LA Biz Observed archive

Mark Lacter covered business, the economy and more here from 2006 until his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
The entire LA Biz Observed archive — more than 10,000 blog posts by Mark — remains online and available.
February 2008

Pellicano case takes shape

No big Hollywood names to testify, but the folks from HBO’s “In Treatment” will have a field day.

*Northrop wins a big one

The L.A.-based defense contractor pulls huge upset in $40-billion contract for refueling tankers.

Little guys take heat in recall

When will investigators start asking company and government honchos about slaughterhouse abuses?

Strike boosts unemployment

January unemployment in L.A. County was 5.7 percent, up from 5.4 percent a month earlier.

One-Euro Chuck

As the dollar keeps declining, cheaper California wines are finding an overseas audience.

Friday morning headlines

L.A. gas prices jump, dollar keeps dropping, SAG leaders keep squabbling, and Ticketmaster talking to AEG.

Fingerpointing in Chino

A low-level employee from slaughterhouse could be cutting plea deal as Chino takes it on the chin.

New Line is history

Co-CEOs Robert Shaye and Michael Lynne are out as Time Warner looks to tighten up its movie operations.

NBC dumps 'Quarterlife' to cable

Shifting a series from Webisodes to prime time could be a challenge, at least based on Tuesday night's numbers.

Growth war - 2008 edition

L.A. officials insist on jamming as many rental units into as many already-clogged neighborhoods as possible.

Thursday morning headlines

Bush says there's no recession, court rejects state pollution laws, and Humane Society sues USDA over cattle.

Hollywood, eat your heart out

That very slight independent movie "Once" proves that cheap budgets can produce big returns.

Retailers tied to recall

The list includes thousands of stores and restaurants that were supplied meat from Hallmark/Westland.

*I said, pass the butter!!!!!

In the restaurant business, loud is young and sexy; quiet is for the Early Birds.

First houses, now cars?

OC new car registrations tumble 28.5 percent in January, another sign of an slowing economy. And L.A.?

Wednesday morning headlines

More rate cuts likely, local economy on the ropes through 2008, and Pellicano defendants negotiate plea deals.

$4 gas just around the corner

Yes, U.S. demand is slowing and that should mean lower prices. But it's a lot more complicated.

Stock up on those lattes

Starbucks will be closed for several hours tonight and the competition is ready to pounce.

Trickle down on meat recall

Local restaurants and supermarkets appear to have received the beef from the Chino slaughterhouse.

Tuesday morning headlines

More bad news on home prices, WGA seeks revenue boost, and even the Oscar ads tanked.

Oscars take big ratings hit

Movies that were too grim and had relatively little star power probably doomed this year's show.

Meatpacker will likely close

General manager tells WSJ that cash has become tight and some customers stopped payments on checks.

Health Net must pay $9 million

An arbitration judge issued the award to a breast cancer patient whose coverage was canceled.

Dubai invests in Grand Avenue

The new financial arrangements supposedly will allow the first phase of the project to be completed by 2011.

Super-wealthy cutting back?

More likely it's just a split between the super-duper rich and the let’s-pretend rich.

Friday morning headlines

Apartment rents are up, beef lobbyists pressure USDA on recall, Alitalia resumes LAX service, and Hollywood feels blue.

The games moguls play

Getting a little outraged over Sam Zell's outrageousness? Perhaps you don't know how these guys work.

Post-strike revival

Extra work before and after the walkout is likely to cushion the minimal economic impact.

Thursday morning headlines

Variety up for sale, Microsoft-Yahoo deal might be close to getting done, and Omar Sharif gets his just desserts.

Psst...what's Bill Gross up to?

The man behind Newport Beach-based Pimco is sometimes accused of throwing his investment weight around.

And the Forbesie goes to...

With apologies to "Alvin and the Chipmunks," here are movies that filled seats and received good reviews.

Tribune bonds are tanking

All this suggests that at some point head honcho Sam Zell will be in major asset-selling mode.

Wednesday morning headlines

Inflation is up, Sharper Image files Chapter 11, MySpace looking into music venture, and NBC wants year-round premieres.

Big changes at Register

Publisher is tearing apart the old-fashioned business model because a one-size fits all paper is no longer viable.

News Corp., Yahoo keep talking

The odds of a deal are still considered low, but both sides figure they have nothing to lose.

Salons fined for feet filth

Businesses in Huntington Beach, Anaheim, Buena Park and Santa Ana were among those issued citations.

Oil hits century mark

Prices jumped $4.51, to $100.01 a barrel, which isn't supposed to happen in a slumping economy. Fooled again!

Layoffs at Ventura County Star

It's a first for the newspaper, which had a 15 percent drop in advertising last year.

Memo to LAT: Try naked pics

Lindsay Lohan's fashion spread in this week's NY magazine got so many clicks that the servers crashed.

And they said it wouldn't last

Disney's move to acquire Pixar two years ago is proving to be a financial and creative success.

Tuesday morning headlines

Microsoft launches proxy battle for Yahoo, LAT earnings keep sinking, and inside the Chino slaughterhouse.

News jobs disappearing

You might be better off in show business. Since 1990, one in four newspaper jobs have flat-out disappeared.

Splichal's secret potatoes

Don't tell anybody, but they were powdered - and his guests loved them (lots of butter and cream didn't hurt).

Local biz sections dying

It's a return to those ghastly pre-1980s business sections, which were journalistic jokes.

Shoe fight

The flashy young woman behind the Jimmy Choo empire is duking it out with her mother in court.

USDA recalls Chino beef

Health threat is small, though the feds continue looking into operations at slaughterhouse.

Animal cruelty charges filed

This is an appalling story and yet there still isn't much being reported about the company itself.

The case against Jim Cramer

Barron's found the CNBC star to be playing fast and loose with his stock picks. But that's not the whole story.

Yahoo's board is split

Billionaire Ron Burkle and Activision's Bobby Kotick are on separate sides in the battle with Microsoft.

Fighting for the uncommon good

The flap over making Pico and Olympic one-way explains a lot about why nothing gets done about L.A. traffic.

Friday morning headlines

Mayor pushes Pico/Olympic plan, Countrywide delinquency rate slows, and hotshots subpoenaed in Pellicano case.

Subprime's big winners

Meet Jeffrey Berns of Tarzana, who last year filed more subprime-related lawsuits than anyone.

Murdoch vs. Zell

Who is the better tyrant... er, boss? We'll put our money on the Rotten Old Bastard.

Figuring out home prices

You might argue that down is down, no matter the measurement. But the degree of down can be a big deal.

Misery loves company

The NYT will eliminate 100 newsroom jobs through buyouts, attrition and possibly layoffs.

Thursday morning headlines

Bernanke says economy will rebound later this year, Rocky goes after health insurers, and prepare for V-Day gridlock.

Predicting election results

The online prediction market has proven to be eerily reliable over the years. So what happened in California?

Games foodies play

Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich could become the Coen brothers of the food business.

L.A. home prices plunge

January median price is down to $458,000; L.A. County home sales tumble 50.1 percent.

Job cuts at LAT

The paper will reduce its workforce by 100-150 jobs, including 40-50 in the newsroom.

Wednesday morning headlines

Actors push for early talks, Blue Cross pulls back from outrageous policy, and USC stays in Coliseum.

Yahoo talking to News Corp?

There's little chance of an outright acquisition, but what about Murdoch picking up a large stake?

Worth magazine sold

Malibu-based publisher sells financial title to the owner New Beauty magazine, Need we say more?

Cruise terminal grousing

Port officials are pushing for a new site in the outer habor, but community groups are raising a stink.

Tuesday morning headlines

GM loses big bucks, writers vote on ending strike, JetBlue launches LAX service, and Lerach prepares for jail.

How safe is Chinese garlic?

Trader Joe's seems to think it's perfectly safe. But many of the chain's customers apparently think otherwise.

Celeb magazines take dip

An increase in cover prices and Hollywood sites like TMZ might have played a part.

Ratings down, ad rates up

With the strike almost over, there’s endless speculation on how the advertising landscape might change.

Bill Lerach gets two years

The San Diego attorney is headed to federal prison for his role in a kickback scheme involving class-action lawsuits.

Monday morning headlines

Yahoo rejects Microsoft bid, writers hail contract, home prices fall in January, and law firm cleans up.

*Vote to end strike

The new plan is for all members to cast ballots; writers could be working by Wednesday.

Early reviews on deal

Grudging acceptance of the tentative agreement, but why not wait until the membership can vote?

WGA deal is cut

Writers will discuss the terms at a membership meeting tonight. They could be back working by Monday.

Advertising is irrelevant

Ad agencies, just like networks, newspapers and magazines, operate under old rules that don't work anymore.

Flunking the Newsweek test

Editor Jon Meacham is proud of his magazine - if only more people read it.

Friday morning headlines

Writers strike seems to be nearing an end, credit card delinquencies are up, and another luxury condo.

How writers deal came together

Credit a writer with close ties to Peter Chernin, an agent and a top entertainment lawyer.

'Idol' for the masses

Would you believe a Disney theme park attraction based on the Fox series? Sure you would.

Eisner says strike is over

But wait a second, shouldn't Writers Guild negotiators let their members have a peek?

Indigestion at Cheesecake

Wall Street isn't thrilled with plans to open fewer stores, and diners might not like the higher prices.

When worlds collide

Paris Hilton lets her hair down to the OC Register. Oh, and she's also promoting her shoe line.

Thursday morning headlines

Retailers report a lousy January, restaurant chains losing business, and LB port told to clean up.

Schwarzman up close

The head of the giant Blackstone Group has become the poster child for Wall Street greed.

Airline talks pick up steam

Delta could be close to a merger with Northwest - and United with Continental.

Recession odds increasing

A new WSJ survey of economists put the chances at 49 percent, up from 40 percent in January.

Housing woes hit Hollywood

Homes generally don't demand a premium just because a celebrity happens to be living there.

Wednesday morning headlines

New Line to get whacked in TW restructuring, writers at odds over tentative deal, and not enough air traffic controllers.

WGA schedules Saturday meeting

It will be the first time the general membership will get a briefing on the proposed contract.

It's still Hillary - by a whisker

As reflected in the polls, Obama has been gaining. On the Republican side, McCain has it locked up.

Laying odds on Yahoo deal

A Citigroup analyst says the likeliest bet is Yahoo holding out for more money and then accepting offer.

Making money off social sites

Advertisers have been slow to ramp up their online dollars because they don't know exactly what they'll be getting.

Tuesday morning headlines

Writers close in on deal, market down sharply on new worries, and the old Super Bowl predictor is back in play.

Will Hamburger Hamlet live?

Plans are to introduce a new "fast-casual burger concept" sometime this Spring. As reported by Nation's Restaurant News, a 2,000-square-foot prototype is scheduled to open in Los Angeles, with a burger-centric menu that also features soups and salads (isn't that what they already had)? There are very few details in the NRN story, such as whether the new HH will be in the old locations (Hollywood, Brentwood) that recently closed. This is not the greatest...

Gripes over Register cuts

At least a few folks are ticked off by the paper abandoning its stand-alone biz section and throwing financial news to the back of the first section (LAO). On the Register Blog, Publisher Terry Horne acknowledges the upset, but adds that readers shouldn't "credit our decisions to greed." The Hoiles family, which has a majority stake in the paper, "has agreed to accept dramatically lower performance, both last year and in our projected 2008 business...

Madonna takes a dive

This is what happens when you buy into the stock market at just the wrong time. You might recall that as part of her mega-deal with L.A.-based Live Nation, Madge received 1.17 million shares of the company's stock - at roughly $21.30 a share. Call it $25 million. Live Nation is now trading at $11.78 and as Silicon Alley Insider's Peter Kafka points out her stake is worth $13.8 million. Investors have been turned off...

Wall Street's 'normal accident'

Here's one more thing to worry about: The precarious state of a group of companies called monoline insurers, which basically guarantee that if a bond defaults they will cover interest and principal. You might have run into them when buying muni bonds, where they got their start. MBIA and Ambac are among the biggest – and they’re both in financial trouble. The New Yorker's James Surowiecki picks up the story from there: Unfortunately, a sleepy,...

Monday morning headlines

Feds looking into insider sale: The SEC is investigating sales of stock by L.A. billionaire and Societe Generale board member Robert A. Day and two foundations. Also, according to the WSJ, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., has opened a criminal probe related to the bank, although its focus wasn't known. Day and the foundations sold $140 million of Societe Generale stock about two weeks before the bank notified its board about the billions of...

Controlling expectations

How do you keep them down on the picket line after word of a breakthrough between the Writers Guild and the media companies?

Writers deal may be near

A tentative agreement may come as early as the end of next week - without requiring the two sides to return to formal bargaining. For the last two weeks, Writers Guild negotiators and several media moguls (Disney's Bob Iger and News Corp.'s Peter Chernin in particular) have been engaged in "informal" talks. The NYT's Michael Cieply reports this afternoon that a breakthrough occurred on Friday (Nikki Finke has reported much the same progress). From Cieply's...

In-N-Out cuts off supplier

The Irvine fast-food chain has ended its relationship with Hallmark Meat Packing, a Chino slaughterhouse that's under investigation for its treatment of sick cows. (Hallmark packs meat for Westland Meat Co.) You might have seen video from the Humane Society showing all kinds of horrible treatment of sick cows. As reported by the OC Register's Nancy Luna on her Fast Food Maven blog, In-N-Out is among the first restaurants to admit a connection to the...

Friday morning headlines

Microsoft finally does it: Lots of coverage this morning on the $44.6 billion (cash and stock) unsolicited offer for Yahoo. It's a 62 percent premium over Yahoo’s closing price on Thursday. Here's a good summation from Ben Worthen on the WSJ's Business Technology blog: This deal is about more than search and advertising. It’s about the way people and businesses use computers. A decade ago, software was something you installed on your computer, and information...