about making a profit,'' Lexington, Massachusetts-based Global Insight analyst Rebecca Lindland said in an interview. ``It's a difficult pill to swallow, but GM really needs to get their house in order and their sales are going to have to drop to do that.''
Producers stockpile shows: If you're in movies or television, be careful about making any summer vacation plans. Preparing for a possible writers strike this fall, networks and studio executives are bumping up shooting schedules - somewhat similar to what happened in 2001 but apparently not on the same scale. As an example, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" has started shooting two months earlier than usual. "I firmly believe that the potential for a strike is much greater and more ominous than many people are saying," Dick Wolf, the show's executive producer, told the LAT. "Therefore, we're going to make as many episodes as possible before a strike takes place." The current contract expires Oct. 31.
Corralling TV clutter: It might not be very apparent, but the networks are keeping a lid on the amount of commercials and promotions they air. The average amount of clutter per hour runs about 15 minutes, according to a study. At CBS, Fox and MTV, the amount of "non-program minutes" actually fell a little. It's hard to know whether the containment will have much effect on viewers who like to zap during commercials, but it's an indication that the networks are engaging the issue. From the WSJ:
Release of the report comes at a delicate time for TV ad salespeople. In mid-May, networks kick off the annual "upfront" ad-sales session, the time of the year when networks sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming TV season. Roughly two weeks after that, on May 31, Nielsen Media Research is scheduled to release its first batch of commercial ratings -- data that can indicate how many people actually watched commercials during a specified program. The long-awaited data are expected to show that audience levels drop off when a program goes to commercial break. Advertisers could use those figures to press for lower ad prices.
Gas report: These days, it's a good week when pump prices only go up a penny. The average gallon of self-serve regular in the L.A. area is $3.29, up from $3.28 the week before.
Apple follo: Lots of catch-up today on the San Jose Merc's scoop about the SEC developing a case against two former Apple executives. Former CFO Fred Anderson is expected to cut a deal with the feds in which he repays stock options gains of about $3.5 million and pays civil penalties of $150,000. But former general counsel Nancy Heinen is expected to fight it out. The two have been implicated in the ongoing probe of backdating stock options. SF Chronicle
Amgen fraud case: The Securities and Exchange Commission filed securities fraud charges against the husband of a top Amgen executive. Gary Melton is accused is misappropriating confidential information from his wife, who is Amgen's vice president of strategic sourcing and procurement. Melton bought stock days before the Thousand Oaks-based company's acquisition of Abgenix. The SEC did not name Melton's wife. AP
Breeze site sold: The 6.7-acre plot in Torrance has been bought by Little Company of Mary hospital. The building that housed the newspaper for four decades will come down and be replaced with medical offices. Copley Press sold off the property in advance of the Breeze itself being sold. The new Breeze offices are located nearby. Daily Breeze
Lacter on radio: This morning's business chat with KPCC's Steve Julian covers L.A.'s hot commercial real estate market, the increased value of the Dodgers, and super-expensive homes for sale.