Thursday morning headlines

NBC leaves Burbank: Talk about breaking up an act - the network that made beautiful downtown Burbank a cultural icon (pathetic, huh?) is selling most of its 34 acres and moving to nearby Universal Studios. The formal announcement is expected today. This is part of NBC Universal's master plan that includes construction of a massive broadcast facility - completion date is 2011 - plus all kinds of residential and retail development (very little of which has been approved). The new broadcast facility will house NBC News' West Coast operations and the local news staffs of KNBC and Spanish-language Telemundo KVEA-TV Channel 52. From the LAT:

NBC Universal also confirmed Wednesday that "The Tonight Show" would remain in Los Angeles when Conan O'Brien, who now shoots his "Late Night" show in New York, takes over from Leno in 2009. With the Burbank facility on the block, the network is expanding and upgrading Studio One, a soundstage on the Universal Studios lot that was built in 1961 for "The Jack Benny Program." The new home for the late-night program has had other memorable productions, including "Jurassic Park III" and "The Incredible Hulk," as well as the 1980s television show "Knight Rider." NBC Universal three years ago made the controversial decision to give O'Brien the illustrious 11:35 p.m. time slot. That move in effect set a retirement date on "The Tonight Show" for Leno, who continues to be one of the network's most popular and bankable stars.

NBC sale up in the air: The Financial Times reports that Jeff Immelt, CEO of NBC parent GE, won't consider the future of the media company until after next summer's Olympics, which of course raises new questions about what happens after that. NBC, which is valued at around $40 billion, has been the subject of on again, off again sale rumors. The issue is likely to resurface on Friday, when GE reports third-quarter earnings.

Mozilo feels some heat: At last someone official is raising a stink about how the Countrywide CEO was selling massive amounts of stock in the months before the company's shares nose-dived because of the credit crunch. “As an investor and a Countrywide shareholder, I was shocked to learn that C.E.O. Angelo Mozilo apparently manipulated his trading plans to cash in, just as the subprime crisis was heating up and Countrywide’s fortunes were cooling off,” wrote North Carolina Treasurer Richard Moore, in a letter to SEC Chairman Christopher Cox. There's no way to tell how seriously the SEC will take the complaint, but perhaps it will lead to some shareholder litigation. From the NYT:

Linda Chatman Thomsen, director of enforcement at the commission, said yesterday at a conference of the National Association of Stock Plan Professionals in San Francisco that the S.E.C. was taking a closer look at planned selling programs by executives. They are known as 10b5-1 plans for the section of the securities laws that allows them. “We are making sure that a rule designed to help executives with a legitimate purpose is not being used for illegitimate purposes,” Ms. Thomsen said. She declined to say if any specific investigation had advanced to the point where inquiry letters had been sent.

Countrywide's sour numbers: The Calabasas lender funded 44 percent fewer mortgages last month from a year earlier and delinquent loans jumped to 5.85 percent from 4.04 percent. Also, its loan-servicing portfolio, including loans made by other lenders and owned by investors, rose 17 percent from a year earlier. Countrywide President David Sambol said about half of the jump in delinquencies came about because there were four fewer business days in September than in the previous month. (Bloomberg)

Subprime dissection: A WSJ analysis shows that the L.A. area saw only slightly more high-interest-rate loans in 2006 than the U.S. as a whole - 31.9 percent vs. 29 percent. Statewide, it was 29.4 percent. They're still smokin' numbers, of course, and point to a phenomenon that spreads beyond low-income communities.

From investors hoping to strike it rich by speculating on condominiums to the working poor chasing the homeownership dream, subprime loans burrowed into the heart of the American financial system -- and now are bringing deepening woe. The data also show that some of the worst excesses of the subprime binge continued well into 2006, suggesting that the pain could last through next year and beyond, especially if housing prices remain sluggish. Some borrowers may not run into trouble for years.

Good news looming?: The prolonged decline in home sales should stabilize by next year, according to a forecast by the California Association of Realtors. But the group also expects California's median home price to fall 4 percent in 2008, the first annual decline in 13 years (L.A.'s median price is said to have peaked in August). "Now is not the time for homeowners to test the waters; only serious sellers should put their homes on the market in what will continue to be a challenging sales environment," said the association president, Colleen Badagliacco. (Daily News)

Sluggish September sales: Maybe it was the warm weather or concern about home prices or gas prices or shoddily-made good from China. Whatever the reason, September retail sales were lower than analysts estimated, raising new questions about the weakening economy. Wal-Mart, for example, reported that sales at stores open at least a year climbed 1.4 percent, at the lower end of its projections. (Bloomberg)

WGA sets strike rules: And they're tough: No guild-covered work in features and TV, of course, but also no writing for new media and animated features, even though that's supposedly not under WGA jurisdiction. Also, non-guild writers who perform banned work during a strike will be barred from joining the guild in the future (expect litigation on that one). Meanwhile, the deadline for strike authorization ballots is Oct. 18. The WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers met Wednesday and plan to resume talks this morning. No indication of any progress. (Variety)

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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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