LA Biz Observed archive

Mark Lacter covered business, the economy and more here from 2006 until his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
The entire LA Biz Observed archive — more than 10,000 blog posts by Mark — remains online and available.
September 2009

Comcast & NBC-Universal?

The cable giant is apparently interested in buying the entertainment giant, The Wrap reports.

Why is Lewis leaving?

Early word is that the Bank of America CEO just got worn out from all the investigations and litigation.

Free drugs!

The Stater Bros. chain is offering a 14-day supply antibiotics to anyone who presents a prescription. With or without health insurance.

Shiller lukewarm

He believes the housing turnaround is real, but he also expects the market to move mostly sideways for a loooong time.

Housing outlook for '10

A real estate valuation firm expects L.A. home prices to increase a measly 2 percent over the next 12 months.

Wednesday morning headlines

Big lender on the brink, Harbor Commission approved waterfront overhaul, McCain delays C-17 vote, and L.A. gets snubbled on list of hip cities.

Speaking of taxes

The state's reliance on boom-or-bust annual revenues doesn't make for stable budgeting so the governor wants to overhaul the system. Lots of luck.

Talk about wiggle room

Will Business Week be sold to Bloomberg? Might another bidder emerge with a better offer? Good luck trying to figure this one out.

More distortions on CA

New Census data shows that while California reported a drop in second-quarter tax revenue, so did a bunch of other states.

Tuesday morning headlines

Pickup in L.A. home prices, big decision for San Pedro, 100-year Ponzi sentence, and Newegg is going public.

Hertz sues for defamation

The car rental giant was one of 20 companies identified by an L.A. research firm as most likely to declare bankruptcy within a year.

Monday morning headlines

More fallout from Countrywide VIP program, another victim of downtown slump, and airlines add surcharge on holiday flights.

Fill 'er up - now

Big fire this morning at Tesoro oil refinery in Wilmington is already pushing up wholesale gasoline prices by almost 21 cents a gallon, says the LAT. That probably translates to at least a nickel-a-gallon increase at the pump over the coming days (more damage, higher prices). It's too bad because California was just beginning to see some easing in gas prices....

Big bucks from China

Oaktree Capital, the huge L.A. investment firm that's led by billionaire Howard Marks, just picked up a cool $1 billion.

$$$ for Union Bank

SF-based parent UnionBanCal gets a $2-billion infusion, which was called "voluntary and pre- emptive."

Back in the money pool

What's amazing is that one of the homeowners interviewed last year still hasn't heard from his lender.

Ari Emanuel office hunting?

The co-CEO of talent agency giant WME isn't thrilled with the firm's planned Bev Hills digs that are still under construction.

Friday morning headlines

Consumers more upbeat, battle royal at MGM, SAG turns moderate in elections, and no more "Nudes, Nudes, Nudes."

*Twitter raises $100m

The messaging Web site is clearly looking to play catch-up with Facebook - and in the process make the company more attractive to potential advertisers.

Held hostage on tarmac

When you're stuck on an airplane for hours and hours and the cabin smells like a cesspool, don't count on the carrier for any help.

Homes pricey and cheap

There are still some givens when it comes to the most expensive and least expensive homes.

Thursday morning headlines

Relief for home buyers, CA saves a few bucks on bond sale, Kerkorian revelation in Pellicano case, and Citi might beef up in L.A.

*Marvel CEO's good timing

Ike Perlmutter was granted 1.27 million in stock options just a few weeks after his subordinate began informal talks with Disney.

Stat of the day

Katie Couric's annual salary at CBS is more than the entire annual budgets of NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" combined.

L.A.'s worst mattress

Among the (yucky) judging criteria: Wear and tear, age, and stains. Winner takes home 100g's.

Rich get richer

With Goldman trading today at about $186, Warren Buffet's warrants are now valued at more than $3 billion - a 62% return on his year-ago investment.

*Too caught up in GDP

Growth is what it's all about, right? Well, no - not according to a provocative study by two Nobel prize-winning economists.

Wednesday morning headlines

Holiday jobs scarce, skimpy yields on CA bonds, Obama carries Letterman, and paring down Alaska cruises.

Brown plays catch-up

California's Attorney General filed suit against investment adviser Stanley Chais, who directed hundreds of millions of dollars of investments to Bernie Madoff.

Concerto condo in Chapt 11

One of Sonny Astani's signature developments is in bankruptcy after the project's construction lender, Corus Bank, was seized by federal regulators.

Tuesday morning headlines

ABC cuts back on ads, coalition pushes for transit improvements, drop in SFV foreclosures, and Erin Brockovich returns.

Hotels cut prices

Good news is that occupancy rates are holding up pretty well. But more guests come at the cost of lower room rates.

Immigrants thinning out

About 100,000 fewer foreign-born people were living in the U.S. in 2008 compared with a year earlier, the first such decline since at least 1970.

Strategic defaults

Those are folks who abruptly and intentionally walk away from a mortgage, even at the risk of lousing up their credit scores.

Grand Avenue awaits

At some point the credit market will improve and long-stalled developments will get going, but bankers are likely to be very stingy.

Monday morning headlines

More on Dick Cook's exit, Nazarian slows down pace, new claims involving Marvel characters, and Whole Foods considers check ban.

Big time recovery?

Conventional wisdom has the recovery being protracted, but a minority view expects a much stronger rebound. It's worth paying attention to.

*Dick Cook exits Disney

The chairman of Walt Disney Studios, who steps down effectively immediately, reportedly told staff that he felt he was a square peg in a round hole.

WGA elects John Wells

The executive producer of "ER" and "The West Wing" takes over as president of the guild, defeating former "MASH" and "Frasier" writer Elias Davis,

You could be in Michigan

Kind of a misery loves company thing when it comes to the August jobs picture.

L.A. jobless: 12.3%

This makes the county and state one of the nation's bleaker areas for employment - not nearly as bad as poor Michigan but still pretty bad.

L.A., unions near deal

LAT reports that city officials are scrambling this morning to salvage an early retirement program that would take a nibble out of a $405-million budget shortfall. The city had been told that in its earlier form, the early retirement program would have only saved $12 million. Can't wait to see what they've dreamed up....

Friday morning headlines

FHA's cash squeeze, CA regulators may pull the TV plug, update on Danny Pang's death, and Steve McQueen's ranch is for sale.

Slow-go in San Pedro

Only modest upgrades are planned for the outdated World Cruise Center, and there's ongoing opposition to a larger Outer Harbor terminal.

Brown eyes rating firms

CA's Attorney General is looking into whether Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch violated state law when they gave high ratings to shaky assets.

Raytheon's missile win

White House decision to focus on ship-board missiles could be good news for defense contractor Raytheon and its many local suppliers.

Thursday morning headlines

Investors fret over stock rally, Council signs off on job cuts (sort of), more passengers get bumped from planes, and fuel tanker battle is renewed.

Northrop CEO steps down

Ronald Sugar, who is 61, leaves his post before the company's mandatory retirement age of 65 (a little unusual but not totally out of the box).

Gold's 'feeding frenzy'

The precious metal is now trading for $1,018.90 an ounce, another record closing high. A drop in the dollar is to blame.

On L.A.'s economy...

I'll be on KCRW's "Which Way, L.A." tonight, talking with Warren Olney about the latest report from UCLA's Anderson Forecast. Segment will also be online at

Baucus plan DOA?

Senate Finance Committee Chairman has managed to come up with a 10-year, $856 billion bill that all sides are finding fault with.

Tracking fire costs

The cost of washing soot-stained clothes is 1,914 pounds on a single day, at a cost of $1 a pound, plus $2,150 a day for washers and dryers.

Wednesday morning headlines

Health care plan already bashed, L.A. council ponders shortfall, white collar cases faltering in SF, and hooray for chicken feet.

Housing picture distorted

There's this nagging concern that the government's tax credit and highly attractive terms for FHA financing are propping up the housing sector.

Waiting for jobs

UCLA's Anderson Forecast points to an improving housing picture, as well as a pickup in manufacturing. But the big downside is employment.

Ports keep struggling

The import situation remains pretty awful - in L.A., down 19.3 percent from August 2008 and in Long Beach, down 11.7 percent.

Wells house: $21.5 million

We speak of the now-infamous home in the Malibu Colony that was being used by a now-former Wells Fargo executive.

Dip in L.A. home sales

The unusual sales dip from July to August could be the result of fewer foreclosed homes on the market.

Recession 'likely over'

But Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said it would be many months before unemployment rates would drop significantly.

Tuesday morning headlines

L.A. in budget trouble, mayor's pal beats out DWP in land deal, hospital files Chapter 11, and lukewarm reviews for Jay's debut.

Wells fires executive

This is the one who was spending weekends in a Malibu beach house that the owners had to give up because of losses incurred in the Bernie Madoff fraud.

Charities get socked

Local organizations that provide food, shelter and health care and that have come to rely on foundation money are now scrambling.

Monday morning headlines

Look back on anniversary of Lehman's collapse, no word on cause of Pang's death, and Mercury News columnist asks readers for help.

VC's new normal

There's lots of concern in Silicon Valley that the tech biz may never regain the levels of a few years back.

Champagne sales dismal

The recession from hell has put most of us in a decidedly non-champagne mood - and the industry is feeling it bigtime.

Friday morning headlines

Lobbyists take charge in Sacto, L.A. budget in trouble, Leno on the cheap, and Starbucks location is saved.

Living on Madoff misdeeds

Would you believe that an L.A. Wells Fargo executive has been spending weekends in the $12 million Malibu beach house that its owners had to give up?

Candys' worst bet

That would be 9900 Wilshire, what was to be their luxury hotel/condo project on the site of the old Robinsons-May Department store in Bev Hills.

Bloomberg to bid for BW

The media giant is a surprise last-minute entry. Final bids on the business weekly are due next week.

Stat of the day

New Census figures show that the typical American household made less money last year ($50,303) than in 1998 ($51,295).

Thursday morning headlines

CA foreclosure rate still high, rich are getting poorer, Madoff coached potential witness, and downtown property files Chapter 11

Kosher chicken wars?

Whole Foods is launching a line of kosher poultry beginning next week, just in time for the start of Rosh Hashanah.

Steve Jobs appears!

The Apple CEO came on stage this morning in SF and delivered his first public comments since returning to work following a liver transpant.

Sempra's sex problem

Bet you never thought we could get sex and the name of an electric utility in the same headline, did you?

Wednesday morning headlines

Gold trading around 1K an ounce, Obama to push for public option, local gas prices are up again, and CA economy is improving.

Get all the cash you can

PIMCO CEO Mohamed El-Erian thought that after the Lehman collapse there was a chance the banks might not open. That's how scary things were.

Hot and cold in OC

It's taking under a month to buy a home in Aliso Viejo, at least based on available supply and recent purchases. In Laguna Beach, it's 11 months.

*Ethics of multitasking

Juggling those work balls may seem like a great way to enhance productivity, but Bruce Weinstein says it only allows you to do more things badly.

Demand for CA munis

The average California long-term muni bond fund has risen 14.8 percent this year, better than the total return of the Vanguard 500 Index stock fund.

Bay Bridge reopens

The bridge opened shortly before 7, in time to catch much of the morning rush hour.

Misinformed via email

Too many people who should know better are falling for this viral nonsense. Then again, we live in a world of hate, innuendo and blame-gaming.

Tuesday morning headlines

August housing numbers are still solid, Murdock and Dole facing cash crunch, merchants unhappy over parking meter hikes, and deciphering the summer box office.

Jobless recovery

Friday's jobs report had very few surprises - and in a way, that was the disappointing part. Perhaps we were looking for a few encouraging signs.

Friday morning headlines

Lighter Labor Day travel, Macerich sells Denver mall, Hilton hotel workers push for union, and As the Broadcom Turns.

Unemployment hits 9.7%

August jobs report generally falls within the econsensus estimates; economist Mark Zandi puts it this way: "The job market is in for a slog."

Villains of meltdown

There's Angelo Mozilo and Jimmy Cayne, of course, but what about Nancy Pelosi, Viagra, Botox and the BlackBerry?

Chasing after immigrants

Firing of American Apparel workers offers a reminder of how indiscriminate the immigration laws continue to be. And just don't break the law in Phoenix!

SEC incompetence

Inquiring minds want to know more about the SEC's incompetent handling of the Madoff case.

Thursday morning headlines

Jobs cut over immigration status, SAG staffers got pay raises despite budget woes, HMO turndown rates in CA, and is Mrs. Puck the next Bill Gates?

The new normal

As faltering growth begins, that catch phrase keeps popping up among pundits and economists - even if no one understands its ramifications.

What a surprise!!!

SEC watchdog has found that three agency exams and two investigations of Bernie Madoff's business were not competently handled.

Condo turnaround?

We're seeing a few signs that local projects put in the deep freeze due to financing problems are being thawed out.

Holiday outlook

Don't be fooled by better retail numbers this fall. They only look good when compared with 2008.

Wednesday morning headlines

Supermarket price wars, life after clunkers, CA debt sale is set, and Bette Davis condo for sale.

Ignoring Jimena

There's lots of nonchalance down in Baja for a powerful storm that will be hugging the coastline through tomorrow.

Where the cranes are

The 50 largest construction projects in L.A. County have a combined cost of almost $10 billion, though much of the financing came before the recession.

*Freedom goes Chapter 11

The owner of the OC Register cited debts of more than $1 billion and assets of $500 million to $1 billion.

Romano saves the day

The star of "Everybody loves Raymond" returns to TV in a new TNT drama that will be shot locally, thanks to the state's tax credit.

Tuesday morning headlines

More M&A talk in Hollywood, gripes over fire coverage, BofA offers to return a little bailout $$, and Toyota accused of concealing evidence.