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 2012

Williams-Sonoma house listed for $30 million

holmby.jpg The 20,000-square-foot Holmby Hills estate home has seven bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, home theater, blah, blah, blah.

Stocks are starting to sputter

Nothing terrible happened today - the Dow was down just 48 points - but stocks have fallen five of the last six days and you do have to wonder what might drive the market higher in the coming weeks.

Council hearings on downtown stadium: Pardon me while I gag

farmers5.jpg Chamber votes 12-0 to support AEG project. Not a naysayer in sight.

Friday morning headlines

Consumers pick up spending but for the wrong reasons, B of A agrees to pay $2.43 billion to settle class-action lawsuit, support eroding for Gov. Brown's tax plan, and Planning Commission signs off on Universal makeover.

More reasons not to like downtown stadium plan

farmers4.jpg Regrettably, none of the design concerns really threaten to derail the stadium package, which will go to the City Council on Friday. Nor will the questionable economic benefits.

Local hotels filling up

biltmore.jpg L.A. occupancy was at 85.2 percent in July, while OC hotels were at 88.3 percent, helped along by the revamped California Adventure park in Anaheim.

An economy that you can't measure in real time

bls.jpg This has been an irritant of mine for years: The obsessive coverage of monthly employment reports - coverage that often distorts the actual numbers.

Thursday morning headlines

U.S. job growth better than expected, mortgage rates hit record low, AEG convention hall plan criticized by architects advising the mayor, and NFL refs keep their pensions under new deal.

Reports: NFL, referees reach tentative deal*

Sounds like an announcement may happen shortly, with the league trying to get them back to work for this weekend's games.

Wednesday morning headlines

Council gives preliminary approval to DWP rate hike, Gov. Brown signs driverless car legislation, Jaime McCourt claims that Frank cheated her, and more troubles for Tesla.

Feds crack down on more marijuana dispensaries

potpix.jpg So much for asking L.A. voters whether to keep the shops open. Authorities have sent warnings letters to operators in 68 stores, many located downtown and in Eagle Rock, that effectively tell them to shut down.

Council approves pension adjustments for new workers

cityhall3.jpg This is at least a step in the right direction, and the fact that it received a 14-0 vote suggests some sort of awareness of the city's financial troubles.

Unions threaten lawsuit if Council enacts pension plan

This is just a taste of what happens if a more aggressive pension overhaul - one that would freeze or reduce benefits for current employees - makes any headway next year.

Beeping package at KNX; building evacuated*

Station went off the air as the bomb squad has a look.

Tuesday morning headlines

L.A. home prices inching higher, big jump in consumer confidence, strong demand for California bonds, and $1.7-million reward offered in art heist.

Guggenheim Partners, Patrick Soon-Shiong make bid for AEG

soon.jpg Here we go - the first of what are likely to be several bids for the sports-and-entertainment unit of Philip Anschutz's empire.

More flight cancellations at American Airlines

americanairlines.jpg Check your flight status. Since Sept. 16, 546 flights have been cancelled and 7,137 delayed - way more than usual. Put another way, just half of American's flights have arrived on time.

Council committee approves stadium deal

Not much doubt on this one - city officials offered all kinds of assurances that the possible sale of AEG would not impact the company's commitment to build the stadium and revamp the convention hall.

Monday morning headlines

Apple sells out of iPhones, Facebook stock, now trading at around $21 a share, is still too pricey, council committee considers stadium plan, and free checking is getting more expensive.

Where to find the NFL Network on Time Warner Cable

It's channel 355 for those on the Variety or premium Sports Pass tier. The RedZone channel will be on channel 356 (only available on the Sports Tier).

Tribune Co. closes in on new CEO

tribune2.jpg Reuters reports that Peter Liguori, a former executive at Fox and more recently the Oprah Winfrey Network, is in serious talks for the top job at the media giant

L.A. County unemployment dips a bit*

payroll.jpg But overall it wasn't a very strong August, considering that the separate payroll survey showed a drop of 10,400 jobs.

Report: Time Warner Cable agrees to carry NFL Network

nflnet.jpg An announcement could be made later today, Bloomberg is reporting, citing a source. Time Warner had been the last holdout among major cable companies.

Friday morning headlines

California debt is way higher than earlier estimated, iPhone 5 is released around the globe, high-speed rail gets White House fast track, and Maxine Waters avoids ethics charges.

Small dip in state unemployment

California's jobless rate fell to 10.6 percent in August from 10.7 percent the month before, but only 12,000 jobs were added to the payrolls.

Why selling AEG will be difficult

AEG2.jpg While potential bidders might be interested in the soccer teams and others might want the real estate and still others might go after the music side, it's hard to imagine single entity wanting the whole shebang. And how do you value the whole shebang?

Economic forecasting is often more story-telling than statistics

jobless4.jpg For many months economists have been puzzled by the lackluster pace of recovery. The answer might go beyond pure numbers.

Big time L.A. investor victim of $10 million burglary

gundlach2.jpg Jeffrey Gundlach, CEO of DoubleLine Capital (and before that L.A.-based TCW) lost several expensive paintings and a 2010 red Porsche Carrera 4S in the heist,

Elon Musk and Panda Express founders make it onto Forbes 400

panda.jpg They made their fortunes in very different ways - Musk with orbital space vehicles and electric cars and Cherng with fast casual Chinese food.

Jon Stewart takes on Fox's 'Bullsh*t Mountain'

The network that constantly manages to take your breath away is quintupling down on Romney's 47 percent solution. Stewart lays it all out.

Thursday morning headlines

California economy keeps improving (but slowly), Angels talking about possible move to the City of Industry, support slipping for Gov. Brown's tax measure, and Southwest Airlines slipping in performance rankings.

How AEG sale could make mess of stadium deal*

villaraigosa.jpg The sensible solution is to hold off on the stadium agreement until the AEG situation is resolved. Know who you're dealing with - don't take the word of the guy getting out.

Brick-and-mortars win the battle, but could lose the war

amazon4.jpg Yes, Amazon is adding on sales tax for its California shoppers, which is what non-Internet retailers in the state had been lobbying for. But there's another side to this development.

What Romney doesn't understand about personal responsibility

maid.jpg Not to dwell on the infamous 47 percent solution, but Romney's dismissal of poor and needy people is astounding.

Wednesday morning headlines

Already lining up for AEG, Fox well positioned for renewal of baseball contract, it's better to buy than rent a house in L.A. (though not by much), and WSJ's Walt Mossberg likes the iPhone 5.

Report: Anschutz considers selling AEG*

anschutz.jpg WSJ, citing sources, says that deliberations are at an early stage and that it's possible Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz might decide not to sell the operation.

Council votes to extend business tax holiday

biztax.jpg No one knows whether exempting new businesses from the city's gross receipts tax actually pencils out, but on a 10-2 vote the council decided to keep it going for another three years.

Still no urgency from City Council on budget crisis

cityhall2.jpg They keep messing around with plans to shave off the city's pension obligations in future years, but not a word on what to do with current obligations, which is at the heart of the deficit problem.

Mapping out Romney's 47%

incometax.jpg Say this for the Republican candidate's remarks, we're learning a lot more about the people who pay and don't pay federal income tax.

Occupy movement: Much ado about not much

ola.jpg Frankly, it never seemed like much of a movement - not on Wall Street or L.A. or any of the other cities with encampments.

Tuesday morning headlines

Apple hits $700 a sahare, FedEx says global economy is getting worse, most homeowners still stuck with high mortgage rates, and complaints about Wilmington refinery.

Out-of-towner likes L.A. transit system

metrolink.jpg As with anyone parachuting into town, the detail work was a little iffy. But he left thinking good thoughts about L.A., which is more than you can say about many East Coasters.

Romney: 47% of Americans are freeloaders*

The Republican candidate is taped saying that, "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Monday morning headlines

Demand exceeds supply for iPhone 5, Magic admits that Dodgers lack chemistry, L.A. area gas prices fall a bit, and Gov. Brown's legacy on the line.

Sluggish port traffic for August

portofla.jpg This could be another indication that U.S. retailers are cautious about the holiday season.

The other side of the Amazon tax

amazon4.jpg Whatever benefit the brick-and-mortar crowd might have gained by forcing Amazon to include sales tax might be lost - and then some.

Friday morning headlines

Gas prices boost inflation, consumer sentiment is at highest level in four months, last non-tax day on Amazon, and Planning Commission approves stadium plan.

Checking the view from behind Google glasses*

Very cool video that was shot entirely with Google Glass, the company's futuristic headset/smartphone device.

Stadium deal could be in trouble, but for the wrong reason

farmers4.jpg I'm not a huge fan of the proposed complex, but I'm not especially fond of extortion either - and that's the sorta, kinda threat that a downtown coalition is throwing around.

Socal housing market gains strength

homesale2.jpg What stands out is the stronger presence of higher-priced properties. Southern California sales between $300,000 and $800,000 - the common range for move-up buyers - rose 23.4 percent from a year earlier,

Fed action rallies Wall Street

Big day for stocks, with the Dow jumping 206 points. Of course, the basis for today's runup is the Federal Reserve's more aggressive bond-buying program, which is only happening because the recovery has been so sluggish.

Fed announces open-ended program to spur growth

This is a big deal. "Open-ended" is the key phrase here, an indication that the Central Bank is prepared to keep buying bonds indefinitely in an effort to boost a sluggish recovery.

Thursday morning headlines

Waiting for the Fed, drop in California foreclosures, Planning Commission considers downtown stadium proposal, and Health Net sued over refusing to cover treatments.

Let's face it, the economy has gotten to be a snooze

shoppers3.jpg It just isn't the gory story that it used to be. This is a slumbering recovery, yes, but a recovery nonetheless. And while everything could change tomorrow, slow growth doesn't seem like a winning bet for Romney.

iPhone 5 gets its closeup*

iphone5.jpg In a nutshell, it'll be larger, lighter, faster, and be able to connect with more cellular networks. Apple's updated iPhone will be in stores on Sept. 21.

Red Sox deal looking worse by the day

dodgers9.jpg Three weeks after the blockbuster trade that brought Adrian Gonzalez to L.A., the Dodgers are 6-10 - not quite what the Guggenheim partners had in mind.

Ranking California on income, poverty, uninsured population

census3.jpg The Census Bureau is out with a zillion numbers that can be sliced and diced in lots of ways. The state's median income - and its percentage of uninsured residents - are both higher than the U.S. overall.

Wednesday morning headlines

Apple introduces the iPhone 5, Federal Reserve policymakers meet to consider pumping the economy, more Americans are bypassing banks, and Gov. Brown signs pension legislation into law.

Beverly Hills Hotel to be designated historic landmark

bevhillshotel.jpg The one-hundredth year birthday celebration is capped off on Wednesday with a shindig that commemorates the hotel's landmark status - the first such designation under the city's historic preservation ordinance.

California reopens trade office in China

chinatrade.jpg China, which is California's third-largest trading partner, bought $14.1 billion in state-produced goods and services in 2011, and Chinese investors have been snapping up U.S. companies and real estate.

U-T San Diego owner buys North County Times

north county.jpg This is the same U-T newspaper that ran a venomous anti-Obama editorial over the weekend, the same paper that's hosting an event for Republican Party candidates tonight, the same paper that's become an embarrassment for San Diego.

Sacramento does well in August

sacto3.jpg California received larger-than-expected tax revenues last month, according to the state Controller's office.

Tuesday morning headlines

Government will be making money on AIG, rebuilding Convention Center to cost more than expected, Digital Domain special effects house is being taken over as part of bankruptcy filing, and Californians are more upbeat.

L.A. County property values edge higher

assessor.jpg The 2.5 percent increase comes out to an extra $110 million in taxes - good news for struggling cities. Higher valuations are also a relief for homeowners who remain underwater.

Visiting 20 malls in 60 days

ccmall.jpg Now that deserves a medal. L.A. money manager Alex Rubalcava has been tweeting his observations.

Are you better off than you were four years ago?

betteroff.jpg Forget about the political rhetoric from both sides and check out this summary from Business Insider.

Downtown sees bump in apartment construction

downtownapts.jpg Developers have been responding to a tight rental market (vacancies are down to 2 percent in many buildings).

Monday morning headlines

Boom times in Bakersfield, special effects house Digital Domain might seek bankruptcy protection, Variety owners cut asking price for paper, and slow weekend at the box office.

Intrade has Obama leading Electoral College

electoral.jpg The online prediction market had focused on the overall national vote, but it's now breaking down trades state by state. As you see from the map, most of the battleground states show Obama with the edge.

Death of newspapers (cont'd)

adrevenue.jpg You have to wonder why the new owner of the OC Register insists on pushing the print side. Ad revenues are in free-fall, and they're never coming back.

Why you can't make money making $5,000 suits

bespoke.jpg They look great, of course, with the jacket perfectly molded to the body, but the customer base is not large enough these days to make it a lucrative business.
chinatown.jpg A coalition of community and union groups tried to get a restraining order on construction of the Walmart grocery, despite the retailer having all the necessary permits and approvals

Friday morning headlines

California home prices took off in July, Jay Leno takes 50 percent pay cut, Caruso buys Carlsbad land for development, and heat wave gets expensive for L.A. schools.

Recovery that keeps defying expectations

augustjobs.jpg Just 96,000 jobs added to the rolls and a drop in the unemployment rate for all the wrong reasons. It's been an up and down year, reflecting an economy that's being slowly reshaped before our eyes.

Taking LAX's new international concourse for a spin

LAXnew.jpg Nice moment for America's "kick-me" airport - a Qantas A380 jumbo-jet was scheduled to pull into Gate 134 of the new Bradley West international concourse.

Still another guesstimate on number of pot shops in L.A.

marijuana.jpg Not to state the obvious, but if there's such wide disagreement on how many dispensaries are located in the city, how did they expect to enforce the ban?

Stocks close at 4-year high

Wall Street grabbed onto some encouraging news out of Europe and that, along with a couple of strong job reports, led to a huge day, with the Dow finishing at 13,292, up 244 points

Techies dominate Vanity Fair's hot-shot list

apple8.jpg Actually, it gets a little confusing because the magazine now publishes two lists: One made up of the New Establishment - mostly the powers of Silicon Valley - and the other covering the usual media and entertainment moguls.

Amazon introduces new Kindle

amazon.jpeg Quite a dog-and-pony show at Santa Monica Airport this morning as CEO Jeff Bezos unveils the Kindle Paperwhite, the company's latest tablet.

Thursday morning headlines

Encouraging news out of Europe (though recession is still possible by the end of the year), better-than-expected increase in private payroll jobs, questions about the way teachers' pensions are handled, and Amazon to announce Kindle updates.

Albertsons closing 19 Socal stores

albertsons.jpg This isn't a huge surprise - in June the supermarket chain's parent company, Supervalu Inc., reported that its first-quarter profit fell by nearly half compared with a year earlier. Big-box stores like Target and Walmart are proving to be formidable competitors.

More tax credits for one of L.A.'s most prosperous industries

runaway.jpg That would be the entertainment industry, which managed to add 3,200 jobs in L.A. County over the past year. And yet the state legislature voted to extend the tax break program for movie and TV companies wanting to work in California.
eastwest.jpg After agreeing to handle PR duties for East West Bancorp as part of a planned acquisition, according to the SEC complaint, she bought 10,000 shares of East West stock and then sold her shares after the acquisition announcement had been made.

Best not to moon your bosses if you want to keep your job

mooning.jpg For a while Jason Selch actually got away with it. But when one of the higher-ups found out about the mooning, he was fired. And guess what Selch did next?

C'mon Councilman Garcetti, let's stop altering reality

garcetti.jpg The city councilman and candidate for mayor is too smart a guy to believe what he told Los Angeles magazine about the city's financial problems. L.A. faces enormous pension and health care obligations that are forcing all services to be reduced. Pretending that any real progress has been made doesn't square with the facts.

Sacramento Bee erects paywall

sactobee.jpg Starting today, the paper will only offer free access to its home page and section fronts - as well as 15 pages per 30 days. After that you'll have to pay up.

Wednesday morning headlines

Pickup in productivity shows businesses can do more with less, Zuckerberg will hold onto Facebook stock, FedEx cuts forecast because of slowdown in Europe and Asia, and San Bernardino City Council unable to agree on budget cuts.

Century Plaza makeover taking shape

centuryplaza.jpg If the Council signs off on the plan, which seems likely, construction will begin in 2014 and take at least five to six years. The hotel renovation would come first, followed about a year later by twin condo towers.

Restaurants try variable pricing

restaurant.jpg Why should customers eating at 5 p.m. on a Monday night pay the same as those ordering at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night? Here are some Los Angeles examples.

Revealing portrait of how AEG really does things

mikey2.jpg Ruthless. Duplicitous. Corrupt. Scuzzy. Any of those words would describe the manner in which Anschutz Entertainment Group handled preparations for Michael Jackson's 50-show concert tour. Yes, this is the same AEG that the mayor and most members of the City Council are in bed with.

How Stockton got snookered

stockton3.jpg Just as the economy was beginning to tank in 2007, the city sold $125 million worth of bonds in order to close a shortfall in its pension plans. Big mistake.

Tuesday morning headlines

Good month for car sales, sluggish summer at the box office, Guggenheim Partners buys Dick Clark Productions, and Grand Avenue developer says it has financing for apartment tower.