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.
November 2010

How to threaten customers and move up the Google rankings

Not only does the guy admit to his bad (and perhaps illegal) behavior, he sees it as a way of moving up the Google rankings.

Unemployment benefits expire today

Here's a quick primer from Real Time Economics on what happens to the millions of out-of-work Americans who will stop receiving a check.

Little interest (so far) in electric cars

Only 7 percent of car shoppers surveyed by Kelley Blue Book say they're likely to consider an electric vehicle.

Business Update on KPCC

This morning's chat looks at the tug-of-war among Congressional Republicans about reducing the deficit versus maintaining defense spending at current levels.

*Could Bank of America be on WikiLeaks radar?

In a 2009 interview with Computer World, Assange mentions that "we are sitting on five gigabytes from Bank of America,

Never mind - Fiji Water to reopen plant

That's less than 48 hours after the company shut down its operations because of a tax dispute.

Tuesday morning headlines

L.A. home prices fall (but not as much as in other cities), consumer confidence is up, WikiLeaks pursues U.S. bank, and Tribune bankruptcy is a "four-ring circus."

Feds seize five L.A. websites

It's part of a crackdown on Web operations that were used to distribute counterfeit merchandise and illegal copies of music and software.

Medicare is actually controlling costs - a lot

Medicare has been doing such a good job that the differential in payment rates between Medicare and private insurance is becoming unsustainable.

Does anyone want to buy MySpace?

The Bev Hills-based social networking site isn't officially on the block, but News Corp. COO Chase Carey says he's open to offers or partnerships.

Stocks recover a bit

The Dow finishes down 39 points for the day, but that's a considerable improvement from the first hour of so of trading when the index fell below 11,000. It closed at 11,052. From Bloomberg: "There's a lot of mixed currents," said John Kattar, chief investment officer at Eastern Investment Advisors in Boston, which manages $1.7 billion. "I'm encouraged that the market is showing some resilience after a disappointing day overall. Oil did not show any...

Food banks prep for onslaught as jobless aid ends

Well, what would you expect to happen when the federal benefits expire tomorrow and millions of Americans are without unemployment help?

Edye comes out shining in Eli Broad profile

New Yorker piece covers very familiar ground, but there are a few tasty morsels scattered throughout the piece.

Anderson Cooper on Channel 11

The show doesn't debut until next fall, but having the major markets in hand should make it easier to cut deals elsewhere.

Fiji water wars

L.A. billionaire Stewart Resnick has pulled the plug on Fiji Water's only production plant after the tiny Pacific Ocean island nation raised the company's tax rate,

Monday morning headlines

Get ready for Cyber Monday, small biz lending picks up in L.A., Salon on the block, and container heist near the Port of L.A.

Investment advice from a dying banker

He wrote a book on the basics of investing that runs counter to much of what he did on Wall Street.

Texas governor misfires on stealing CA businesses

The trouble with all those California-is-dying narratives is that, well, they're just not true.

Dow tumbles 95 points

Holiday weeks will often bounce around, especially when there's a lot of news going on.

So far so good on Black Friday

There's the usual crush of early-morning shoppers, but it'll be a couple of days before there's any definitive word on how the first day turned out.

No such thing as zero risk at airports

Of the 50,000 travelers who went through LAX as of mid-afternoon, only 133 opted out of the full-body scanners.

Dow jumps 150 points

Yesterday's losses were pretty much erased, with retail stocks leading the way just two days before Black Friday.

Why the economy is looking up

the pace is definitely picking up. On this Thanksgiving Eve, it's not your imagination.

Man up when it's time to pat-down

Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson on the current debate over airport security.

Business Update on KPCC

My chat with KPCC's Steve Julian examines why California voters are delusional about the state's massive budget deficit.

Arrest made in insider trading case

The feds have picked up an executive at a California firm in connection with a massive insider trading investigation.

Wednesday morning headlines

Holiday travel off to a good start, hopeful economic numbers, board clashes lead to CEO's exit, and more investigations of L.A. BBB.

California unemployment rate still third-highest

Nevada remains tops at 14.2 percent in October, followed by Michigan at 12.8 percent and then California at 12.4 percent.

Differing views on body scanners

If any of these machines were to be taken away, there would be an uproar so huge that it would make the current pat-down debate seem like a trifle

After J. Crew sale, who's next?

There's already speculation about other chains that might be approached. Among the names being mentioned: Abercrombie & Fitch and Ross.

Construction nears on 'bridge to everywhere'

bridge.JPG Not only is the Desmond bridge deteriorating, it's way too low to accommodate today's generation of container ships.

Tuesday morning headlines

Economy grew faster than expected in Q3, gas prices edge higher for holiday, L.A. buyout firm close to buying J. Crew, and Qantas bringing back some A380s.

Union settles with 'Biggest Loser' producers

The dispute started a couple of weeks ago when the production staff joined the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

Media wildfire over TSA pat-downs

Unfortunately, a few scattered stories of insensitive treatment by TSA personnel has further ignited the frenzy.

Predicting the economy and Obama's reelection chances

Yale economist Ray Fair thinks the president is in good shape, based on his belief that the economy will be in growing pretty nicely by 2012.

Monday morning headlines

Healthcare jobs being lost, beware of life insurance policies, how to whittle down the deficit, and Google eyes deal with new owners of Miramax.

Latest plan to streamline L.A.'s approval process

The idea is to make it much easier for businesses to receive all the necessary permits for setting up shop.

Spielberg's visit to Virginia

Just because runaway production isn't a big problem for the local entertainment industry doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

$41 million discount on Corona Del Mar mansion

Here's an example of how hard it can be to sell monster properties.

L.A. County picks up 29,900 jobs

All told, not a terrible report, but little to indicate any momentum shift in the employment situation.

California 3rd best housing market

That's based on September year-over-year price gains, though before you get too excited the increase was only 0.86 percent.

More jobs for California

The state added 39,000 payroll positions in October, and the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 12.4 percent.

Friday morning headlines

California gets stung in bond market, low marks for state PPOs, Google looking at Groupon, and huge advance sales for Potter movie.

L.A. promises plug-and-play electric chargers

For electric cars to make sense there must be electric chargers at home, and those chargers require both permits and home inspections.

What Americans don't know about the economy

Quite a bit, according to a Pew Research study. Almost 80 percent know that the federal budget is bigger than it was in the 1990s, and two-thirds realize that the U.S. brings in more foreign goods than it sells overseas. But after that things get iffy. Only 16 percent are aware that more than half of the loans made to banks under TARP have been paid back (an identical percentage says that none has been...

C'mon, shake it around the cubicle!

Time out - this one is from Tahiti 80 and it's called "Solitary Bizness." (via Andrew Sullivan)

Freedom Communications goes on the block

The parent company of the OC Register wants to unload all its television and newspaper properties.

Latest from the L.A. auto show

mercedes.jpg A whole bunch of announcements during the media portion of the show.

Will Ferrell, Larry David lose arbitration case

They claimed that JPMorgan "engaged in unauthorized and unsuitable purchases" of $18 million of preferred securities.

Thursday morning headlines

New worries for state bonds, Californians want cuts (but not on their favorite programs), two more Madoff arrests, and Hollywood Foreign Press sues Dick Clark Productions.

GM jumps in early trading

Shares are up 8 percent in the first few minutes as a public company, to $36....

Hot Topic to close stores

Between 40 and 50 under-performing locations will be shuttered and 14 percent of the home office and field management positions will be eliminated. The City of Industry-based retailer has been facing sluggish sales, falling profits and lower margins - never a great combination (earnings plunged 93 percent in the just-reported third quarter). For a time, Hot Topic had been scoring well by featuring "Twilight"-related merchandise, but subsequent sequels haven't been nearly as lucrative. (Business Journal)...

*Report: Film tax credits are not big job generators

So if film subsidies are such a bad idea, why did California of all states go after them a couple of years back?

Double coupons are back - for a while

Ralphs is bringing back the popular promotion after two years - but only through November 25.

GM stock priced at $33 a share

That's at the high end of the revised price range, which means that the initial public offering will raise way more than initially expected.

California delays bond offering completion

Treasurer Bill Lockyer took the unusual step after a lawsuit was filed to block the sale of state office buildings to pay down debt.

The electric car really arrives

One big impediment will be the cost of the charger, but there are also pluses.

Business Update on KPCC

My business chat looks at the improving prospects for the holiday season and Activision's big score from its latest "Call of Duty" videogame.

Wednesday morning headlines

Inflation remains tame, GM public offering is getting bigger, state lawmakers living it up in Hawaii, and Brown may keep Schwarzenegger's people.

Borders in Westwood is closing

Not a huge surprise considering the state of book retailing and the fact that the store was looking pretty empty in recent months.

Carnival pulls cruise ship until January

Carnival_Splendor.jpg That means roughly 30,000 people will be canceling their trips on the Splendor from Long Beach to the Mexican Riviera.

L.A. County supes ban plastic bags

This only applies to unincorporated portions of the county, but it's an interesting development in the ongoing effort to do away with the bags.

*Market taking it on the chin

Still more than an hour of trading to go and the Dow is down about 200 points. So much for last week's rally. *Update: Dow closes down 178 points....

Robo-signing up close

Lots of people in lots of offices sign documents that they haven't examined or can't begin to understand.

Big drop in L.A. housing market

Ouch - October sales in L.A. County were down 26.2 percent from a year earlier and almost 10 percent from a month earlier, according to Dataquick. Sales were way down all over Southern California (Ventura had a nearly 30 percent drop from 2009). While there's usually a slowdown from September to October, it's seldom this severe. And never mind all the hullabaloo about foreclosure filings - there wasn't much change in the percentage of foreclosure-related...

Gee, why didn't I think of that? (cont'd)

Amazon Filler Item Finder that pulls up hundreds of low-budget items that take you over $25 threshold for free shipping.

Tuesday morning headlines

Another good month for the ports, GM offering closed to most investors, MTA considers toll lanes for the 405, and Beatles are finally on iTunes.

Is Ed Wedbush the cheapest man alive?

That's what some of his employees would no doubt say - as would his neighbors.

Zell says he's had it with Tribune

He tells CNBC that once the company is out of bankruptcy, he will be, too.

Stunning numbers on have and have-not divide

They come from the new book that lays out the income disparities between the nation's very richest and everyone else.

AEG's stadium plans might resemble Cowboys Stadium

AEG's Tim Leiweke has been looking at the new Dallas facilities in preparing a stadium plan in downtown L.A. with a retractable roof and 218 luxury boxes.

Stat of the day

How many reporters at USA Today cover Congress and how many cover entertainment?

Here's the jerk who refused a full body scan

The guy wanted to draw attention to the privacy issues connected with what he calls the government's "senseless" efforts to detect terrorists.

Deciphering who gets what unemployment benefit

A total of 410,695 Californians will be cut off from jobless benefits if legislators don't extend funding by Nov. 30 (a very strong possibility).

Confessions of a car rental agent

We all know that buying the insurance is usually unnecessary, but a good percentage of the customers take it nonetheless.

Monday morning headlines

Strong retail sales in October, Wal-Mart to add hours on Black Friday, Thanksgiving costs edge higher, and auto show opens this week.

Fiat-Chrsyler dealership comes to downtown

It'll be on the same site of a Chrysler dealership that was abandoned six years ago
Kind of a Michael Moore version of how the world works. Definitely not for economics majors, but the gist is uncomfortably right on.

Bad day for everything

Stocks, bonds, commodities, the dollar - they all slumped today to one degree or another.

Better not trust the Better Business Bureau

Turns out that those letter-grade scores it hands out might be nothing more than a pay-to-play scam.

Ain't journalism grand?

tabs.jpg Or as NY magazine posts: "Tabloid covers beg the age-old question: tits or ass?"

Slacking off on the job hunt?

Logic would suggest that the longer someone's out of work, the more urgent the job search would be. But that may not be the way it works.

Whatever happened to the backdating scandal?

There are lots of senior executives out there who should be counting their lucky stars.

Friday morning headlines

Small rise in consumer confidence, Cooley gets blasted, California prepares big debt sale, and Barnes & Noble starts offering toys and games.

Schwarzenegger calls special session

The governor will declare a fiscal emergency and bring in newly sworn state legislators early next month to start dealing with budget issues

Newsweek and Daily Beast will merge after all

Well, at least according to the NY Observer, which reports that the announcement will be made tomorrow morning.

Disney releases earnings before it's time

For reasons still unexplained, the Mouse House results came out 30 minutes before the stock market closed - and that's a very big deal.

Why deficit ideas are doomed

The political will to raise taxes, eliminate the mortgage deduction, and tinker with Social Security is simply not there.

L.A. County's most business-friendly cities

Alhambra and Cerritos win the top honors in the Economic Development Corp.'s annual competition, otherwise known as the Eddy Awards.

Cruise ship passengers reach land

Get ready for an onslaught of stories about what it was like being stuck at sea without power - and for a time, working toilets.

More signs of an improving housing market

The median price of a home in the L.A.-OC market was $350,000 during the July-September quarter, up $10,000 or so from the previous three months.

Thursday morning headlines

State foreclosures drop, Wal-Mart offers free shipping for online purchases, Karatz judge rebukes prosecutors, and "Black Ops" has big opening.

Bidding for Bernie Madoff's underwear

slippers.jpg And bedroom slippers, and toaster oven and thousands of other everyday items that will be auctioned off this weekend.

*Bruce Karatz sentenced to 8 months house arrest

No jail time for the former CEO of KB Home who was convicted in April of lying about the backdating of stock options.

*CA budget deficit could hit $25.4 billion

Along with the numbers came more warnings to avoid one-time gimmicks that just delay the day of reckoning.

Cooley-Harris race tightens up again

Latest update from the Secretary of State's office has Cooley leading by only 9,555 votes, with nearly 8 million votes cast. Wowser....

How to cut spending by $200 million

Easy - just raise the retirement age for Social Security, and make deep cuts in defense spending.

What's it like being stuck on the Carnival cruise ship?

Long lines for food, no air conditioning or lights, iffy toilets - that's the picture being described by David Zambrano, one of the passengers on board the fire-damaged ship. Zambrano managed to regain cell phone service and provide an eyewitness account to a Denver TV station where he works . From 9News: "It's nothing like anyone expected, no." Zambrano said. "You stand in line for two hours just to get your food because everybody goes...

Fred Segal is back

Coming out of retirement, the perpetually stylish Segal is working with his daughter Annie on a new boutique and fashion line.

Nicolas Cage's foreclosed home is sold for $10.5 million

cage.jpg Formerly the home of Dean Martin and Tom Jones, the 11,817-square-foot house has a custom wine cellar, 35-seat home theater, and six bedrooms.

Wednesday morning headlines

Consumer prices heading higher, cruise ship won't reach land until late Thursday, Karatz to be sentenced today, and big return for Calpers.

Some economic hope for the Inland Empire

New report projects growth to be slower than in the surrounding counties in 2011, but things should start improving by 2012.

Must there be a Palin angle to every story?

Even for a slow news week, the back-and-forth received way more attention than was justified.

Business Update on KPCC

My business chat on KPCC looks at whether bank failures have peaked out in Southern California, and why banks still aren't lending much.

Midnight crowds wait for Activision's latest 'Call of Duty'

All the big chains stayed open late, with GameStop locations offering free pizza and energy drinks (gives you an idea of who was standing in line).

Lamar Odom sues IRS over deductions

LamarSigning.jpg The Lakers star is disputing a 2007 tax bill that doesn't allow him to take deductions for $12,000 in sports fines and $178,000 in fitness training.

Cooley extends lead over Harris

Latest update on the AG count has him up by 41,000 votes....

*Cruise ship stranded

The Carnival Splendor, which left Long Beach on Sunday, lost power during an engine room fire.

Tuesday morning headlines

Small business owners are more optimistic, new rules for air cargo, plastic bag people lobbied hard, and relief for Qantas passengers.

Beverly Hilton up for sale

Not many specifics so far, but it's been reported that the move was triggered by several unsolicited offers.
The Whitman campaign spent roughly $6 for every $1 the Brown campaign invested.

Qantas passengers stuck in L.A.

With the airline's A380 fleet grounded for several days because of engine problems, the L.A. experience appears to be getting a little old.

*Cooley now up by 44,000 19,000

Still too early to call given all the uncounted ballots, but his lead over Harris in the AG race has been steadily building over the past couple of days. *Whoa - Cooley lead is now back down to 19,000, according to Secretary of State's updated count....

Bonuses for DreamWorks honchos

CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg picks about $8 million worth of incentive awards, according to an SEC filing.

Are jumbo loans coming back?

There's no way the housing market can fully recover until the percentage starts going up.

Monday morning headlines

October home prices dip, Nevada growth streak ends, more details emerge on A380 explosion, and Wal-Mart cuts toy prices.

SAG-AFTRA cut new labor deal

And yes, it happened way sooner than the June 30, 2011 contract expiration.

*Regulators close local bank

Western Commercial Bank in Woodland Hills has struggled with heavy losses and dwindling capital,

Gym operator takes over Tower Records location

A boutique gym operator, I might add.

*Attorney General's vote could last a while

At last check, Kamala Harris was up 12,000 votes over Steve Cooley, but that's only a 0.2 percent lead.

What's Lindsey Lohan and Brian Williams doing in a Jewish PSA?

They're among the celebs appearing in a Judd-Apatow-directed public service announcement for the American Jewish World Service.

Reacting to jobs report

As you expect, economists were generally pleased with the additional 151,000 payroll jobs last month.

Tim Leiweke's sports-is-everything diatribe

Allowing a generation to grow up without an NFL team! How dare they!

Friday morning headlines

Brown cracks open budget, Krugman pooh-poohs jobs report, more bits about downtown stadium, and PG&E's $1-billion bill.

Brighter jobs picture

unempl 2010-10 private-thumb-550x321-36351.png This is a good report, and certainly an improvement over the last few months, but it also reflects how long the recovery is likely to take.

CA food stamp participation still low

And it's not because California has fewer needy residents.

Scary moments over Singapore

plane2.jpg When one of the engines on a Qantas A380 blew up soon after takeoff, one of the passengers said "my whole body went to jelly."

Enough with the hot weather already!!

It's 98 degrees in Westwood. This is insane....
In case you forgot, that was the month Lehman Brothers went into bankruptcy and really launched the long, long period of economic suffering.

Will downtown Target lead to more stores?

That's the hope among residents who are cheering plans by the retail chain to take up 100,000 square feet of the 7+Fig shopping mall.

Crenshaw residents object to new Fresh & Easy market

fresh.gif Would it be any worse than drive-thru windows? Sometimes it's worth giving a little to get a lot more.

Skipping the line at Customs

What typically takes 60 minutes can be reduced to 64 seconds, thanks to the government's Global Entry program.

Thursday morning headlines

Qantas grounds A380 fleet, food prices heading up, Steve Wynn believes the worst is over in Vegas, and how Brown must corral Democrats.

If economy is so bad, why are auto sales moving up?

VehicleSalesOct2010.jpg Here's another sign that consumer confidence might not be quite as bad as some of the surveys would have you believe.

Downtown Target to open in 2012

The retail giant's 7+Fig location will have 100,000 square feet, which is smaller than a typical Target but roughly twice the size of the downtown Ralphs.

How soon before anti-Obama voters gripe about proposed cuts?

Cut Social Security and Medicare? I wouldn't bet on it, not with the first of the baby boomers just hitting retirement age.

Meg Whitman spent more of her own money during the campaign...

...than the entire budget for the National Endowment for the Arts - $163 million vs. $161.4 million....

AG's race tightens further

As of 10:34 a.m., Kamala Harris held a 22,299-vote lead over Steve Cooley - 46.0 percent to 45.7 percent....

Fed's plan to boost economy

Saying that the pace of recovery remains slow, the central bank will buy $600 billion worth of long-term Treasurys by the end of next June.

Dems did worse in districts where the economy was strongest

Of the 25 congressional districts hardest hit by the recession, 16 are represented by Democrats - and 14 of them won.

Wednesday morning headlines

Private sector adding jobs, market waits for Fed announcement, clothing makers to raise prices, and "Tonight Show" stays in Burbank.

MGM files for bankruptcy

It'll be one of those prepackaged bankruptcies that has the support of creditors and should be cleared relatively soon.

Steve Cooley done in by his own words?

cooley.JPG This should go down as one of the dumbest responses ever given in a political debate.

Encouraging night for California

The state inches away from its dysfunctional ways with the passage of Proposition 25.

Exit polls suggest bad night for Dems

It's pretty much everything they had been fearing for weeks.

MGM gives up space in Century City

mgm.jpg The agreement with landlord JMB Realty will streamline the company's real estate holdings in advance of an expected bankruptcy filing.

Business Update on KPCC

My business chat looks at the prospects of tighter security for air cargo shipments and what that means for the Los Angeles Customs District.

*Waxman takes poke at THR

hollywood-reporter-relaunch1.jpg The Wrap's editor says she has yet to read the new Hollywood Reporter magazine because she can't find it on any newsstand.

Conan's preview episode

With his new talk show premiering until next week, O'Brien has posted a 4-minute teaser - actually a mini-episode that he dubs "Show Zero."

So what exactly is quantitative easing?

It's all right if you don't really know - even if much of the financial press assumes that you do.

Pension fund to cut forecast?

It's a tricky political move because the lower the return, the more money the state will be on the hook for.

Tuesday morning headlines

Smallish turnout expected, GM to cut U.S. ownership stake, Bell's shakedown of local businesses, and the McRib sandwich is back!

LegalZoom moving to Glendale

The online company that provides legal documents had been threatening to move out of L.A. because of a tax dispute.

The death of Pontiac

pontiac.jpeg Once peddled as "driving excitement," the GM brand lost its edge and high-powered image.

The most troubled bank in L.A.

Meet Western Commercial Bank of Woodland Hills, with high default rates, low asset levels, and warnings from federal regulators.

Will Fed infusion do any good?

Some opponents say that the Fed action, expected to be announced Wednesday, could do more harm than good.

More job demand online in California

Another small but hopeful sign of an improving economy: Online advertised vacancies in California increased by 32,100 in October, to 488,000.

How big a win for Republicans?

Election forecaster lays out a devastating (and in my view quite realistic) scenario for Democrats tomorrow night.

Monday morning headlines

Washington gridlock won't help economy, B of A's fallout from Countrywide purchase, Randy Michaels considers comeback, and big bucks for county big wigs.