Wednesday morning headlines

Tax day: All the usual last-minute filing tips are available in an AP Q&A. The two biggest suggestions: Don't panic and file something (even if it's an extension). Also here are some post office locations that will be open late tonight for last-minute filing.

Speaking of taxes: State and local sales tax revenue fell more sharply in the fourth quarter of 2008 than at any time in the last half century. The declines have continued so far this year, which is resulting in big budget cuts for states, cities and towns. From the WSJ:

The report by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York underscores how swiftly the consumer slowdown has eaten into municipal budgets. The drop in tax revenue has forced cities and towns of all sizes to cut everything from police to summer pool hours, and has sent legislatures scrambling for federal economic-stimulus funds to help ease budget gaps. "The sales tax has been absolutely hammered," said Don Boyd, senior fellow at the institute.

Wall Street lite: Mixed economic news is keeping stocks in neutral so far this morning. At last check, the Dow was down about seven points.

Contrarian view on banks: Analyst Richard Bove tells NPR that the concern over supposedly toxic assets is overblown. "If one took a look at the operating businesses of the banks they would see that they're relatively strong," he says.

The whole dispute is over capital and some arcane reading of capital that nobody even care about a year ago. But a company stays in business because there's more cash coming in than going out.

Banks ramp up foreclosures: After a brief moratorium, they've begun determining which troubled borrowers are eligible for help and which to foreclosure on. This allows them to write off a bunch of properties but it could further depress home prices and put additional pressure on earnings. From the WSJ:

In California, notices of trustee sales, which are preludes to foreclosure sales, climbed by more than 80% to 33,178 in March, from February, according to data from and the Field Check Group. The increase reflects both the expiration of foreclosure moratoriums and a California law enacted late last year that temporarily delayed default and foreclosure notices, says Mark Hanson, president of the Field Check Group, a research firm.

LAX downturn is rippling: Nearby businesses are having a tough time because there's been such a drop in activity at the airport. From the LAT:

"The differentiating feature of this downturn is that in past downturns, we could rely on someone who was still doing well, no matter what was happening domestically," said Harvey Beesen, a principal at Klabin Co., a real estate brokerage, and president of the LAX Air Cargo Assn. "We expect the greater LAX sub-market to remain in a defensive posture until someone, somewhere around the globe reverses current trends and resumes business expansion."

Layoffs at Variety: Fifteen staffers are gone, including top editors Michael Speier and Dade Hayes, and the trade publication plans to start charging for new online content.'s news stories will remain free. From The Wrap:

In a Tuesday morning email to staffers, Tad Smith, CEO of Variety parent company Reed Business Information, said Reed would be laying off 7 percent of its workforce and require remaining workers to take mandatory leave. In addition, he cautioned that the company "may need to make additional reductions to fit the business conditions," and remaining employees will be required "to take mandatory unpaid days off." The memo attributed the decision to "our quarterly forecast for the full year and the revenue outlook [that] continues to concern us." According to Smith, Reed's financial projections are "worse than our already conservative expectations for 2009."

Water agency cuts supplies: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves as a water wholesaler for municipalities, is trimming deliveries by 10 percent. These are the agency's first cuts since the early 1990s drought. (LAT)

Z Gallerie files Chapter 11: The Gardena-based home furnishings retailer has 57 stores in 18 states (including several locally). Earlier this year, the chain began closing 21 stores nationwide and there may be more down the line. (OC Register)

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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