No relief on gas prices: Would you believe $4.112 per gallon? That's the average price of self-serve regular in the L.A. area, according to the Auto Club, which is 15.3 cents more than last week and a whopping 71 cents above last year. Meanwhile, oil prices edged higher this morning after several days of declines. It's now at $127.69 a barrel in electronic trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That's still around eight bucks lower than last week.
Probe of oil markets: It's hard to see this going far, but the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is looking into potential oil-market manipulation. There's a lot of political pressure on regulators to do something about the higher prices, even though determining the price of oil is really the function of markets, not governments. From the WSJ:
Suspicions have lingered that speculators have helped drive oil prices higher. At a series of congressional hearings over the past month, energy consumer groups and some financial insiders have contended that large investments in commodity futures by hedge funds and pension funds are distorting prices. Congress is weighing proposals to increase collateral requirements for futures traders and otherwise restrain their activities. The implied hope is that such moves will help rein in prices that have almost doubled in a year. The CFTC's announcement about its oil investigation suggested a single, broad probe that began in December 2007. But people familiar with its enforcement priorities say the agency is pursuing multiple oil investigations, and that many of them relate to one another. CFTC enforcement chief Gregory Mocek said the agency has about 60 manipulation investigations open in various commodity markets.
Free credit checks: This is one doozy of a class-action settlement: More than 160 million Americans will be able to learn their credit scores at no charge under a deal involving TransUnion. The service would be for at least six months, something the company normally sells for $59.75 or more. So we're talking about a settlement value that could top $10 billion. From the LAT:
The case being settled stems from a business operated by TransUnion that sliced and diced data from the Chicago-based company's massive credit files to generate customized lists of consumers. Retailers, lenders and other businesses would buy the lists to use in their marketing. Federal law bars the sale of a person's private credit information except under certain circumstances, such as when he or she has applied for a loan.
Caruso running for mayor?: The billionaire real estate developer is considering a run, as he was last time around. (LAO)
Controller clears LAX head: As expected, Laura Chick's office found no evidence of manipulation in the awarding of two big airport contracts. The findings affirm earlier findings by the Airport Commission and City Council. All this got started after an anonymous email began making the rounds at City Hall and an over-enthusiastic reporter made a big deal out of a bunch of misinformation. (Daily Breeze)
New SEC chief for L.A.: Rosalind Tyson has been interim director of the office since July, when long-time director Randall Lee stepped down. She joined the L.A. office in 1982. (Money & Co.)
American Funds won't deal: The L.A.-based mutual funds group is refusing to settle with the feds over allegedly improper revenue-sharing arrangements with brokerages. It has now appealed to the SEC. Here's some back story from the LAT's Tom Petruno:
Many industry veterans give American Funds credit for standing up for itself. And they say the company had to be emboldened in recent months as the Securities and Exchange Commission and California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown dropped separate probes into the firm's sales practices. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for them because they fought this as a matter of principle," said Don Phillips, managing director of strategy at investment research firm Morningstar Inc. Fund industry regulators, he said, could have raised objections years earlier about such marketing deals, instead of allowing the industry to, in effect, dig itself into a trap.
Kerkorian commits to Ford: Despite a big drop in the automaker's stock, the Bev Hills billionaire plans to tender for 20 million shares of Ford stock at $8.50 each. That's well over Ford’s current price of $6.78. The company has abandoned its goal of becoming profitable in 2009, with sales of pickup trucks and SUVs especially weak. (Reuters)
So-so year for books: Unit sales rose just 0.9 percent in 2007, according to a book industry group, while net revenue rose 4.4 percent, to $37.3 billion (helped along by higher retail prices). Publishers are now worrying about how they'll cope without the help of a Harry Potter volume. “It’s a time of uncertainty and of overall economic concern,” said David Rosenthal, publisher of Simon & Schuster. By the way, the book industry is in town for its annual convention, BookExpo America. From the NYT:
The data from Book Industry Trends was as striking for its projections as for what it showed about sales last year. According to the report, the number of copies of books sold this year is likely to fall by 0.7 percent, and growth projected to 2012 will be flat or less than 1 percent each year. "There is an economic malaise that’s hitting this business,” said Al Greco, a senior researcher at the nonprofit Institute for Publishing Research and a professor at Fordham’s graduate school of business who analyzed the study. “Basically what we’re seeing when we look at the entire retail sector is that consumers are obviously very cautious.”