Friday morning headlines

Stocks taking hit: GE's 46 percent drop in fourth-quarter earnings isn't helping matters. The Dow is down more than 150 points in early trading.

NBC profit off 6%: The cable networks did pretty well, but the broadcast stations brought down the numbers. (TV Week)

More gas hikes: An average gallon of regular in the L.A. area is $2.062 per gallon, more than 7 cents higher than last week. There's been lots of grousing about refineries deliberately cutting production, but prices typically rise this time of year due to seasonal maintenance. (Auto Club)

Potential windfall?: Obama's economic stimulus proposal would wipe out nearly a quarter of California's budget shortfall and perhaps help resolve the current impasse. You're looking at more than $11 billion in healthcare and education money. From the LAT:

Not everyone is pleased by the House bill. The huge amount of proposed spending has drawn criticism from congressional Republicans, who say the $825-billion package should be weighted more heavily toward tax cuts, which currently account for only a third of it. Some members of both parties also want more money to go to road projects. "Are we fostering job creation and economic stimulus or are we simply growing the size of government?" said Rep. Jerry Lewis of Redlands, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

John Thain's extravagance: When you're brought in to lead Merrill Lynch at a time of financial turmoil, office decor would not seem to be a high priority. But it was to the just-ousted CEO. He spent $1 million to redecorate his office last year. From CNBC reporter Charlie Gasparino (posted in the Daily Beast):

At the time, Thain was preaching the virtues of cost control, telling employees to reduce expenses including car services, entertainment and travel. In addition to the personal expenses on his office, documents show Thain paid his driver $230,000 for one year’s work, which included the driver's $85,000 salary and bonus of $18,000, and another $128,000 in over-time pay. Drivers of top executives are often paid about half that amount.

Fine dining in trouble: Business in those fancy-dancy eateries is expected to tumble by up to 15 percent in 2009, according to consulting firm Technomic. But the entire industry is in crisis: This year, 12,000 to 18,000 restaurants are expected to close, which is a lot even in such a notoriously risky business. (WSJ)

About those Oscar picks: Only "Benjamin Button" has come anywhere close to being a breakout hit, generating $117 million at the box office (still well below its $150 million pricetag). From the WSJ:

The other four, "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Reader," "Milk" and "Frost/Nixon," combined have brought in only $105 million in world-wide ticket sales since November. The Reader," which chronicles the life and romance of a World War II concentration camp guard, is playing in roughly 400 theaters nationwide and has taken in slightly more than $8 million in ticket sales. By contrast, more recent winners at the box office have been more typical of the releases for this time of year. Last weekend's box office winner was "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." The Sony Pictures' movie stars comic Kevin James as a mall security guard who saves the shopping center from a marauding band of criminals. It cost $26 million to make. In its first weekend, it brought in $39.2 million.

Pressing for container fee: The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles will begin collecting "clean trucks" fees on Feb. 18, despite numerous delays by federal regulators and pending court cases. The $70 fee is expected to help subsidize the replacement of thousands of old, polluting diesel trucks. (LABJ)

Sign of the times: A proposed city ordinance would outlaw new digital billboards and also restrict supergraphics that stretch across office buildings. The Planning Commission held a four-hour hearing on the proposal and then postponed action in next month. (LAT)

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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