Big drop in gas prices: The average gallon of self-serve regular in the L.A. area is $4.410, which is 9.8 cents less than last week and 21 cents lower than last month. It's the fifth straight week of decreases, according to the Auto Club's survey, and more cuts are probably on the way. Meanwhile, oil is hovering around $125 a barrel, about a buck higher than its most recent low.
Market rally: Yesterday the economic news was bad; today it's pretty good. New orders for durable goods rose surprisingly in June on demand for metals, machinery, electrical equipment and military needs. Less attention should be paid to second-quarter foreclosure numbers from RealtyTrac. We've already seen that data from the monthly reports (double dipping is misleading in bad economic times).
Glum about economy: Nearly two-thirds of respondents to a Field Poll said their finances have deteriorated in the past year, "the broadest sentiment of pessimism we've ever seen," said the survey's director, Mark DiCamillo. Reasons for the gloom: higher food and energy prices and falling home and stock prices. One interesting nugget: just 39 percent percent said unemployment is a very serious problem in California, below the levels reached during past recessions. That fits into the thinking of some economists who maintain that the current slowdown is not jobs-generated. (SF Chronicle)
Tougher times for Craigslist: It's all relative, of course, but CEO Jim Buckmaster says employment ads are flat for the first six months, reflecting a slowdown in L.A., SF, NY, Seattle, Boston and DC. On the other hand, housing ads are up 85 percent. That used to be the source of hefty newspaper revenue. (Silicon Alley Insider)
Tough rules for ships: Vessels within 24 nautical miles of California will be required to burn low-sulfur diesel instead of the more polluting bunker fuel. Container ships, oil tankers and cruise ships all must abide by the new rules, which take effect next year. From the LAT:
Because prevailing winds blow from west to east in California, ship exhaust accounts for about a fifth of cancer-causing soot particles and half of the sulfur oxides over land. The remainder is emitted by diesel-powered trucks, construction equipment, locomotives, industrial engines and agricultural pumps, which are all to be subject to stricter regulation as the state seeks to slash the emission of planet-warming greenhouse gases and other pollutants. The air board estimates that the new shipping rules will save Californians at least $6 billion a year in health-related expenses and will cost the shipping industry between $140 million and $360 million a year.
New infusion for Downey?: Private equity firm MatlinPatterson is being mentioned as a possible new investor for the troubled savings and loan. The rumble comes a day after Downey dumped both its long-time chairman and its CEO. It may not be a coincidence. From the WSJ:
The willingness to tiptoe back into ailing banks comes despite the fact that private-equity firms, hedge funds and other investors are far underwater on a slew of bank investments made in the past several months. While second-quarter results confirmed that many banks and thrifts will be grappling with bad loans for years, the financial-stock rally that erupted last week is causing some firms with plenty of ready capital to give the beleaguered sector another look. "It's amazing what 10 days will do. People are feeling like they don't want to miss the bottom," says an investment banker who specializes in the financial-services industry.
What is Countrywide worth?: Dig into Bank of America's most recent quarterly and the numbers ain't pretty. When a financial firm like Countrywide is acquired, the purchaser applies market values to all its assets and liabilities. That gives Countrywide a net worth of – are you sitting down? - $100 million. For the record, Countrywide had $172 billion in assets at the end of June. From the WSJ:
The new market value was equivalent to about a 15% average mark on the firm's nearly $100 billion loan portfolio, David Hendler, an analyst at CreditSights, said in a research note. The mark was driven by low market values for home-equity, option-adjustable-rate mortgages and subprime assets. Granted, such a mark is a point-in-time estimate based on all the assets being sold. In reality, banks offset credit losses over time with earnings. And most big banks wouldn't face anywhere near as severe a market-value hit.
Wong convicted: The former city commissioner was found guilty on 14 felony counts of public corruption and not guilty of seven other corruption charges. Parsing out the verdicts, Wong was convicted of receiving $100,000 in bribes in a secret Hong Kong account from an executive of Evergreen Marine, but he was acquitted on a charge of embezzling money in order to pay for massages for former Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards. From the LAT:
Until his departure, Wong had kept a firm political grip by combining his skill as a solid political fundraiser with his position at Kaiser, where for 16 years he not only served as a lobbyist but also directed the nonprofit's charitable contributions to clinics, boys clubs and other community organizations that are important in an officeholder's district. Trouble came when the district attorney launched an investigation into suspicions that officials in the Hahn administration traded city contracts for campaign contributions. Investigators were never able to prove those allegations and instead turned to Wong.
Trucking group to file suit: As expected, the American Trucking Association will challenge the ports of L.A. and Long Beach over a program to phase out older trucks. The ATA says the plan unfairly favors larger truck companies and will eventually drive smaller carriers out of business. Beginning Oct. 1, trucks built before 1989 will be banned from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. By 2012, trucks will be required to meet 2007 vehicle emissions standards. (Daily Breeze)
Obama cover sells out: The New Yorker's July 21 issue is now a collectors’ item. That's the issue with a cover portraying the Democratic presidential candidate as a Muslim. Single-copy sales surged 80 percent over average weekly newsstand sales, or around 75,000 copies. (NY Post)