Countrywide's shaky December: The mortgage lender said its delinquency rate continued to climb last month - 7.2 percent of unpaid principal balances from 4.6 percent a year earlier. Meanwhile, Egan Jones, a ratings company, wrote in a report that the Calabasas-based lender is "severely challenged and might falter if it does not receive an infusion of at least $4 billion within the next couple of weeks." The company denies it's considering bankruptcy. One slight bit of good news: Mortgages funded rose 1 percent from November. (Bloomberg)
Axium files for liquidation: The big Hollywood payroll company unexpectedly closed its doors after lenders refused to extend its credit line, the NY Post reported. A Chapter 7 petition was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, stating that the company "lacks sufficient liquidity or other resources" to meet its financial obligations. Payrolls the company had been processing were being moved to two competitors.
The company's biggest secured lender, Golden Tree Asset Management, a $14 billion New York hedge fund, made the decision to pull the plug, sources said, adding that Golden Tree is the first in line to be repaid when Axium sells its assets. Sources close to the company blamed an acquisition binge for Axium's financial woes but said the writers' strike, which has halted production on many TV shows and films, was the tipping point. "They were a little shaky and the writers' strike threw them over the edge," said one client.
Westside developer settle: The agreement calls for a unit of JMB Realty to pay $2.25 towards a mitigation fund overseen by four groups representing homeowners near Century City. That will allow construction on two 47-story and one 12-story luxury condos in Century City. The settlement money, coming on top of $5 million that JMB had already promised to pay, is expected to be used to help nearby schools, libraries, parks and fire and police facilities. (LAT)
Amgen accusation: Two former salespeople for the Thousand Oaks biotech giant tell the LAT of improper marketing practices that were used to boost sales of the drug Enbrel, which is a powerful psoriasis treatment. They said the company required them to get at patient medical information in doctors' offices and market the drug directly to patients. That's a huge no-no because federal privacy laws strictly protect that kind of information. Amgen officials insist that their sales force plays by the rules.
The two former employees filed evidence in the arbitration proceedings including company memos, supporting e-mails, documents and an audio recording made by a sales manager to Engelman that partially describe or make reference to the sales program at issue. Both former employees say doctors weren't directly paid for access to patient files. But many of the same doctors who allowed access to their patient charts, they say, were paid as much as thousands of dollars to host dinners and lectures advising physicians and patients about the drug.
Prosecutors consider cybercrime charges: You might remember the case of a Missouri teenager who hanged herself after being rejected by someone masquerading on MySpace as a 16-year-old boy. It turned out that the “boy” was really the mother of one of the girl's former friends. No charges were filed against the mom (prosecutors in Missouri said they couldn’t find an appropriate statute), but prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles are exploring the possibility of charging her with defrauding MySpace by allegedly creating the false account. The L.A. feds believe they have jurisdiction because MySpace is based in Beverly Hills. From the LAT:
Cyber-bullying has become an increasingly creepy reality, with the anonymity of video games, message boards and other online forums offering an outlet for cruel taunts. Former federal prosecutor Brian C. Lysaght said such a prosecution would be "not as much of a reach as it might appear at first glance." In recent years, he said, Congress has passed a series of statutes that make criminal conduct involving the Internet federal offenses. Still, it could be difficult to draw the line between constitutionally protected free speech and conduct that is illegal.
Ad fallout on Globes: Prudential and Citigroup, have pulled their spots from NBC's stripped-down coverage of the Golden Globes, while others are considering their options. The network, which will be offering refunds to advertisers, still hasn't announced a lineup for Sunday, other than that silly mock press conference to announce the winners. In normal years, the telecast generates more than $20 million in ad revenue. (TV Week, NYT)
Layoffs at Maersk: The world’s largest container shipping line plans to shed between 2,000 and 3,000 of its 25,000 staff, the largest in the Danish company's 104-year history. No word on where the cuts will be made; the company has a large presence at the Port of Los Angeles with its Pier 400 facility (the world's largest single-operator port terminal). Both the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach have seen a decline in cargo growth over the last year, reflecting the slower economy. (FT)
Calpers buys into private equity: California's huge pension fund is acquiring a 9.9 percent stake in Silver Lake, one of the top tech-oriented private equity firms (Avaya, Business Objects, Flextronics, Instinet, MCI, Nasdaq, Seagate Technology). The stake is worth about $275 million. From the NYT:
Calpers invests in these firms directly, not just in their funds as a limited partner, giving it access to the 20 percent of the profits and 2 percent of the fees that the firms collect from investors in their funds. The Calpers investment also gives the pension fund access to co-invest with Silver Lake in certain investments. As part of the deal, Calpers has committed to make additional investments in Silver Lake’s funds and will have a seat on the firm’s management advisory board.
Moelis adds partner: That's as in Ken Moelis, the long-time L.A.-based investment banker - and former UBS honcho- who started his own boutique firm last year. He's bringing on Stephan Oppenheimer, who will work in the firm’s private equity area. That brings the headcount to 45, 11 of them managing directors. (Financial News)