Countrywide's good/bad news: The Calabasas mortgage giant reported its first quarterly loss in 25 years, the result of $2.27 billion worth of mortgage losses and write-downs and soaring credit-loss reserves. But never mind that - CEO Angelo Mozilo insists that profitability is on the way for the fourth quarter. And Wall Street is buying into it; Countrywide shares are up 16.5 percent at last check (though that just brings the stock up to a paltry $15 and change). Stocks in general are up on the not-so-horrible news (talk about low expectations). From Bloomberg:
”While Countrywide's results were very weak, they were not as bad as market participants anticipated,” said Peter Plaut, an analyst at Sanno Point Capital Management LLC, a New York hedge fund that doesn't currently own shares. “The company is viewed as a survivor within the midst of the credit-market turmoil.”
Fire damages tallied: As has been suggested all week, the numbers are high but not that high - as much as $2.5 billion, according to Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg. Of that, $650 million will be for rebuilding structures and the remainder for the loss of cars, furniture and other household goods. The 1991 Oakland Hills fires were the costliest in U.S. history, at $2.6 billion in today's dollars. "As a way of comparison to other disasters," Rosenberg writes in a report, "the potential losses are relatively small: Hurricane Andrew (1991) was $34 billion and unleashed a surge in home building activity, Hugo (1989) $9.7 billion and Charley (2004) $7.4 billion (all in 2004 dollars)." I know, it sounds cold and insensitive, but these are bizfolks just trying to put the thing in perspective. If you owned stock in an insurance company, you’d probably want to know this stuff too. (MarketBeat)
Money flow slowing: So far this year remittances from migrants to their families in Mexico have increased less than 2 percent, compared with 20 percent in some recent years. A flagging U.S. economy and beefed up enforcement efforts against illegal workers are cited as among the explanations. Less work in the U.S., especially in the construction business, means less money to send home. From the NYT:
Many experts say it is too early to know if the negligible increase in remittances will continue. Some argue it was to be expected: much of the initial spike in money transfers had resulted from better accounting. In addition, earlier waves of migrants are returning to the houses they built, or they have managed to legalize their status in the United States and bring their families, sending less money back. But the events of the last year in the United States, political and economic, have also clouded the prospects of many illegal Mexican workers. New walls, new guards and new equipment at the border have dissuaded many from trying to cross and raised the cost for those who try to as much as $2,800. Workplace raids and stories of summary deportations stoke fears among Mexicans on both sides of the border.
"American Gangster" pirated: Hollywood has supposedly beefed up its anti-piracy measures, but that hasn't prevented the Denzel Washington film from being bootlegged online. Apparently, it's been available for at least a couple of days on various file-sharing sites - and high-quality DVDs were being sold for $5 yesterday morning in Los Angeles. Other movies have been pirated before their release this year, including "Ratatouille" and "Sicko." There is certainly some box office impact, but to what degree is hard to know. From the WSJ:
While studios have come to accept that their movies will quickly find their way onto the Internet after their theatrical releases, they have been fighting hard to prevent them from landing online before they hit the big screen. For the past few years, the studios seemed to be succeeding in that mission, with few prerelease-piracy issues. The companies have taken extensive security precautions at prerelease screenings in theaters and have been vigilant about stamping watermarks on other copies of films that circulate in a quest to identify potential pirates.
Kerkorian back in action: The L.A. billionaire's investment arm, Tracinda Corp., will make a $1.4 billion tender offer for 16 percent of U.S. refiner Tesoro Corp., at $64 a share. That's 12 percent higher than Tesoro's close yesterday. Kerkorian already has a 4 percent stake in Tesoro. The refinery industry has been looking quite good. (Bloomberg)
CNBC getting hit?: The effect that Fox Business Network is having on CNBC is hard to measure because Nielsen won't be releasing figures for FBN until sometime next year. Last week, CNBC averaged 247,000 viewers during the 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. business day period, down 11 percent from 276,000 the previous week. For the first three days of this week, CNBC averaged 264,000 viewers, which is down 4 percent from the week before Fox Business launched. (NY Post)
Shooting surprisingly slow: So what happened to all that stepped-up activity the studios were supposed to be doing in advance of a possible writers strike? L.A. location shooting in the third quarter was down 26 percent from the previous year - the slowest third quarter for features in four years. But TV production was at the second-highest level ever recorded with 5,950 days. TV activity has been on the upswing because of cable and reality shows. (Variety)
John Bryson steps down: The Edison CEO - and former big-time environmental player - will be succeeded by Theodore Craver Jr., who has spent the last few years as president and CEO of Irvine-based Edison Mission Group, an Edison unit that manages power plants and wind farms. Bryson, who has been CEO for 18 years, is leaving as he turns 65, which apparently is when Edison CEOs are supposed to move on. Edison, of course, is the parent of Southern California Edison. (LAT)
Hilfiger at Macy's: He's agreed to sell his biggest clothing lines exclusively at the department store giant, which could give the struggling designer a financial infusion and could give the struggling retailer a bit more panache. Under the deal, Hilfiger has to remove his signature clothing lines from Dillard’s and Bon-Ton. From the NYT:
Dozens of retailers have struck agreements to sell exclusive clothing lines over the last decade, but the Macy’s-Hilfiger deal stands apart because of the clothing brand’s reputation and popularity. For decades, Tommy Hilfiger was part of an elite club of designers — Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan among them — that dominated department store sales and became megabrands in the process. Hilfiger has lost much ground over the last five years, going through an identity crisis that took it from preppy to urban and back again, hurting sales. But it is still a force in fashion.