Thursday morning headlines

Stocks edge lower: Worries about less-than-terrific retail sales and the nation's debt ceiling. Dow is down about 40 points.

Geithner warns about debt limit: The Treasury Secretary says that the U.S. could hit the legal limit on its ability to borrow as soon as March 31. Some House Republicans have been balking at raising the debt ceiling. (Reuters)

Disappointing retail sales: December turned out to be on the soft side, perhaps the result of the blizzard back east. Target, Costco and Macy's all reported gains below expectations. From the WSJ:

Many retailers were coming off a strong November, which may have raised expectations that the momentum would continue into December. Retailers also contended with massive strong storms in the West before Christmas and in the East just after the holiday. In general, according to comments retailers are making, there appeared to be a pronounced lull in buying during mid-December. A number of retailers said they lowered prices toward the latter part of the buying season in an apparent bid to try and make up business.

Jobless numbers still encouraging: Weekly claims were up, but the four-week average neared a 2-1/2 year low, to 410,750. Getting below 400,000 would be a good sign. (Reuters)

Blue Shield proposes rate jump: We're talking cumulative hikes of as much as 59 percent, starting March 1. The new insurance commissioner is looking into it, but his authority on rate regulation is limited. From the LAT:

San Francisco-based Blue Shield said the increases were the result of fast-rising healthcare costs and other expenses resulting from new healthcare laws. "We raise rates only when absolutely necessary to pay the accelerating cost of medical care for our members," the nonprofit insurer told customers last month. In all, Blue Shield said, 193,000 policyholders would see increases averaging 30% to 35%, the result of three separate rate hikes since October.

L.A. budget chief warns of more cuts: Abandoning the city's plan to lease nine public parking garages to a private operator could result in a freeze on police hiring. From the LAT:

Officials had hoped to secure up to $300 million from the deal. Of that total, Villaraigosa and council members were counting on $53 million to balance this year's budget. But [City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana] said the city could no longer count on that money because the proposal is being reworked to satisfy business groups that fear it would lead to increased parking rates. Those changes probably would make the deal less lucrative. Even if the garage deal is finalized, the city will need to pursue a "drastic" round of short-term cuts, Santana said.

Chinese firms buys Sheraton Universal: Shenzhen New World Group paid about $90 million for the 451-room inn, says the LAT. The previous owner bought the hotel at the top of the market in 2007 for $122 million.

Mattel copyright claims scaled down: A federal judge ruled that the El Segundo-based toymaker can only base its argument with MGA on the first generation of Bratz dolls. (AP)

Heir apparent for Mattel CEO?: The company has named Bryan Stockton to the new post of chief operating officer. Stockton, who had been president of Mattel's international business, is being groomed to succeed Robert Eckert as chief executive, says the WSJ.

Drop in 2010 album sales: The 12.8 percent plunge was partly the result of more consumers abandoning physical CD's in favor of online purchases of individual tunes. But even that area has been struggling. (Billboard)

LinkedIn plans to go public: The career-oriented social networking site intends to file an IPO within months, says the WSJ.

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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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