Thursday morning headlines

Strike talk: Well, it doesn't look great. Talks between the Writers Guild and the studios and networks broke down last night, just a few hours before the guild contract expired. There are a bunch of contentious issues, but what apparently caused negotiations to dead-end was DVD compensation. Guild members have been told to take their personal items home from offices at the end of work today - not a great sign. The WGA leadership sent out an email to its members saying that the other side "has not responded to a single one of our important proposals," which sounds a bit hyperbolic but that's what you hear at times like this. No strike today, but there's a membership meeting tonight at the L.A. Convention Center when members of the negotiating committee will make their recommendation on how to proceed. (Variety)

Stocks take hit: The Dow is down about 200 points after an hour of trading. There's not one big event that's causing the fall - just a bunch of middling ickyness: weak earnings for Exxon Mobil, worries that Citigroup will cut its dividend, a downgrade for Bank of America, and lower-than-expected consumer spending in September. (Bloomberg)

Torre update: There's still no deal on the former Yankee manager coming to the Dodgers. But the NY Post reports that owner Frank McCourt "has been handling the discussions with Torre through a mutual friend and people close to the parties believe the deal will be announced shortly." The story says that the Dodgers would like to put some distance between Grady Little's unceremonious departure and Torre's arrival. Little was apparently paid the $1 million he was due next year and a percentage of a 2009 option, according to the paper.

Delay in FCC vote?: That would be on a proposal to effectively roll back rules concerning the ownership of TV stations and newspapers in the same market. FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin wants a vote by the end of the year, but during a hearing yesterday there were calls to slow things down. The Tribune boys are very interested observers because they're relying on an FCC waiver to maintain ownership of both the LAT and KTLA. Martin had been making noises about not granting any more waivers until his proposal is voted on. (LAT)

Hospital sale: Inglewood's financially strapped Centinela Hospital Medical Center is being acquired by Victorville-based Prime Healthcare Services Inc. No purchase price disclosed. Prime Healthcare says it will look into renegotiating contracts with five major HMO insurance providers - and perhaps consider cutting off some of them. Dr. Prem Reddy, a cardiologist who founded Prime Healthcare six years ago, said health insurers aren't paying their fair share. He built Victorville's Desert Valley Hospital and quickly acquired eight other hospitals, at least two of which were facing bankruptcy. But a deal to buy Anaheim Memorial Medical Center was recently nixed by the U.S. Attorney General's Office. (Daily Breeze)

Wage crackdown: The state is after companies suspected of not paying minimum wage, overtime, payroll taxes and workers' compensation insurance premiums. First on the list of targets is a Socal drywall installation contractor. California AG Jerry Brown says it's an effort to go after businesses in the state's underground economy, where wage rules are typically not followed. (LAT)

Trash strike ends: Waste Management truck drivers and mechanics go back to work with a new five-year labor contract. But it's the same deal that the workers rejected on a 247- 115 vote before the Oct. 19 strike began (WGA members take note). "It's difficult to stay out (on strike) for an extended period of time," said Jay Phillips, president of Teamsters Local 396. Waste Management officials had hired some replacement drivers. (Daily News wires)

First American sued: New York AG Andrew Cuomo accuses the Santa Ana-based title company of giving overly high assessments of home values in order to win business from Washington Mutual Inc. Washington Mutual hired First American's appraisal unit last year, but the S&L complained that the appraisals were too low, the lawsuit says. First American wound up picking appraisers from a list pre-approved by Washington Mutual that gave higher appraisals. (LAT)

Are you ready for some shopping?: It's November, Halloween is over, and that can mean only one thing: the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Sure, it's early but retailers are nervous - as usual - so they're rolling out their fall campaigns well ahead of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. From AP:

In recent years, merchants have been pushing the holiday season earlier and earlier, dangling free shipping and discounts. But this year, the discounts -- coming only a few days after Halloween -- resemble the post-Thanksgiving day blitz, with special door busters and 50 percent discounts as generous as those usually found on Black Friday. The day is so named because it was traditionally when stores became profitable. Wal-Mart, which already announced price cuts early this month, announced Wednesday it will offer five major holiday specials, including a $348 laptop computer, starting on Friday at 8 a.m. The other four specials will be kept secret until Thursday when shoppers can see them online, though they can not purchase them. The discounts are being timed to the weekend's launch of Wal-Mart's new Christmas Shops.

Watch that handshake!: The line of the day comes in the WSJ's lengthy and quite entertaining profile of Bear Stearns CEO James Cayne, who is portrayed as an out-of-touch leader who was on the golf course or at bridge tournaments in the midst of the firm's credit troubles last summer. Oh, and he also likes to smoke pot after a long day at the bridge table.

Mr. Cayne revels in being a Wall Street maverick. He has described his disinclination to travel for business matters, saying privately he wouldn't meet with President Bush about economic issues unless the president came to Bear's New York offices. He is blunt. Investment-firm chief Alexandra Lebenthal brought her 11-year-old son to visit Bear a few years back. She says she introduced him to Mr. Cayne, who pulled her aside and said, "That kid's got a rotten handshake. He's going nowhere in life." Ms. Lebenthal, chief of a unit of Israel Discount Bank of New York, says she instructed her son on the importance of a firmer handshake.

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
Previous story: Changeup on Torre

Next story: 'Pretty Woman' redux

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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
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