Money & Company

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Category: Los Angeles

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Bill Gross, Larry Fink talk economy, jobs and the markets


Want to know more about the bond barons featured in Sunday's edition of The Los Angeles Times?

Bloomberg TV is airing tonight an hour-long interview with BlackRock CEO Larry Fink and Pimco co-founder Bill Gross, in which the two financial titans discuss the global economy, job creation and even the Occupy Wall Street protests. (The financial news channel also has online video here and here.) 

Gross and Fink, who both grew up in California and attended UCLA, have often found themselves at opposite viewpoints on the economy. Both are fretting that economic growth in developed countries could be weighed down for years by debt problems in Europe and high unemployment in the U.S. Gross is more bearish about the future, while Fink says in the interview that he's more optimistic because of the underlying "vitality" in many of America's cutting-edge companies.


The rise of the bond barons

Dow falls to five-week low as global gloom deepens

-- Joe Bel Bruno

Photo: Pimco co-founder Bill Gross, left, with BlackRock CEO Larry Fink. Credit: Bloomberg


Apartments under construction at Wilshire and Barrington

Barrington Wilshire Rendering

Construction of a six-story apartment building got underway last week at Wilshire Boulevard and Barrington Avenue in West Los Angeles, one of the area’s major intersections.

The property, formerly anchored by a liquor store and shoe store, was one of the most underutilized sites in West Los Angeles, said Ken Kahan, president of California Landmark, the Los Angeles company building the $35-million complex.

The apartment building called the bw replaces the previous plan for the site, a 28-story condominium building approved in 2004. Condo values and sales fell in the economic downturn, however.

“A high-rise condominium tower does not work in today’s market,” Kahan said.

Set to open in August 2013, the bw will have 78 units expected to rent for $2,200 to $4,000 a month. The design by Los Angeles-based PK Architecture calls for a rooftop garden, modernist lobby and a gym.


Construction of new homes increases, except in West

Higher FHA loan limits reinstated for high-cost housing markets

Home prices fall in October as mortgage changes take hold

-- Roger Vincent 

Image: The planned bw apartment complex at Wilshire and Barrington. Credit: California Landmark

Jon B. Lovelace, who led American Funds group, dies at 84

Jon B. Lovelace, long-time head of the Los Angeles-based American Funds mutual fund company, has died. He was 84.

His family said Lovelace died of natural causes at his home in Santa Barbara on Wednesday.

Lovelace is credited with some of the key innovations that helped set the stage for American Funds' explosive growth from the 1980s through the mid-2000s, as it became synonymous with successful buy-and-hold stock investing.

LovelaceThe funds' parent firm, Capital Group Cos., now manages about $1.2 trillion in all, most of that in 33 mutual funds owned by tens of millions of Americans. The company’s huge flagship funds include Growth Fund of America and Investment Co. of America.

Lovelace also nurtured an egalitarian environment at Capital, the polar opposite of the authoritarian regimes of many Wall Street firms.

His daughter, Carey, once referred to him as a “Buddhist businessman” who disdained hierarchy and personal aggrandizement.

Although Lovelace ultimately held the title of chairman of Capital's fund business until he retired in 2005, “he liked the symbolism of not having titles,” said Paul Haaga Jr., a Capital executive who joined the firm in 1985. “He led quietly, and he led through influence.”

In 1958, Lovelace launched a new approach to mutual fund management: Rather than having a single individual manage a portfolio, Lovelace created a “multiple counselor” system, whereby four or more managers would independently run slices of a fund.

It fit with Lovelace's dislike of the traditional Wall Street “star” system. “Because of the nature of our structure, we're not highly dependent on one person as some organizations are,” Lovelace told The Times in 1990.

The multiple-counselor system produced powerful long-term investment returns on many of American's stock funds, which in turn made the company a favorite of brokerages eager to sell winning products.

Go here for Lovelace’s full obituary in The Times.

-- Tom Petruno

Photo: Jon B. Lovelace. Credit: Capital Group Cos.


Sales of Los Angeles hotels are brisk

MarriottWith the hospitality business in recovery and some financially troubled properties coming to market, sales of hotels in Los Angeles County have increased dramatically in 2011, a real estate brokerage said.

Investors have spent $550 million so far this year on such properties as the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens in downtown Los Angeles and the Sheraton Universal Hotel Los Angeles in Universal City, a 77% increase from the same 10-month period in 2010, real estate brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle said in a report.

Los Angeles is one of the largest tourism markets in the country and second to New York as the top-ranked destination for overseas visitors, the report said. Historically, Los Angeles’ most well-known attractions have been Hollywood studios, Santa Monica beaches and Beverly Hills shopping. However, downtown Los Angeles has come into its own following a decadelong renaissance.

“The revitalization of the downtown Los Angeles market, along with an increased volume of international and overnight visitors continues to be a key driver for the economy,” said John Strauss, a managing director at Jones Lang.

Downtown Los Angeles is seeing a flood of foreign and domestic investment in major development projects. Korean Air plans to demolish the 896-room Wilshire Grand Hotel north of Staples Center and replace it with a $1-billion mixed-use complex with office, retail and residential components, along with a luxury hotel. The existing hotel is slated to close at the end of the year.

Also planned downtown near L.A. Live is a 22-story hotel to be operated as both a Residence Inn by Marriott and a Courtyard by Marriott starting in 2014. Other hotel brands and developers are shopping for sites to build new inns, real estate brokers said.

Los Angeles is projected to host more overnight visitors this year than it has in a decade — an increase bolstered by strong international tourism specifically from Australia, Britain and Japan. International visitors represent one-fifth of the city’s tourist arrivals and generate more than one-third of tourist spending. The number of foreign visitors last year increased 18%, providing a boost to the Los Angeles hotel market.

Revenue produced by L.A. County hotel rooms is expected to continue to increase next year, the report said, but sales probably will be down because the number of properties available for purchase will diminish.


Downtown Los Angeles hotel Kyoto Grand sold

Historic United Artists building sold in downtown Los Angeles

-- Roger Vincent

Photo: L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: US Presswire

Retail roundup: Mattel vs. MGA, Versace for H&M, salad recall


-- A federal judge granted Mattel's request to dismiss rival MGA Entertainment's antitrust suit against the toy giant. The two Southern California toy makers have been embroiled in a years-long dispute over ownership of the Bratz doll line and have accused each other of stealing trade secrets.

In the separate Bratz case, a Santa Ana jury in April sided with MGA; U.S. District Judge David O. Carter later awarded MGA more than $309 million in damages, fees and other costs. Mattel has filed a notice to appeal in that case.

In throwing out MGA's antitrust lawsuit this week, which the toy maker filed alleging anti-competitive practices by Mattel, Carter said the case was too similar to prior litigation, according to the Associated Press

-- H&M, which announced earlier this year that it would partner with Versace for its next designer collection, this week released the line's lookbook and other details. Hm

The collection will be available in more than 300 stores next month and will focus mostly on apparel for men and women. The trendy fast-fashion retailer also said that the line would be the first time an H&M designer collaboration would include homeware pieces. 

"Dominated by colour, print and cut, the brand’s creative director Donatella Versace has gone back to the archives to bring some Versace classics to a whole new audience," H&M said in a statement. "Iconic dresses are the focus of the women’s collection, while menswear is centered on sharp tailoring."

My colleague Booth Moore from our Image section has her take on the collection here, as well as more photos. 

-- Taylor Farms Retail Inc. is voluntarily recalling 3,265 cases of salad blends that could be contaminated with salmonella after a random test conducted on a finished package of spinach by the State of Washington Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

The products were distributed in several states including California, Arizona and Colorado and sold in various supermarkets. There have been no reported illnesses attributed to the recalled items, the agency said.

Customers who have purchased the products, listed here, are urged to not consume the products and should dispose of them. 


Haute couture and discounters walk down the aisle

Mattel's profit climbs 6.2%

Seasonal holiday hiring expected to stay flat

-- Andrea Chang

Top photo: MGA's Bratz doll line. Credit: Christina House / For The Times. Bottom photo: Donatella Versace, seated, at a model fitting for the upcoming Versace for H&M collection. Credit: H&M

L.A. class-action suit seeks $900 million from Full Tilt Poker

Add another lawsuit to Full Tilt Poker’s hand. The poker website that federal prosecutors last month called a “global Ponzi scheme” now faces a class-action complaint seeking $900 million in damages.

The newest suit, filed in federal court in California this week, accuses Full Tilt of fraud, unjust enrichment, “a pattern of racketeering,” “brazen money-laundering” and more.

Los Angeles residents Lary Kennedy and Greg Omotoy named a slew of defendants, including Full Tilt Chief Executive Raymond Bitar and board members Howard Lederer and Christopher Ferguson.

Also included: poker celebrities such as Phil Ivey and Gus Hansen, whom the complaint said helped promote the website and attract players.

The allegations resemble many of the ones made in an amended civil lawsuit filed by federal prosecutors last month against Full Tilt. Soon after, Ferguson’s lawyer, Ian Imrich, said in a statement that “under any reasonable interpretation, the worldwide operations of the online card room are not a so-called Ponzi scheme.”

Imrich is among the defendants named in this week’s complaint, which alleges that Full Tilt misappropriated funds from player accounts and fed it to the defendants. The site also illegally deducted “rakes” -– a small fraction of each winner’s pot -– according to the complaint.

Full Tilt “did not create financial reserves for amounts held on behalf of players, but instead distributed the money for operational expenses, marketing expenses, fees and losses arising from money laundering … and massive distributions to the individual defendants,” the complaint says.

If the suit reaches class-action status, it could include thousands of people across the country, according to the complaint. While the site owes Omotoy $10, it is $120,000 in debt to Kennedy, the suit alleges.


FBI shuts down Internet poker sites

PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker reopen -- but not for play

Federal prosecutors call Full Tilt Poker 'a global Ponzi scheme'

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo credit: Robert Sullivan / Agence France-Presse 

Retail roundup: Target, Liz Claiborne and JCPenney, retail sales


-- Target is planning to hire more than 92,000 temporary workers this holiday season, and it's testing a new program that allows interested job applicants to text the retailer from their cellphones to get information about the positions. The move is intended to "make it easier and more convenient" for job seekers, Target spokesman Eddie Baeb said. 

Half a dozen Los Angeles-area Targets are participating in the text program, including stores in Compton, Corona and San Bernardino. 

-- J.C. Penney Co. said it had reached an agreement to acquire the Liz Claiborne family of brands as well as the U.S. and Puerto Rico rights for the fashion jewelry brand Monet for $267.5 million.

The department store chain has been the exclusive licensee for all Liz Claiborne and Claiborne-branded merchandise in the U.S. and Puerto Rico since August of last year. 

"The brands we are acquiring hold tremendous appeal for our customers, and the performance of the Liz Claiborne and Monet brands at J.C. Penney has consistently exceeded our high expectations," Chief Executive Myron E. Ullman III said in a statement. 

-- U.S. retail and food services sales rose 1.1% to $395.5 billion in September from August, the largest gain in seven months, the Department of Commerce said. Sales were up 7.9% when compared with September 2010. 

That's a bit of good news as the nation heads into the all-important holiday season; retail groups have been estimating that holiday sales will rise a modest 2% to 3% for the November-December period.


Mattel reports solid third-quarter earnings

99 Cents Only Stores agrees to $1.6-billion buyout

Gap to close about 200 stores in N. America as it expands overseas

-- Andrea Chang

Photo: A Target store in Culver City. Several Target stores will participate in a text program to hire temporary workers for the holidays. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Mattel reports solid third-quarter earnings

Mattel reports third-quarter earnings; sales rise 9% thanks to strong Barbie salesMattel Inc. reported a 6.2% rise in profit and a 9% increase in sales for the third quarter thanks to strong demand for Barbie, other doll lines and "Cars 2"-related toys.

For the three months ended Sept. 30, the nation's largest toymaker, based in El Segundo, reported profit of $300.8 million, or 86 cents a share, compared with $283.3 million, or 77 cents, in the year-earlier quarter.

"Not only have we continued to benefit from the strength of our core brands, but this year's big entertainment property, 'Cars 2,' is also fueling momentum," said Robert A. Eckert, Mattel's chief executive.

Heading into the holiday season, the most important time of the year for the toy industry, Eckert said the company was "keenly focused" on delivering growth in its core brands and entertainment properties, expanding its international footprint and building its newest franchise, the Monster High doll line.

Sales for the quarter were $2 billion, up 9% compared with $1.83 billion for the same quarter last year. Sales rose 6% in the U.S. and 13% in international markets, the company said.

Sales were up 17% for Barbie; 32% for Mattel's "other girls brands" such as Disney Princess and Monster High; and 14% for its entertainment business, which includes games, puzzles and "Cars 2" merchandise.

Mattel's Fisher-Price Brands unit had softer sales, rising 1% to $748.9 million.

Shares of Mattel were down less than 1% to $27.51 at 10:45 a.m. Pacific time.


Mattel must pay MGA $310 million in Bratz case

Bratz doll maker MGA wins court battle with Mattel

Elliot Handler dies at 95; co-founder of Mattel, inventor of Hot Wheels

-- Andrea Chang

Photo: A Barbie ad in New York. Credit: Bloomberg

Urth Caffe to open premium coffee tasting bar

Urth The newest project from local chain Urth Caffe may involve delicate flavors, stringent growing pedigrees and flights of tastings, but don’t confuse it with an upscale wine bar.

It’ll be a premium coffee tasting spot opening in less than two months next to the Urth location in downtown Los Angeles. The brick-walled space still has about two weeks of construction and then a few weeks of fine-tuning, said co-owner Shallom Berkman.

Customers will be able to try heirloom, organic coffees unavailable among the blends served in the cafes. Berkman said he spends much of his time in Uganda, finding coffees grown on old, wild tree varieties.

State-of-the-art equipment -- specialty espresso machines, a giant 60-year-old German Probat roaster with a cast-iron drum, a single-serving roaster and six grinders –- will help create fluffy, foamy espressos and other limited drinks.

The majority of the space will be used by six staff members roasting coffee to send to the three other Urth cafes -– the chain goes through 100,000 pounds a year. Customers can watch the process from a long bar along the front and a small space set aside for tables.

Drink options will include, for example, a flight of espressos featuring different preparation methods such as siphons, pour-overs and French presses.

Urth launched in 1989 in Manhattan Beach and served only coffee for eight years, before customer pressure led Berkman and his wife to begin offering food.

“This is getting back to our roots,” he said. “It’s a dream come true -– I’ll be able to hang out with the customers and talk about coffee.”


Coffee gets cheaper as Smucker slashes prices 6%

Caffeine craze: 60% of consumers buy regular coffee

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Exterior of the Urth Caffe on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

American Apparel reports improved third-quarter results


Sales are slowly rebounding at Los Angeles clothing maker American Apparel.

For the three months ended Sept. 30, the company reported that third-quarter sales rose 5% to $141 million compared with the same quarter a year ago. At stores open at least a year -- an important measure of a retailer's health because it excludes store openings and closings -- sales were up 3%.

"Comparable-store sales were positive in both our store and online channels and we saw a return to solid sales growth in our wholesale channel," Chief Executive Dov Charney said in a statement. "As we enter what is historically our strongest quarter of the year, we are optimistic that if current sales trends continue, we will continue to see substantial improvement in our overall financial performance."

American Apparel did not release its profit or other financial results. At 8:15 a.m. Pacific time Thursday, American Apparel's stock was unchanged at 75 cents.


September retail sales rise a solid 5.1%, beating expectations

American Apparel's in-house guru shows a lighter side

-- Andrea Chang

Photo: American Apparel CEO Dov Charney. Credit: Bloomberg

American Apparel launches its first men's jeans


American Apparel is launching its first men's jeans this week, the latest addition to the denim line that the Los Angeles clothing maker debuted this year.

The "Men's Jeans: Regular Fit 100" will hit stores worldwide this week, the company said Monday, which like many retailers touted the line for its authenticity.

"We've come up with a truly authentic pair of jeans -- something the market has lacked for a long time," said Georges Atlan, director of denim at American Apparel, who called the product "the perfect men's jeans."

The jeans are designed and made at the company's downtown Los Angeles manufacturing facilities, which "will re-establish California's rich history of denim manufacturing." Another major retail chain, Gap, recently moved its denim design offices to L.A. to be closer to the heart of the denim industry, which is home to many premium players including True Religion Brand Jeans and 7 for All Mankind.

The American Apparel men's jeans have a dark resin denim with a classic 1950s cut, the company said. Unlike many of its unisex products, the Regular Fit 100s are designed specifically for men and have a relaxed fit and a tapered leg "intended to hit right above the shoe."

American Apparel's Chief Executive Dov Charney said in a statement that it took more than 40 fair-wage workers to produce each pair of jeans. "American Apparel doesn't take expanding into new products lightly, and for our men's and women's denim we've not only come up with a great, fashionable product but we've utilized our full factory capabilities to do it right," he said.

The men's jeans are in sizes 27 to 36 and will be sold in stores and on the company's website. The product's online price is $85.


 Gap weaves fabric of L.A. into 1969 jeans campaign

American Apparel losses narrow on improved second-quarter sales

-- Andrea Chang

Photo: American Apparel's new men's jeans. Credit: American Apparel


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