Friday morning headlines

Getaway day: Nearly 38 percent of the folks going somewhere to celebrate next week's holiday will get started today, so expect the usual packed scenes at airports and on freeways (is there any other these days?). Gas prices nationwide are currently averaging $2.99 for a gallon of self-serve regular - down 23 cents from a month ago and about 14 cents higher than a year ago. The AAA's Leisure Travel Index shows that hotel rates are averaging 5 percent higher than a year ago, but airfares are 12 percent lower. Thatís at least one explanation for all the craziness at the airports. By the way, oil prices are nearing $70 a barrel this morning, which would be a 10-month high. But there are signs that U.S. refineries are bolstering output.

iPhone day: At last, the selling begins. Apple will close all its stores at 2 p.m. today to get ready for the crush of customers four hours later when the phones go on sale. Itís two to a customer. Apple insists that no one is getting early access to the iPhone - including Hollywood hot shots and Wall Street analysts accustomed to receiving special treatment. Speaking of Wall Street, opinion is all over the map on what Apple stock might do once the phone is released. Options trading would suggest a big move, higher or lower, early next week. One reason for the uncertainty is that Apple shares have already been rising in the weeks leading to the big day.(LAT, WSJ)

Wellpoint sex suit: The Indianapolis-based health insurer has been named in a lawsuit that accuses former CFO David Colby of sexual battery, breach of contract and infliction of emotional distress. The suit was filed by 29-year-old Sarah Waugh, who dated Colby and worked for WellPoint when it was based in Thousand Oaks. She says that Colby, 53, maintained "concurrent relationships" with her and more than 15 other women and "acted with the intent to cause" her harm. And she says that Wellpoint was aware of Colby's wild-and-crazy ways but did nothing to protect her. Another suit by another ex-lover, Rita DiCarlo, has already been filed - and by the way, DiCarlo and Waugh are represented by the same L.A. lawyer, Mark Hathaway (probably just a coincidence). From the LAT:

In the suit, Waugh, 29, says she began dating Colby in 2001, when she worked for WellPoint. Their relationship continued after she left the company, the suit says, and Colby sent her an "almost constant stream of e-mails and text messages, and repeatedly professed his desire for unprotected sex in a committed monogamous relationship." He wasn't faithful, the suit claims, and engaged in "high-risk sexual practices with others Ö some of whom have contracted STDs" ó sexually transmitted diseases. WellPoint "facilitated defendant Colby's lifestyle," the suit says, with company employees arranging personal and business trips for Waugh and other women who traveled with Colby ó including her younger sister, Jessica ó and with high-level employees often traveling with Colby and the women.

Consumer spending solid: May's 0.5 percent rate was below what analysts had forecast and could indicate some residual pushback after this year's jump in gas prices (not to mention the sour housing market). The economy barely budged in the first quarter, but there's talk about the April-June period approaching 4 percent. That's one reason the Federal Reserve decided to hold interest rates steady. (AP)

L.A. toll roads?: Don't hold your breath, but at least the MTA has agreed to develop plans for toll roads within the next three years, well after other communities around the nation - all with much less serious traffic problems - have been experimenting with "congestion pricing." Lots of opposition can be expected (Lexus lanes and all that), and besides, L.A. just doesn't have that much available land in which to add toll lanes. In his usual daring way, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that "at some point, we have to reduce the number of single-passenger automobiles if we want to reduce gridlock in L.A. County." Now that's taking a stand. (LAT)

Lerach rejects plea: Everybody is catching up to yesterday's Daily Journal scoop that Melvyn Weiss and William Lerach have turned down an offer to plead guilty in the veeery lengthy kickback case. The deal would have required the shareholder attorneys to serve three to four years in the slammer. Both men have been in talks for several weeks with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles. Neither Weiss nor Lerach has been charged in the case against law firm Milberg Weiss & Bershad LLP, which was indicted last year on accusations that it made secret kickbacks to plaintiffs in class-action lawsuits so the firm could be first to file a case. Two senior partners at the firm also were indicted. (Reuters)

Batman Hot Wheels?: El Segundo-based Mattel has cut a licensing deal with Warner Bros. Consumer Products to become the official toymaker for DC Comics. The multi-year deal makes Mattel the master toy licensee for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Joker, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Green Arrow and Justice League. Mattel also plans to create a DC Superheroes-branded section in toy departments. (Variety)


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?
Recent stories:
Letter from Down Under: Welcome to the Homogenocene
One last Florida photo
Signs of Saturday: No refund
'I Am Woman,' hear them roar
Bobcat crossing

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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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