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.
April 2013

No offense to the Cincinnati airport, but....

LAX2.jpg It handles a fraction of the passenger load as LAX - without nearly as many hassles. No wonder a new survey ranks it as the best in the U.S. Of course, it's easy to be small and empty.

Council approves moving runway at LAX

laxrunway2.jpg The 10-3 vote, part of a proposed airport makeover, came after impassioned arguments on both sides about moving the northernmost runway 260 feet closer closer to residents and businesses in Westchester (but within LAX's existing property.)
Talk about misinformation: The guy accuses me of taking pot shots at him for his column on the Koch brothers possibly buying the LAT. But I never even mentioned Meyerson or his column.

LAT boosts circulation, thanks to digital

fasfax2.jpg The paper's Monday-Friday numbers are up 6 percent, to 653,868, for the October through March reporting period. But print fell 11.5 percent, to a stunningly low 432,873.

When will 787 service resume out of LAX?

boeing3.jpg Despite the FAA signing off on Boeing's battery fix to its 787 Dreamliner, the airlines face a PR puzzle in convincing passengers that the cutting-edge jet is safe to fly.

Recovery is stronger than you think - it's just underground

underground.jpg Personal spending is up a healthy 3.2 percent for the first three months of the year, and yet hiring, along with the overall economy, continues to lag. Makes no sense, right?

LA economy slowing down

laeconomy.jpg At this stage of the recovery the pace should be picking up, not slowing down, especially with an unemployment rate that's still running over 10 percent.
delays3.jpg Congress has decided, forcefully and unequivocally, that air travelers are more important to them than poor kids and old folks.

Is becoming downtown's biggest landlord such a good thing?

towers.jpg While you do have to wonder how Brookfield Office Properties intends to handle all that space, the real estate company has assets of more than $20 billion - and downtown L.A. office towers don't often become available.

Koch brothers buying LAT is soooo bad it's almost good

kochs.jpg The little devil in me would almost like to see the Tribune guys do the deal with the Kochs and have all those self-anointed arbiters of journalistic propriety raise holy hell. Almost.

Death of the TV channel?

netflix.jpg Netflix CEO Reed Hastings seems to have a knack for identifying what viewers want (or don't want), and he's out with an 11-page essay on where he believes TV is headed. One of the big takeaways: Apps will replace channels.

If you want a cautionary tale on extending the subway...

405project.jpg It's axiomatic that this kind of construction (on the 405 freeway) is always a longer and pricier proposition than those smiling politicians promise at ground-breaking ceremonies.

Why did Fisker Automotive fail? Just ask a customer

fisker2.jpg The Anaheim-based automaker hasn't yet filed for bankruptcy, but they're already filings obits. Another DeLorean, they say, except worse because the federal government was knee-deep in Fisker's financing.

Well, boo-hoo, the editor of NYT is .... er, tough

jill.jpg The early reviews on Politico's hit piece on Executive Editor Jill Abramson aren't great. Or maybe the reaction is less about the report itself, which relied heavily on unnamed sources, and more about the crybabies at the paper.

Universal Amphitheatre to shut down in September

universal.jpg More recently it's been known as the Gibson Amphitheatre, but whatever the name it's being closed to make way for the new Harry Potter attraction at the Universal theme park.

Happy face assumptions behind mayor's final budget plan

mayorbudget.jpg Let there be no mistake: City government remains a mess. It's still bloated in some areas and virtually bankrupt in others. There's been no rhyme or reason to the many personnel and service cuts over the past five years, and zero willingness by elected officials to drill into the decayed and sometimes corrupt infrastructure.

Be careful connecting flight delays and federal budget*

delays.jpg No doubt there is some sort of connection, but flights get delayed for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with Washington's sequestration business.

Is Dodger season cursed already?

chad.jpg Latest bit of bad news: Starter Chad Billingsley will undergo Tommy John elbow surgery and is out through the start of next season.
foreclose.jpg Credit higher home prices, an improving economy, and new foreclosure regulations.

Worst question a celebrity can ask: 'Do you know my name?'

reese.jpg What was Reese Witherspoon thinking when she put that condescending query to an Atlanta cop during a DUI stop involving her husband, the agent James Toth?
cityhall3.jpg City officials are betting that the numbers will keep improving next year, and that will mean more tax revenue for the city. But are the projections realistic?

Can Greuel erase a 10-point deficit in 4 weeks?

Thumbnail image for greuel.jpg Sure she can - at least in theory. But making up such a large margin requires a charged, dynamic race, and the Greuel-Garcetti face-off has been anything but.

Morning flights out of LAX delayed

Most of the NY-bound flights are late this morning, not a great sign as the airlines cope with a reduced complement of air traffic controllers.

Why Koch brothers could have the inside track on the LAT

latimes-from-broadway.jpg A central question is whether the Tribune Co. board will only accept offers for the entire newspaper group or consider selling off the properties in pieces.

What is it about late April?

april.jpg Boston bombings, an explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant, poisoned letters sent to President Obama and a Mississippi senator, the arrest of a couple in connection with the murder of a prosecutor - this has been a very strange week.

Boeing 787 flights to resume after FAA's approval

boeing3.jpg Service was suspended in January after several incidents involving the plane's lithium-ion batteries, one of which resulted in fire. Service is expected to resume in a few weeks.
hiring.jpg The state's unemployment rate fell to 9.4 percent in March, down from 9.6 percent the previous month and the lowest level since late 2008. Also, 25,500 jobs were added. If only the rest of the country were growing that well...

L.A. gas prices fall below $4

gasprices5.jpg The basic explanation is that U.S. demand is weak and oil supply seems plentiful. Assuming that refinery operations remain online, state and local prices should be stable to lower in the weeks leading up to the Memorial Day weekend.

Expect flight slowdowns at LAX beginning Sunday

tower2.jpg That's when the FAA begins to implement furloughs involving its air traffic controllers. Arrivals at LAX will drop to 48 an hour from 80, a 40 percent cut.

What's the dumbest marathon-related story?

marathon.jpg That would be the media's hand-wringing over how a few news outlets screwed up by reporting that an arrest had been made in the Boston bombing. Man, I must say that journalists can be a constipated lot - so full of themselves and their high-and-mighty attitudes about news gathering.

L.A. has tightest supply of homes for sale in Socal

homesales3.jpg This tells you a lot about the imbalance in housing these days: L.A. County had only a 2.7-month supply of homes in March. The normal level is six months.
movies3.jpg The big exhibitors seem to be holding their own financially, but they're living on borrowed time, what with movie-goers finding alternatives to a night at the multiplex.

Why would DirecTV want to keep company with Neil LaBute?

So call me nutty, but I've always been a little suspicious when "the human condition," "pushing boundaries," "unconventional structure," and references to "My Dinner With André" all wind up in the same press release.
kobe.jpg The ball being the future of the franchise, which is basically entering a transitional, post-Kobe stage - and that's regardless of who wins tonight's pivotal game against Houston.

Socal home prices taking off

march2.jpg March's median price was up 23.4 percent, to $345,000, the highest level in more than four-and-a-half years, according to Dataquick (prices were a bit higher in L.A. County).

It's official: Fresh & Easy stores shutting down

fresheasy2.jpg British parent Tesco is finally calling it quits on its neither-here-nor-there U.S. chain that never gained much traction. It'll take a few months to finalize an exit plan.
molly.jpg Molly Bloom, who organized high-stakes poker games in the L.A. area that allegedly involved the likes of Leonard Dicaprio, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Macaulay Culkin, and Alex Rodriguez, was charged with operating an illegal gambling business.

All American Airlines flights grounded*

What a mess - the reservations system, otherwise known as Sabre, has been shut down this morning and now comes word that the FAA has grounded all flights until 2 p.m. L.A. time.

Why people overreact to terrorist attacks

airportsecurity.jpg They're rare, often spectacular, and come out of nowhere. But security expert Bruce Schneier reminds everybody that there are other things in this world far more dangerous and which get little notice.
dish.jpg We're talking about a revolution in the way people are consuming content. That's the real story behind Dish Network's unsolicited bid for Sprint Nextel.

Does anyone know what Wendy Greuel really stands for?

greuel.jpg Lots of luck figuring out how she would handle the city's budget shortfall. With Wendy, it's all talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk - and say as little as possible.

Jittery stock market takes big loss

Stocks were down sharply all day (big drops in the price of gold and other commodities, propelled by worse-than-expected data from China), but the decline worsened in the last hour on news of the bomb blasts in Boston.

Boston blasts prompt tighter security in L.A.

blast.jpg All the usual precautions -- LAX is increasing patrols and using more bomb-sniffing dogs, while an increased police presence is planned for tonight's Dodger-Padre game at the Stadium.

Would you change someone's diapers for 12 bucks an hour?

healthcare2.jpg Turns out that there's a shortage of younger health care workers willing to care for the elderly and disabled.

How could these guys have been so, well... stupid?

london6.jpg Of all the stocks they could have played with, why choose the widely watched Herbalife? You can imagine the honchos at KPMG wincing at Scott London's actions. Is this our lead auditor in L.A.?

Garcetti's $1 million traffic idea

garcetti.jpg At last a little outside-the-box thinking in this dullest of mayoral campaigns. It came during last night's hour-long debate when City Councilman Eric Garcetti suggested offering a $1 million prize to anyone who could offer the best solutions to L.A.'s traffic problems.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre to go IMAX

grauman.jpg Assuming the city signs off on all the approvals, the storied venue will be shut down in late May for a major tech overhaul (new screen, sound system and digital projection system.)

Ontario going to court over airport ownership

ontarioairport2.jpg The city claims that Los Angeles World Airports, the operating authority for LA/Ontario International Airport, has neglected and mismanaged the facility.

Taking stock of the banged-up electric car business

fisker.jpg The reality is not many people feel the need to have an electric car, and when there's not much demand, fledgling industries are pretty much stuck.

Charges expected soon in insider trading scheme*

kpmg3.jpg The man who traded on information provided by former KPMG partner Scott London has been identified as Bryan Shaw, co-owner of Shaw Diamond, a small jewelry wholesaler in Encino.

Starbucks sting is latest twist in KPMG insider case

london4.jpg Now it turns out that the FBI photographed L.A. accountant Scott London as a friend set him up by handing him an envelope containing $5,000, the LAT is reporting. Meantime, the guy keeps talking. But why?

Is Alamo Drafthouse finally coming to L.A.?

alamo.jpg What some consider to be the nation's best-run movie theater chain has signed a letter of intent to open an eight-screen multiplex in downtown L.A.

Villaraigosa regrets supporting union pay package

villaraigosa3.jpg Not that it means much now, being a lame duck and all, but the mayor said this morning that the biggest mistake of his eight years in office was backing a deal that gave city workers raises of as much as 25 percent.

Another record day on Wall Street

Today's 128-point gain puts the blue-chip index at a record-high 14,802, which is up almost 13 percent year to date. The big pullback that many investors have been waiting for keeps getting put off.

Disney finally confirms layoffs

disney5.jpg This latest round, which had been telegraphed in the trades for several days, will result in about 150 job cuts at Walt Disney Studios.

L.A. sees big jump in location shooting

filmprod.jpg The increases are so sizable - and across so many categories - that you'd have to conclude that the entertainment industry is off to a strong year.
KPMG@.jpg I'm not sure this is what white-collar defense attorneys would typically advise, but ousted KPMG partner Scott London said he regrets sharing inside information with a third party, though he stresses that the firm "had nothing to do with it."

Villaraigosa's feel-good L.A. :-))

Ah yes, the place where traffic never snarls, new businesses always flourish, schools keep getting better, and the people are .... well, gosh, darn, they're just as happy and friendly as can be.
london4.jpg He's a bit more visible than many accounting guys who disappear into the woodwork, but not much - certainly not nearly enough to get a slant on what's going on.
selfridge.jpg Ron Johnson was great at Target and Apple, but the circumstances at those companies were far different than what he faced at Penney. It happens.
KPMG says one of its senior partners passed on the information to a third party who traded in several West Coast companies.
irani.jpg One sure-fire way of telling a company is in trouble: The board issuing a statement saying the company is not in trouble.
carey.jpg It's the media giant's saber-rattling response to the startup Aereo, which pulls over-the-air signals from local stations (including the Fox network lineup) and then streams them to its subscribers for a fraction of what cable or satellite services cost.

Geffen donates $25 million to Academy movie museum

geffen.jpg That's enough to get his name on the museum's theater. The $25 million is the largest commitment to date for the $300 million capital campaign (more than half the goal has been met).

Greuel endorsements: Dick Riordan and Maxine Waters?

waters2.jpg The two candidates for mayor have to toot their horns about something, and if it's not how they stand on an actual issue, it might as well be a race to see who is the most popular kid in class.

Peter Chernin bids $500 million for Hulu

hulu.jpg That's quite a discount from the $2 billion that Hulu's owners were asking for two years ago. Then again, the digital world has gotten more complicated and competitive.
portrait.jpg Company that operates more than more than 2,000 portrait studios in the U.S., many of them in department stores, abruptly shuts down, leaving workers and customers in a lurch.

Fisker Automotive lets go most of its workforce

fisker.jpg Here's one more nail for the OC-based electric car company, which was unable to find a sucker... er, partner to infuse more money into the place.

Hiring tanks in March - another spring swoon?

A frustrating pattern continues for the third consecutive year: Strong numbers in January and February, and then off the cliff in March. Only 88,000 payroll jobs were added in the U.S. last month, way, way below estimates.

Dear Mr. Ebert....

ebert2.jpg All kinds of tributes to film critic Roger Ebert, who died today after a long bout with cancer, but one common theme is how he encouraged young writers interested in film criticism.

Film critic Roger Ebert dies*

ebert.jpg The Pulitzer Prize winner had been battling cancer for years, He was 70.

The wacky world of soap powder

tide.jpg The dirty little secret in the soap powder game is that consumers use way too much than required - and that presents an unintended consequence of introducing pre-measured pods.

L.A. executives cleaning up - again

iger.jpeg Lots of CEOs are making big money, largely because of the Wall Street rally. "I'm shell-shocked. I can't believe this can go on," says Vanguard founder John Bogle, who is a long-term critic of CEO pay.

L.A., Ontario still far apart on airport sale

ontarioairport.jpg In case you haven't been following, Ontario has become an airline wasteland - and where there are no flights, there are no revenues.

Struggling Juicy Couture up for sale

juicy2.jpg Seems like a long time ago when two women living in the Valley, Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor, came up with a casual fashion brand that made velour tracksuits, along with the famous Juicy logo, a not-so-subtle fashion statement.

Letterman on Jay Leno's departure from 'Tonight'

"I got a call from my mom today," he says on tonight's show. "She says, 'Well, David, I see you didn't get the Tonight Show again.' "

Downtown's rental-condo juggle

condos.jpg Not too long ago condo developers were frantically converting their units to rentals because of the disastrous housing market. Nowadays, there aren't enough condos to meet demand.

Questions raised about Tesla's profitable quarter

tesla3.jpg Elon Musk is making a big deal about his car company being in the black for the first quarter - and indeed it's an important development. But the numbers are a bit misleading.

Jay Leno to leave 'Tonight' in February 2014*

leno2.jpg The late-night host signed off on NBC's plan to have Jimmy Fallon take over early next year, right after the Winter Olympics. The network also announced that the show will be moving to NY from Burbank. "This time it feels right," said Leno.

OC Register's black hole strategy

register2.jpg A fine newspaper has gone underground, and I have to wonder whether we'll ever hear from it again.

Car sales continue to be the good news economic story

autosales6.jpg March was a very good month for GM, Ford, and Chrysler - and further proof that the recovery is moving along at a more than decent clip.

Garcetti throws curve ball into LAX runway debate

northrunway.jpg it's a tricky issue to take a definitive stand on, which makes the city councilman's announcement kind of refreshing in this often namby-pamby campaign.
stockton3.jpg It's been almost a year since city officials filed for protection, and creditors are still griping about whether the city was actually insolvent. On Monday, a U.S. bankruptcy judge said that Stockton officials were negotiating in good faith and that major creditors weren't.
CAR2.jpg Not every piece of California business needs to originate from a California company, but it does seem odd that the California Association of Realtors is using a Philadephia-based ad agency for its news series of spots.

Herbalife fight: Heads I win, tails you win

herbalife3.jpg The three stinking rich investors taking bets on the stock price of L.A.-based Herbalife are all making money - despite the fact that two of them are wagering that shares will go up and the third is insisting that shares will go down. But how can that happen?