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.
December 2012

Stocks claw back for reasons not entirely clear

The Dow finished down 18 points, making up most of a 150-plus loss earlier in the session. What seemed to turn things around was word that the House would reconvene Sunday night.

Christmas box office is huge

"Les Misérables" led the way, with $18.1 million in domestic ticket sales. Actually, this is shaping up to be a very strong year for Hollywood, with domestic box office expected to run around $10.8 billion.

Any hope to avoid next week's fiscal cliff?

Doubtful, at least based on what the major players are saying publicly. As with any negotiation, there's always the chance of some unexpected breakthrough, though at some point all roads must get through the House Republican caucus.

More signs of an improved housing market

The value of homes in the L.A.-OC County area rose $122 billion in 2012, the biggest cumulative gain of any major metro area in the nation.

Bumbling dads, wacky Latinas and other Hollywood tropes

"How about if, just once," writes Bruce Feirstein,"the long-suffering black character didn't end up providing wisdom and salvation to the white folk?"

Are tax-and-spend Democrats at it again?

With super-majorities in both the state Assembly and Senate and a fiscal situation that's improving but still iffy, a number of Democrats are introducing legislation that would increase borrowing and make taxing easier.

Friday morning headlines

House Speaker John Boehner sounding desperate in efforts to break budget impasse, consumer sentiment takes a big drop in December, cheap gas in the L.A. area, and Midwest snowstorm complicates travel plans.

California jobless rate back in single digits*

The state unemployment rate fell to 9.8 percent in November. It's the first time in almost four years it's dropped below 10 percent.

NASA is so certain the world won't end tomorrow...

It's put out a video dated December 22, 2012 that explains why the end didn't happen yesterday the 21st.

An underwhelming start to the mayoral race

cityhall2.jpg Listening to the candidates yammer these past few weeks, you'd be hard-pressed to know that L.A. faces deficits of more than $200 million over the next several years - and that there's really no great way of raising the money.

Stomach-churning stat of the day

body.jpg About half of the 9,744 paid malpractice claims between 1990 and 2010 involved surgeons leaving an object inside the patient.

Meet the salesperson who blew the whistle on Amgen

amgen.jpg She's Jill Osiecki, a longtime Amgen employee who wore a recording device under her clothes during a 2005 sales meeting in which a manager quipped, "I hope no one is taping this."

Thursday morning headlines

Another upward revision for U.S. economy, L.A. developing from within, Herbalife shares skidding on charges that the company is run like a pyramid scheme, and questionable selection for city ethics panel.

Another sign of recovery: More architectual work

highline.jpg Billings have been up for four consecutive months, and the industry's index is at its highest level in three years.

Wednesday morning headlines

More bickering in fiscal cliff talks, U.S. to unload its 32 percent stake in GM (but at a loss), L.A. Assessor Noguez to keep receiving salary, and Ovation channel could be the first of several that Time Warner Cable drops.

Why slashing federal budget might not stick

Within a few years, it's a good bet that solid growth and smaller deficits will be restored. The question is what happens then?

How owner of rifle company tied to shootings decided to sell

cerberus.jpg Cerberus Capital Management looked at Freedom Group, one of the nation's biggest makers of guns and ammunition, as more than an investment. Stephen Feinberg, Cerberus's co-founder and CEO, is an avid hunter.

Billboard company's shameless warning

digital.jpg Clear Channel Outdoor is required to remove 79 digital signs in the city of L.A. But rather than go quietly, the company claims that removing the billboards will greatly hurt public safety.

Tuesday morning headlines

Washington budget talks might be nearing a breakthrough, private equity firm to sell its stake in riflemaker, Nielsen to buy Arbitron in $1.26-billion deal, and options considered for rail route to LAX.

Remembering Sen. Daniel Inouye *

The senator from Hawaii, who has died at the age of 88, broke racial barriers on Capitol Hill and played a key role in the Senate Watergate investigation. But what's sometimes forgotten is his experience in World War II.
rifle.jpg Actually, it's the California State Teachers' Retirement System. It invested $500 million into a $7.5-billion fund that helped bankroll the firearms company that makes Bushmaster rifles.

Uncomfortable days for Activision

The Santa Monica-based company that's behind the "Call of Duty" franchise would be front and center of any discussion about whether violent video games can lead to violence in real life.

Port traffic a mixed bag due to strike

The results for each port were noticeably different: L.A. was down 16 percent, while Long Beach was up 20.8 percent.

Monday morning headlines

Investors believes that Washington will reach a budget compromise, economy expected to grow at a moderate pace in 2013, former IndyMac CEO agrees to pay $1 million as part of a settlement with regulators, and holiday parties are back in business.

Why are there more mass shootings?

No matter what you might read in the coming days, nobody really knows. Lots of theories, but relatively research on the pathology at play.

SEC files charges against Santa Monica hedge fund manager

Peter Eichler and his fund Aletheia are alleged to have steered profitable trades into the firm's own accounts and into the accounts of preferred clients.

Airplanes packed, profits soar

Actually, fewer passengers are expected to fly between Dec. 17 and Jan. 6 than during the same period last year. But planes will be just as cramped.

Friday morning headlines

L.A.-area inflation down sharply due to gas prices, KB Home to build condos and detached homes in Playa Vista, Rick Caruso buying retail parcels in Pacific Palisades, and sweatshop practices uncovered downtown.

Countrywide's Angelo Mozilo has no regrets

mozilo.jpg He said that he only agreed to settle a federal lawsuit for $67.5 million to protect his kids and grand-kids who were being hassled.

Macy's Plaza to be sold, redone

macy's2.jpg Developer apparently has financing to buy the property, as well as handle the upgrades. It would be hard not to improve the place.

Thursday morning headlines

Consumers were spending in November, Blue Shield seeks large rate hikes, Geffen donates $100 million to UCLA, and new concourse for Long Beach airport.

Port of Long Beach to see more traffic

CMA.jpg The French-based shipping line CMA CGM has purchased a stake in the facility's Pier J, the company's first investment in a port on the West Coast.

Is it just me or do the stores seem really crowded?

The first half of December is normally the time when shoppers take a breather before the final holiday push, but there's no sign of let-up in my neighborhood.

Fed to keep rates low until unemployment rate improves

The central bank also says it will continue its bond-buying program into the new year, a decision that has helped boost stock prices.

Housing market keeps getting better

The basic explanation for what's happening is too much demand, especially in the move-up market, along with too little supply to meet that demand.

Everybody's talking about Bakersfield - in a good way

bakersfield.jpg It's leading the Central Valley recovery, both because of stepped-up oil production in Kern County and the large number of warehouses and industrial parks in the area.

Wednesday morning headlines

Fiscal cliff could be having an effect on holiday shopping, Chinese investors will be making more deals in the U.S., L.A. budget official brought into mayoral race, and unusual delays in October at LAX.
seal.jpg Here's the sobering takeaway: "The state's highest-paid employees make far more than comparable workers elsewhere in almost all job and wage categories, from public safety to health care, base pay to overtime."

Chinese investors going after more than the big stuff

beijing.jpg After a spectacular decade of growth, China has about one million millionaires, along with 100 or so billionaires - and many of those folks are looking for places to put that money.

Tribune Co. making moves to possibly sell papers

News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch plans to take a close look once the properties become available, Bloomberg reports.

Tuesday morning headlines

U.S. bailout of AIG results in $23 billion profit, FedEx has its busiest day in history, DirecTV adds sports surcharge, and more troubles for Boeing's 787.

The con game known as economic incentives

You promise to bring in business and we'll give you a tax break or free land or some other giveaway. But there is virtually no connection between incentives and economic performance.

Appeals court orders 100 digital billboards to be removed

A three-judge panel ruled that two sign companies should not have been allowed to convert their existing billboards to electronic formats.

California loses more people to other states than it gains

Census Bureau says that 562,343 Californians moved to other states during 2011, while 468,428 residents of other states moved to California.

Monday morning headlines

L.A.-based airplane leasing firm sold to Chinese, Amgen acquires gene research firm, electric car maker Fisker is looking for investors, and Disney cruise line gives up on West Coast.
TWC has shown a willingness to spend big bucks on sports programming - it cut a $3 billion deal with the Lakers - but this one might be over the top.

Friday morning headlines

U.S. adds 146,000 jobs in November, consumer sentiment takes big dip, make-up work at the ports, and cops avoid layoffs.

If you thought the L.A. port strike was serious...

Consider what might happen if dockworkers and shipping companies from East Coast ports can't come to terms by Dec. 29, when the existing contract expires.

Jeffrey Gundlach shoves it in his old employer's face

gundlach2.jpg The famous and wealthy bond trader is not much for nuance and so when it came time to mark the three-year anniversary of his firing from the giant TCW Group, he chose a special place.

Thursday morning headlines

More Californians say state is moving in the right direction, Inland Empire shows signs of a turnaround, factors leading to port settlement, and another smash for Activision.

Why didn't Cirque du Soleil make it in Los Angeles?

Could have been the high ticket prices, good - but not spectacular - word of mouth, or the fact that Hollywood remains a work in progress as far as being a true cultural destination.

How bad was coverage of the port strike?

It was pretty bad - frankly, some of the worst local business reporting I've seen in a while. There's a lot to find fault with, but it starts with the one number that has dominated news reports (and was parroted by local officials).

Wednesday morning headlines

Proposition 30 expected to dampen growth, Hurricane Sandy slowed hiring in November, majority of L.A. voters favor medical marijuana use, and Starbucks to add 1,500 stores.

Fresh & Easy about to be shut down

fresheasy.jpg British parent Tesco is ready to sell or close the El Segundo-based chain's 199 stores in what has proven to be a very costly ($1.6 billion) and unsuccessful effort to break into the American market.

Port workers return after tentative settlement

Ships have been lining up outside the port complex for days, while other vessels were diverted to ports in Oakland and Ensenada.

Disney cuts big deal with Netflix

The video subscription service has grabbed the rights to show Disney movies ahead of the pay channels - the first time one of the major studios has bypassed HBO, Starz or Showtime.

Break in the port talks?*

Union spokesman Craig Merrilees tells KNX that "We're making real progress" and that an agreement could come soon.

Tuesday morning headlines

Villaraigosa enters port talks but no sign of a breakthrough, lukewarm support for proposed sales tax hike, racial bias found at Wet Seal, and Time Warner Cable looks at marginal channels.

Still no apparent break in port strike

As union representatives and shipping operators met over the weekend, more ships are expected to arrive outside the L.A.-Long Beach port complex in the next couple of days.

Cirque du Soleil's sudden pullout from Hollywood*

iris2.jpg Many questions to sort out after Friday's unexpected announcement that "Iris" will shut down "Iris" on Jan. 19.