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.
July 2008

Mervyn's and malls

The department store chain will wind up closing some locations, which could become a headache for mall owners.

Zell and taxes

It's a topic that tends to get lost in the shuffle, but the Tribune Co. CEO has this history of dodging the IRS.

Expectation games begin

The U.S. economy grew at a slower-than-expected pace in the second quarter - we think.

Iger shrugs off SAG

The Mouse House CEO isn't even pretending to show concern about the contract impasse with the Screen Actors Guild.

Mr. Doom is back

Economist Nouriel Roubini says at least a dozen major economies are at risk of a recessionary hard landing.

Can feds sell IndyMac?

FDIC head says it could be a tough go because there's not much of a core deposit base - and of course there are the losses.

Wednesday morning headlines

Analysts skeptical on oil plunge, Valley home prices fall, council passes fast-food ban, and Tribune hires broker to market LAT property.

Viacom's good/bad news

The second quarter certainly looks good, thanks to the Paramount blockbusters. Trouble is, Viacom is largely a TV company.

Whole Foods case revived

An appeals court ruled that a judge erred when he turned down an FTC request to block the purchase of Wild Oats.

Scattered phone service

Both cells and landlines have been shaky in the minutes after the earthquake hit. That could be due to lots of folks trying to make calls and overloading the system. Given the shallowness of the quake, and the resulting nerve-rattling, those calls might have been even more pronounced. It's a magnitude-5.8 earthquake, about 2 miles southwest of Chino Hills and about 5 miles southeast of Diamond Bar....

On those HMO settlements

Critics are calling the much-trumpeted agreements "sweetheart deals" that actually shield health plans from further liability.

Tuesday morning headlines

Port contract deal reached, Mervyn's close to bankruptcy, oil prices keep falling, and Grand Avenue delay approved.

Big drop in gas prices

Don't discount the relief - psychic or otherwise - of paying 15 bucks less to fill your tank.

Amgen's big bounce

The stock jumped 12.2 percent on news of the company’s experimental treatment for osteoporosis preventing fractures.

Still sluggish at ports

Between now and 2012, container volume into the U.S. will grow at a paltry 1 percent to 2 percent annually.

Monday morning headlines

Another drop in oil, possible jump in LAX landing fees, SAG board supports new media efforts, and Spielberg's price may be too high.

How IndyMac sought help

Before regulators moved in, the Pasadena mortgage lender tried to attract the interest of private-equity firms.

A suspicious home sale

You would think that the real estate business would be done with questionable resales and mortgages. Think again.

*Trouble in Bratz trial

A juror in the case involving Mattel and MGA Entertainment has been dismissed for making an inappropriate ethnic comment.

Oil keeps falling

Forecasters are talking about another 25-cents-per-gallon drop in gas by Labor Day. Just don't bet the house on it.

Impact of truckers suit

Already there are expectations of a delay in the pollution control programs enacted by the ports of L.A. and Long Beach.

Beyond the LAT

Sam Zell is an exceptionally tempting target, but it would help if folks take off their blinders.

Friday morning headlines

Another big drop in gas prices, Californians glum about economy, tougher rules for ships, and Countrywide's sinking value.

Copley explores SD sale

The parent of the Union-Tribune has hired investment banker EverCore Partners to start beating the bushes.

*Shakeup at Downey

Both the CEO and chairman have stepped down as the struggling savings and loan reports a second-quarter loss of $218.9 million.

Thursday morning headlines

Grand jury investigates lenders, L.A. sues financial firms, penalty phase of Bratz trial gets started, and cities go after Comic-Con.

The mysterious SemGroup

What role did this little-known private oil-marketing company play in the rise - and recent fall - of oil prices?

Wednesday morning headlines

Concern at Costco, more airline cuts, no more jalapenos at supermarkets, and the rich get richer (again).

Sam Zell takes questions

The Tribune CEO was asked "what went wrong" in his valuation of the company last year.

Jobs and his health

The more Apple refuses to talk about it, the greater the speculation - and concern - among investors.

Wachovia's deal from hell

But investors are betting that the bank is dumping out all its dirty linen at one time, a painful but necessary cleansing.

Defaults skyrocket again

It’s just more of the mess that comes with a collapsing real estate market - and California is front and center.

Tuesday morning headlines

Big losses at Wachovia, oil prices dropping again, Qatar buys C-17s, and Candy Spelling's $47-million pad.

L.A. credit rating gets dinged

Property tax delinquencies are likely to be up in the coming year, which means a likely shortfall in property tax revenues.

Gas dips another few cents

L.A.-area gas prices have fallen for five consecutive weeks, perhaps just enough to notice the next time you fill up.

NYT adds online biz news

Look for a bunch of new Web pages on specialized subjects such as the economy, energy and small business.

Monday morning headlines

B of A's good news/bad news, SF home prices fall, searching for an IndyMac buyer, and L.A. gets venture boost.

Defending Mozilo

The sister of the former Countrywide CEO says her brother has been vilified by publicity seeking politicians and uninformed reporters.

Bartering, Internet style

Small business owners swear by trade exchange organizations, which is why the operator of Joe Barter has such hopes.

Oil drops again

Not nearly as much as in recent days, but a 47-cents-a-barrel drop brought crude prices below $129.

L.A. unemployment at 7%

What’s striking about the new report is the pace of the increase. A year ago unemployment was 5 percent.

Friday morning headlines

Another drop in gas prices, Mattel shares jump, Countrywide accused of misleading borrowers, and SAG leader blasts offer.

Starbucks lists closures

California is taking a big hit - 88 stores. Many of the Socal closures are in more outlying areas (three in Ontario alone).

Downey, FirstFed bounce back

Those are the two locally-based banks that an analyst described as vulnerable, based on non-performing assets.

*Mattel wins Bratz case

The next phase of the closely watched case will determine damages - and it could be a costly proposition for MGA.

Oil under $130

Crude prices fell $5.31, to $129.18 a barrel, bringing the three-day skid to nearly $18.

Thursday morning headlines

Hollywood keeps humming, more support for offshore drilling, cabbies get a break, and Delgadillo sues Blue Shield.

FBI probing IndyMac

An bureau spokesman said that the probe of corporate fraud in the subprime lending industry had risen to 21, from 19.

How did Ali do it?

The founder of PaidContent is the envy of thousands of bloggers for selling to Guardian Media Group for a cool $30 million.

Getting the name straight

What exactly is IndyMac? A mortgage company? A thrift? A bank? Well, yeah.

Home sales still slow

The median price in L.A. County was $415,000, down almost 24 percent from a year earlier.

Wednesday morning headlines

Inflation shoots up, Countrywide settles lending suit, legislators approve port tax, and Sportman's Lodge to close.

Sluggish growth projected

New report says that the California economy is "on the brink of a recession," and that some parts of the state already are in recession.

SAG, studios to meet

The meeting will take place tomorrow afternoon, the first time the two sides have gotten together since last week.

Starbucks closings

The first 50 stores to be shuttered have been posted on the company's Web site. Eight are in California,

Losing it at IndyMac

Customers at an IndyMac branch in Encino got into a huff this morning after several people apparently tried to cut in line.

Tuesday morning headlines

Stocks keep dropping, inflation keeps jumping, regulators halt IndyMac foreclosures, and SAG members might vote on offer.

Nervous time at IndyMac

Customers were lining up as early as 4 a.m. to get their money out of the Pasadena mortgage company.

Presaging Hiller's exit

For the LAT publisher, it was one of those “heads you win, tails I lose” dilemmas.

Gas keeps falling

The L.A. average for a gallon of self-serve regular is $4.541, which is about 13 cents lower than what it was on June 16.

Black Monday

Another sad day for newspapers, with most of the bad news centered on Tribune Co. and the LAT.

Why Downey is suspect

Where do you want to start? The stock is plummeting and its non-performing assets have reached dangerous levels.

Monday morning headlines

Markets edge higher on news of mortgage rescue plan, IndyMac's home equity lines are frozen, and port workers slowing down.

Fannie, Freddie get help

Congress will be asked to give the government the authority to buy billions of dollars in stock in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Schumer defends comments

The NY senator has been blamed to stoking panic among IndyMac depositors - and leading, at least in part, to the withdrawal of more than $1.3 billion that led to Friday's takeover by federal regulators. But Schumer defended himself during a Sunday news conference, saying that it's regulators who were not doing their job. "The regulator here was asleep at the switch," Schumer said. "The administration is doing what they always do, blaming the fire...

Studios issue threat

The negotiating group for the media companies implied that the weak economy might require portions of its proposal to be pulled back.

Fannie-Freddie primers

It's only one of the most serious threats since the Great Depression. Trouble is it takes some doing to figure out.

*IndyMac taken over

Federal regulators seized the troubled mortgage lender in what will become one of the largest bank failures in U.S. history.

Anti-gang plan to voters

It calls for a flat $3-a-month parcel tax, which would help fund after-school and job training programs.

Milberg case finally over

The last remaining defendant in the long-running kickback case has agreed to plead guilty.

U.S. resists takeover

The Treasury Department is "not talking about nationalizing" Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the WSJ is reporting.

Friday morning headlines

Markets getting whacked on Fannie-Freddie concerns, oil tops $147, SAG offers counter-proposal, and Cheesecake Factory sued.

Bratz trial nearing an end

Final arguments in the closely watched case that pits Mattel and rival toymaker MGA Entertainment.

Hahn pushes anti-gang tax

First she needs to get the Council to put it on the November ballot - and then it needs a two-thirds vote.

Thursday morning headlines

Americans are still shopping, foreclosures piling up, Redstone spurns daughter (again), and Waldorf construction on November ballot.

*Studios set deadline

Proposed wage increases would be retroactive to July 1, but only if the union accepts the contract offer by Aug. 15.

Gladstone's gets reamed

It's not often that the LAT rates a restaurant "poor," but then again, there aren't many places more deserving.

For strong stomachs only

Government has done pretty much all it can, what with the Fed cutting interest rates and consumers spending their stimulus checks.

Throw out Northrop win

The Air Force will reopen bidding on the multi-billion dollar tanker contract that Boeing had gone after.

Wednesday morning headlines

SAG left alone by AFTRA vote, IndyMac is on life support, Lakers up ticket prices, and Steve & Barry's to file for bankruptcy.

IndyMac sells branches

The deal would have 750 employees moving to Prospect Mortgage, which specializes in buying midsize residential lenders.

Oil takes a tumble

Er, does it mean anything that the price of crude has dropped almost nine bucks in the last two days?

Ad forecast revised down

The numbers should offer a little perspective next to the recent wave of ill-informed commentaries about the news business.

IndyMac stock wiped out

Well, at last check it was trading at 43 cents a share, though "trading" is probably pushing things.

June home sales look good

L.A. home sales in June jumped 30 percent from the previous month, but they were down 28 percent from a year earlier.

Tuesday morning headlines

Fed clamps down on exotic loans, value of property assessments increases, airline cuts LAX service, and overhaul for "Theme Building."

Curious movement on APP

Why were the severance packages for two top executives adjusted three days before the announced sale?

IndyMac slashes workforce

The Pasadena-based mortgage company is eliminating 3,800 jobs and has stopped taking loan applications.

Gas falls a bit more

This is the third straight week of declines, though the drop amounts to less than a nickel a gallon in the L.A. area.

Bid for Maguire - maybe

An offer of nearly $1 billion was made - and withdrawn - for the largest office landlord in downtown Los Angeles.

Monday morning headlines

Stocks are up (and oil is down), LAX work could slow, Countrywide workers may lose severance, and higher earnings for WGA members.

L.A. tourism gets a boost

The high price of gasoline and airline tickets is good news for Disneyland, Universal Studios and other local destinations.

L.A. crashes rank higher

Allstate has ranked the average frequency of getting in an auto accident in various cities. At least we beat Philly.

Latest worry: newsprint

It's a newspaper's second-biggest expense, after labor, and the price has hit a 12-year high.

Zell still upbeat

The Tribune CEO is out with another one of his "Partners" memos outlining all the good stuff that's going on.

Thursday morning headlines

Another weak jobs report, port operators getting nervous, Schumer gets reamed, and ground beef returns.

Vegas is a steal

The median home price in May was $239,940, a 17.3 percent drop from a year earlier, and a four-year low.

Misery loves company

The loss of 150 newsroom jobs is bad, but there's also the slashing of 7,000 jobs at American Airlines.

*LAT announces cuts

About 250 positions will be eliminated, including 150 newsroom jobs. That's 15 percent of the editorial staff.

LAX bomb scare

A man has been arrested near Tom Bradley International Terminal after supposedly claiming he had a bomb.

Wednesday morning headlines

Will your Starbucks close, IndyMac calming down, Hollywood marches on, and Ralphs pulls ground beef.

Localizing auto slump

June was an ugly month for most all the automakers - and L.A.'s numbers are likely to reflect that sluggishness.

LAT now on Kindle

The Times joins 19 other papers now available on Amazon's portable electronic gizmo. Except you have to pay.

Broad frets about economy

Eli Broad not only believes that the U.S. is in a recession, but that it's the worst recession since World War II.

Read 'em and weep

Aside from oil and videogames, the first six months have been a mess for the stocks of Socal-based companies.

So much for the law

Just spotted a guy driving a white Porsche Cayenne and talking into his cell phone.

Tuesday morning headlines

IndyMac says it's not near collapse, SAG gets "last and final" offer, MySpace heading to Playa Vista, and Live Nation's new mega-deal.