New month doesn't help: January was the worst-ever showing for the stock market, and February is starting out in downward mode (Dow is down about 70 points after 90 minutes). From the NYT:
The performance in January was an especially troubling omen for market-watchers who subscribe to the so-called January barometer effect, the theory that January is a good predictor of how markets will do over the year. In 60 of the last 80 years, the S.& P. 500’s performance in January has reflected how the index fared that year, said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S.&. P. Last year’s rout, in fact, started with a 6 percent swoon in January. The last two Januarys aside, stocks tend to perform well in the first month of the year, analysts said. Investors who sold shares at a loss for the tax deduction start buying again in January, and money becomes available from pension plans and retirement funds, said Philip J. Roth, chief technical market analyst at Miller Tabak & Company.
Mattel takes hit: A terrible holiday season and the effects of a stronger dollar resulted in a 46 percent drop in fourth-quarter profits. The El Segundo-based toymaker now will be focusing on "cost and spending reductions." (AP)
Westside woes: The tail end of 2008 saw a substantial dropoff in home prices for places like Bev Hills, Santa Monica and Malibu - as high as 30 percent in some locales. The fourth-quarter median price in Bev Hills was $2.1 million, down from $3 million in the previous three months. The Brentwood area still showed an increase. (LAT)
Botteneck over benefits: The state's Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board has been swamped with appeals from Californians who were turned down for jobless benefits. Ordinarily, the board is supposed to make a decision within 30 days, but that's not happening. From the LAT:
California takes longer to resolve unemployment appeals than any other state except Virginia, according to Labor Department data, and the federal government has demanded that the state come up with a plan to fix the mess this month. State officials acknowledge that they are overwhelmed by the massive backlog. The number of those appeals has increased steadily since last summer as California's unemployment rate climbed to 9.3% in December, when 1.7 million Californians were without jobs.
Cushy deal: A federal lawsuit is alleging that Ameriquest Mortgage paid former CEO Wayne Lee hush money to keep the company’s predatory lending a secret. Ameriquest agreed to pay Lee $50 million for a "consulting agreement" after he left the company. An attorney for Ameriquest and Lee called the lawsuit "hogwash." (OC Register)
Billion-dollar January: That's a box office first and is due in part to the surprise success of "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" ($83.4 million to date). Overall weekend ticket sales of $103 million for the top 12 films were off 20 percent from the last weekend, and slightly ahead of the same weekend last year. (Reuters)
"Real Orange" cutbacks: Only two or three shows will be produced a week instead of five, another victim of the shrinking economy. The cuts resulted in the layoffs of two or three fulltime employees at KOCE-TV/50 - OC's public TV station - as well as other part-time and freelance workers. (OC Register)
Departure of L.A. Live executive: Liza Herzlich is stepping down as general manager, just two months after the grand opening of the downtown venue. She says she wants to get back into retail. (Downtown News)