Tuesday morning headlines

Bratz maker in receivership: MGA CEO Isaac Larian was ordered by a federal judge to hand control of the company to a temporary receiver. The judge also lifted his stay of an order giving archrival Mattel control of the Bratz assets. That means Van Nuys-based MGA can no longer produce or distribute Bratz dolls. From the LAT:

The independent receiver will oversee the assets and operation of MGA, which began making the dolls in 2001 and turned them into a worldwide phenomenon that challenged the reign of fashion doll queen Barbie. The order was a sweeping victory for El Segundo-based Mattel -- the maker of Barbie -- which last year won a jury trial that found the Bratz line was created by a designer working for Mattel under exclusive contract when he came up with the idea for the dolls.

Stress test results: Federal regulators believe Bank of America and Citigroup may need to raise billions of dollars in additional capital in order to accommodate future real estate losses. But regulators say that the banks directed to raise more capital shouldn't be viewed as insolvent. From the WSJ:

Industry analysts and investors predict that some regional banks, especially those with big portfolios of commercial real-estate loans, likely fared poorly on the stress tests. Analysts consider Regions Financial Corp., Fifth Third Bancorp and Wells Fargo & Co. to be among the leading contenders for more capital.

L.A. home prices keep falling: February's numbers from the Case-Shiller index show a 2 percent decline from the previous month and a 24.1 percent drop from a year earlier. That's pretty consistent with recent months, though analysts say there was a slight deceleration of prices. (press release)

Jump in consumer confidence: For what it's worth the Consumer Confidence Index is at its highest level since November. The survey showed a substantial improvement in the short-term outlook, even including jobs. (AP)

Commuting time is down: Here's one benefit of the recession: An easier drive to work. L.A. saw a 24 percent drop in peak-hour congestion between 2007 and 2008, according to a new study. From the WSJ:

Rush-hour congestion -- defined as moving slower than free-flowing traffic -- in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan markets fell 29% in 2008 versus 2007, said Rick Schuman, a vice president at Inrix, a Washington company that measures traffic patterns. It fell an additional 7% in this year's first quarter. "There's a major difference from last year," said Julie Caldera, a secretary in Riverside, Calif., where Inrix found congestion declined sharply last year. Ms. Caldera commutes 20 miles for work each way. Last year, her morning drive took 45 minutes; this year, she said she is at her desk in less than half an hour. Encountering fewer road-construction projects has helped, she said. "But it also feels like there's just not as many cars on the road."

Danny Pang charged with fraud: The SEC has temporarily frozen the assets controlled by the OC-based money manager who the agency says defrauded investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars. From DealBook:

In its complaint on Monday, the S.E.C. said Mr. Pang, who ran an investment firm called the Private Equity Management Group, or the PEM Group, lied to his clients about the value of investments he made in life insurance policies and real estate timeshares. He promised investors steady returns of 5.25 percent to 7 percent annually from buying life insurance policies at a discount from elderly people, but he was ultimately unable to pay the premiums, investigators said.

Fallout from agency merger: Several top-name agents are leaving either William Morris or Endeavor (probably taking their clients with them), and there will be more to come. Some speculate that as many as 100 agents could lose their jobs as a result of the merger, though it's still early. (LAT)

Ruling against clean truck plan: The ban on older, pollution-belching diesel rigs remains in place, but a federal judge shot down several aspects of the port program. From the Press Telegram:

The ruling temporarily prevents the ports from enforcing several provisions in their truck plans, including a requirement that trucking companies give hiring preference to local drivers and that motor carriers in Long Beach make health insurance available to drivers. The American Trucking Association, which filed the suit in mid-2008, considers elements of both ports' clean-truck plans an illegal attempt to skirt federal trade laws and overturn the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which deregulated the trucking industry.

Lacter on radio: This morning's business chat with KPCC's Steve Julian covers the freefall of Pontiac sales in the L.A. area and why the William Morris/Endeavor merger is a big deal. Also on kpcc.org and on podcast.

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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