Wednesday morning headlines

Bev Hills stunner: British developers are paying $500 million for the now-closed Robinsons-May near the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards - one of the nation's most congested intersections. But not to worry - Candy & Candy, the London-based buyer (the name alone is worth a few million), says that the new complex of 252 luxury condos and retail won't generate any more traffic than the old Robinsons-May. Well, er, the nearby homeowners groups don't quite agree with that, which means it might be a while before the city gives the go-ahead. The $500 million sale is not a Socal record for property purchases, but it's darn close (remember the purchase by Japan's Shuwa Investment of Arco Plaza in 1986?). Anyway, the real winner in this is the seller: Bev Hills-based New Pacific Realty, which bought the property just three years ago for $33.5 million. That's a pretty nice return. LAT

Amgen exit: Richard Nanula resigned as CFO of the Thousand Oaks-based biotech firm amid lots of doubt that Amgen executives weren't exactly forthcoming with shareholders. No explanation for Nanula's departure, but the company has been accused of holding back on safety concerns involving two of its biggest selling drugs: anemia medications Epogen and Aranesp. The SEC is now looking into it. You might remember Nanula as a long-time Disney executive and president of Starwood Hotels. He'll be replaced by Robert Bradway, who has mostly an investment bank background. Analysts seemed surprised by the change. LAT

Paper vs. plastic: The pols suddenly have a cause: prohibiting those plastic grocery bags that fill landfills, clog storm drains and litter roadways. The L.A. County supes are considering enactment of a ban on standard plastic bags, similar to one imposed in San Francisco. Meanwhile, a state law going into effect July 1 requires major supermarkets and pharmacies to accept plastic bags for recycling. Of the estimated 6 billion plastic grocery bags sold in Los Angeles County, only 1 percent are recycled. SF now requires that plastic bags be made out of biodegradable or compostable materials, but some folks say those alternatives can be environmentally hazardous as well. Daily News

New Century wrangling: It's being billed as one of the biggest bankruptcy tangles ever to hit Wall Street. Among the claims is that the OC-based subprime lender hijacked as much as $18.4 million owed to UBS for bankrolling mortgages. UBS urged a freeze on parts of New Century's maze of 342 bank accounts. Around 100 lawyers are duking it out at Delaware bankruptcy court. NY Post

Northrop's spy satellites: The L.A.-based aerospace company, which has a history of marching to its own drummer, is forming a partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. that would make lighter, more-flexible spy satellites. As part of the project, code-named "Trinidad," Northrop proposes to buy and modify several Israeli-built, high-resolution spy satellites, each costing less than $200 million. That's cheap compared with what U.S. satellites go for. It's kind of a risky strategy because the satellites would use foreign, off-the-shelf technology - not what those Pentagon folks are used to. From the WSJ:

Northrop's move comes at a time when some Defense Department brass are clamoring to acquire an inventory of smaller, more affordable satellites that could be launched in weeks, or even days, to respond to fast-changing threats. This type of capability took on new importance late last year when China successfully conducted a test in which it shot down one of its own satellites, demonstrating its ability to render orbiting spy platforms useless. The battle is on to introduce that kind of flexible system. Companies including Northrop and Raytheon Co., as well as second-tier industry players such as Alliant Techsystems Inc. and Orbital Sciences Corp., are pushing their versions of gear that promise continuous and enhanced global-surveillance capabilities, available to local commanders nearly at any time and regardless of weather.

McKee's critique: The LAT seems positively obsessed with a breach-of-contract snoozer involving author Clive Cussler and Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, but things got a little spicy in court yesterday with the testimony of "screenwriting instructor" Robert McKee, who was paid 60 grand by Anschutz to get on the stand and conclude that Cussler's writing stinks. "I mean, I cannot overstate how terrible the writing is," McKee testified. "It is flawed in every way writing can be flawed." And hold onto your seats for this one: McKee said he didn't accept the consulting work with the idea of picking on a writer. "To find myself in a situation where I have to take a side against a writer is very upsetting to me," he said. For the uninitiated, McKee has taught screenwriting classes to unsuspecting wannabees for 25 years - each seminar generating between $60,000 and $90,000, according to the Times. But don't get me started...

USC sit-in: Ah, memories. Sort of. Thirteen students staged a six-hour protest over the school's apparent failure to ensure that USC-themed apparel isn't manufactured in sweatshops. Then, university officials phoned their parents and threatened the kids with suspension. That apparently did the trick. "We were prepared for arrest, but not suspension," senior Ana Valderrama told the LAT.

The students were given 10 minutes to decide whether to end their sit-in and thus have the whole matter dropped. "We all got scared. You could feel the fear in the room," said Meher Talib, a junior in international relations and one of the protesters. The students asked for, and received, an additional five minutes to huddle before giving up. To the cheers of about 150 students gathered outside the building, the protesters, some in tears, peacefully walked out. Talib said they were tears of frustration. "I'm upset that we didn't win the campaign," said Talib. "But that doesn't mean the campaign is over."

Inland Empire is overvalued: Riverside, Ontario and San Bernardino are considered the third most overvalued housing market in the nation, with prices 16.7 percent higher than they should be, according to a real estate tracking firm. L.A. is overvauled by 2.7 percent. The only markets ahead of the Inland Empire are the Dallas metro area. The most undervalued market is St. Louis at 28.4 percent. Daily News

Edgar Bronfman sues: Not that he likely needs the money but the Warner Music Group CEO claims that his former employer, Vivendi S.A., cut his pension payments by about 65 percent. There apparently was some mixup in calculating Bronfman's benefits that was not resolved. Reuters

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
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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
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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