September 2007 Archives

September 13, 2007

California Biodiesel industry starts trade group

Biodiesel industry leaders have created the California Biodiesel Alliance, a new not-for-profit trade association to promote increased use and production of high quality, renewable biodiesel fuel in California, according to a report in Central Valley Business Times. The founding members of the group is are biodiesel feedstock suppliers, producers, fuel marketers and distributors, technology providers, fuel retailers, consumers, and advocates. “We’re inviting industry and members of the public to join us in unleashing the power of the biodiesel market here in California,” says Alliance Chairman Eric Bowen of Tellurian Biodiesel.

Filed under Agriculture and Food, Business Associations, Energy Industry by

Volkswagen and Apple in exploratory talks

Rumor has it that German automaker Volkswagen AG and American computer company Apple Inc. are now in talks about the possibility of producing an “iCar” that would feature products from the manufacturer of personal music player. Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs and Volkswagen’s chief Martin Winterkorn met several days ago in California, and plan to meet for further discussions, said Hans-Gerd Bode, a spokesman for Volkswagen. There are “scores of ideas,” but few concrete plans at this point, according to a report in Digital Journal. Jobs and Winterkorn are supposedly in discussion to build a series of vehicles, reported German magazine Capital. The two industry giants met in California recently, and while the talks are in their early stages, Apple and Volkswagen are reportedly planning to cooperate on developing VW compact cars that will include Apple products.

Filed under Germany, Joint Ventures, Manufacturing by

California could drag U.S. into a recession

The first nationwide decline in jobs in four years raised new fears that the housing market and credit squeeze, particularly in hard-hit states like California, could drag the economy into a recession, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee:

“I think we’re very near recession, and California is on the leading edge of the downturn,” said chief economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com. “The housing market is the economy’s most significant problem, and California’s housing market is among the worst in the country.”

The U.S. Labor Department said nationwide payrolls shrank by 4,000 in August, the first monthly decline since August 2003. Although the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.6 percent, the payroll loss jolted Wall Street, which had expected jobs to grow. The Dow Jones average fell 249.97 points, to 13,113.38. Economists said the job loss was evidence the housing market’s problems are seeping into the overall economy. They believe the Federal Reserve, in an effort to boost the economy, will almost surely lower interest rates at its next meeting Sept. 18…

Yet the national slowdown in jobs mirrors what’s been occurring lately in California, where payrolls are in decline and unemployment is inching up. The state lost 8,600 jobs in July as unemployment rose to 5.3 percent. Sacramento-area unemployment is up to 5.4 percent, as the region lost 5,200 jobs in July. State and local job numbers for August will be released Sept. 21.

“We are leading in terms of this whole correction, or whatever you want to call it, in the housing sector,” said Howard Roth, chief economist at the California Department of Finance. “Where it ends, I’m not sure.” On the national level, 22,000 construction jobs disappeared in August, as did 46,000 factory jobs and 6,000 in the lending industry.

In addition, the government revised downward its estimates of job creation in June and July, from a combined 218,000 jobs to 137,000. Analysts believe some of the losses in manufacturing are tied to housing as anxious consumers, no longer tapping their home equity for cash, cut back on spending. Auto industry officials, for instance, say most of the downturn in U.S. auto sales is in California and Florida, where the housing market is the weakest. Car sales in California fell 7.7 percent in the first half of the year. “The problems in housing and mortgage markets are now affecting confidence, and thus activity, in other parts of the economy,” said Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com.

And, of course, industries directly tied to housing are continuing to shed workers. A host of mortgage lenders suspended operations in recent weeks, eliminating jobs in the Sacramento area. The construction industry is still weakening. Christopherson Homes of Santa Rosa has laid off 22 of its 30 employees in south Placer in the past year, while Folsom-based Elliott Homes cut 15 jobs in the past two weeks. “We laid some people off,” said Elliott Vice President Russ Davis. “I think every company in the region has laid people off.”

Chris Thornberg, head of Beacon Economics consulting in Los Angeles, said California will feel the effects of a recession worse than most states because it was such a hotbed of subprime mortgage lending. “We will bear the brunt of this primarily because of the mortgage issue,” Thornberg said.

Filed under California Economy, Real Estate and Housing by

September 14, 2007

Huge number of Californians speak a non-English language in their private lives

According to a report in today’s LA Times, 43% of the people in California speak a language other than English in their homes and private lives, and a stunning 53% in L.A. speak another language:

In California, “welcome” is more of an international affair than ever — with nearly 43% of residents speaking a language other than English at home, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. The trend was even more pronounced in Los Angeles, where more than 53% of residents speak another language at home. Spanish is by far the most common, but Californians also converse in Korean, Thai, Russian, Hmong, Armenian and dozens of other languages. The census numbers are likely to fuel a decades-long debate in California over immigrants continuing to use their native tongue. There have been battles over bilingual education, foreign-language ballots and English-only restrictions on business signs. While immigration is the driving force for the state’s linguistic diversity, experts said people often speak another language out of choice rather than necessity. Some do so to get ahead professionally, while others want to maintain connections with their homelands.

Filed under California culture by

Google put up $30 million for robot race to the moon

No, this is not an article from “The Onion” – it is from the San Jose Business Journal:

Google Inc. said Thursday it will sponsor a $30 million robot race to the moon. Mountain View-based Google said the race is being organized by Santa Monica-based X Prize Foundation, which is known for its multimillion-dollar scientific challenges. The grand prize of $20 million will go to the first team to get a privately funded spacecraft on the moon. Some specific tasks are also included in the challenge. Second prize is $5 million and a bonus of $5 million will go to the team that carries out other specific challenges, such as locating ice on the lunar surface. In a statement, Peter Diamandis, X Prize CEO, said the use of space “has dramatically enhanced the quality of life and may ultimately lead to solutions to some of the most pressing environmental problems that we face on earth – energy independence and climate change.”

Filed under Aerospace and Aviation, Philanthropy by

Situation looking bleak for many adjustable rate mortgage holders

From today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

The number of homes entering the foreclosure process hit a record high in the second quarter, but things are going to get even worse over the next 12 months, when millions of borrowers see the interest rate on their adjustable-rate mortgages reset for the first time. ARMs are tied to short-term interest rates but are typically fixed for a few years before they begin adjusting. Because short-term rates have increased dramatically, many homeowners will face payment shock when their rates adjust. In a meeting with mortgage servicers Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said, “We’ve been experiencing market turbulence, and as I’ve said for a while, this will take some time to work its way out.” …

About $1.1 trillion of adjustable-rate mortgages were scheduled to reset for the first time in 2007 and 2008, according to First American LoanPerformance. These represent about 10 percent of all mortgages outstanding. Virtually all these ARMs will reset at higher rates – in many cases much higher – resulting in bigger payments for homeowners. Reset activity is likely to peak in the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of next year… Well over half of the resetting loans were made to subprime borrowers with low credit scores. “The subprime resets will create more difficulty for households and the economy because many subprimes qualified based on a low teaser rate,” not on the post-adjustment rate, says Steve Cochrane, senior managing director of Economy.com. With tighter lending standards and no investor appetite for risky mortgages, refinancing “might not be possible,” Cochrane says. And with home prices lower in most areas, borrowers who put little or nothing down now owe more than their homes are worth, so selling the home to pay off the loan is no longer an option. The brunt of the reset problem has yet to hit.

Filed under California Economy, Real Estate and Housing by

September 20, 2007

Fresno police make arrests in international fraud ring

Several people suspected of participating in an international money laundering and financial fraud ring have been arrested by Fresno police, according to a report in Mercury News. Two of those arrested were immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Fresno police Lt. Don Gross said. Four more were arrested in other states. Three others fled the United States for Italy, Switzerland and the Central Asian Republic of Georgia, and another man was deported before police could charge him, Gross said. The group is accused of committing fraud against banks by opening accounts, buying expensive items with insufficient funds and then shipping the items out of the country before the checks bounced, Gross said. The suspects also defrauded lenders by falsely appraising real estate that was for sale. In one case, they obtained a $1 million loan on a property that sold for $200,000, Gross said.

Filed under Legal and Criminal Issues by

Overseas flights add 82 billion to Southern California economy

Overseas international flights at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) make a substantial contribution to the economy of Southern California, adding $82.1 billion in total economic output, according to a study by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) and other organizations. he LAEDC study revealed that the LAX flights created 363,700 direct and indirect jobs with annual wages of $19.3 billion in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura Counties in 2006. Over the course of 2006, an average transoceanic flight traveling round-trip from LAX every day added $623 million in economic output and sustained 3,120 direct and indirect jobs in Southern California with $156 million in wages. The economic output, jobs, and wages were calculated from the production and transportation of freight exports (carried in the belly of the plane), the transportation of freight imports, the operation of the airport itself, and the purchases made by international visitors on the flights. Freight exports (which are generally high-value items) accounted for over 80% of the annual economic activity generated by international flights at LAX.

Filed under Aerospace and Aviation, California Economy, Economic Development by

California’s lawsuit against auto makers is dismissed

The courts do not have the authority or the expertise to decide injury lawsuits concerning global warming, a judge in San Francisco ruled in dismissing a suit brought by the State of California against six auto companies. The State of California claimed that these companies produced vehicles that accounted for more than 20 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and more than 30 percent of those emitted in California, and sought billions of dollars in damages. Judge Martin Jenkins, however, did not believe this was an appropriate role for the courts: “The adjudication of plaintiff’s claim would require the court to balance the competing interests of reducing global warming emissions and the interests of advancing and preserving economic and industrial development,” Jenkins wrote.

Filed under Legal and Criminal Issues, Transportation by

September 27, 2007

Trimble buys German software company

Trimble Navigation Ltd. acquired Kirchheim, Germany-based Ingenieurburo Breining GmbH- a German company that provides custom field data collection and office software for the survey market. , Sunnyvale-based Trimble did not disclose financial or other terms of its deal with Breining. According to a report in the San Jose / Silicon Valley Business Journal, Trimble said the addition of Breining software, expertise and products will help the company address local application requirements and provide custom survey products for the German market. Trimble focuses on GPS, construction lasers, robotic total stations and machine control solutions and has more than 3,400 employees in over 18 countries.

Filed under Germany, Information Technology by

Housing Slump Acccelerating

That’s according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Bad news came in threes for the real estate industry Tuesday as two nationwide economic reports and one from California showed the housing slump is accelerating. California home sales plunged nearly 30 percent last month compared with August 2006 and median prices dropped by almost 14 percent in the High Desert area and part of Santa Barbara County, the California Association of Realtors said Tuesday.

In the Bay Area, sales of existing homes dropped 26.5 percent in the same time period, but, because of more sales at the higher end of the market, the median price of a single-family home actually rose 9.9 percent from August 2006, to $832,760. That was down about 1.1 percent from July’s median of $841,660. For the entire state, the median price edged up 2 percent to $588,970. But analysts at the trade group pointed out that prices were weak in nine geographic regions and at the lower end of the market. The median price of an entry-level home – anything less $500,000 in California – dropped 5.1 percent in August to $349,360.

In addition, the inventory of unsold homes was 11.8 months in August, compared with 5.9 months in August 2006. The figure represents the number of months it would take to sell all the homes currently on the market. “The credit crunch emerged as uncertainty about the extent of the subprime problem drove investors across the globe to turn off the tap of funds to lenders in mortgage and other credit market segments. With credit drying up, even qualified buyers were unable to receive funding for home purchases,” Leslie Appleton-Young, the trade group’s chief economist, said in a news release…

Some economists warned that even worse news could be ahead because of the financial market turbulence in August. “August’s sales do not reflect the full impact of the credit crunch, which hit financial markets in mid-month, since most sales were financed with loans approved weeks beforehand,” said Patrick Newport, an economist at Global Insight.

Filed under Real Estate and Housing by

New Enterprise Associates invests $100 million in Foreign Exchange Company

New Enterprise Associatesof Menlo Park has announced that it led a $100 million investment into Oanda Corp., a foreign exchange company. New York-based Oanda was the first company to make comprehensive currency exchange information available over the Internet. It now has three lines of business based on its currency database, including currency conversion and localization for individuals and businesses; decision support tools for institutional investors; and currency markets trading products.

Filed under Mergers and Acquisitions by

Menlo Worldwide opens European headquarters in Amsterdam

San Mateo-based Menlo Worldwide LLC, a provider of logistics, transportation management and supply chain services announced the opening of its new European headquarters in Holland. According to the San Jose / Silicon Valley Business Journal, Menlo, a subsidiary of Con-way Inc. the 70,000-square-foot facility is near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport:

The center is Menlo Worldwide’s fourth-largest of eight distribution and logistics centers in Europe serving customers in the high-tech industry as well as other markets, the company said. “As the center of an extensive network connecting the rest of Europe, Amsterdam is a crucial market for Menlo and our customers,” said Gert Askes, managing director of European Operations. “The proximity of this new facility to the airport and customs is ideal and allows us very fast turnaround times. It is also a state-of-the-art building, perfectly suited to support the requirements of our high-tech clientele.”

Filed under Freight and Logistics, Netherlands by

Chinese, US citizens charged with espionage in San Francisco

A Chinese national and a US citizen have been charged with conspiring to steal sensitive microchip designs capable of use in military technology, according to an AFP report. The US Attorney’s office in northern California said Lee Lan and Ge Yuefei had been indicted on multiple charges of conspiracy to commit economic espionage and to steal trade secrets. Lee, 42, a US citizen, and Ge, 34, a Chinese national, had sought to steal secrets from their employer, NetLogics Microsystems, and from the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation, a statement said. The two men had set up a company for the purpose of developing and marketing products related to the stolen trade secrets, and had attempted to secure funding from the Chinese government, it added.

Filed under China, Legal and Criminal Issues by

AT&T gives $500,000 to Mexican-American Opportunity Foundation

Press Release:

AT&T today announced a $500,000 contribution to be paid over the next two years to the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF), a community-based organization providing a wide range of family services to low-income residents throughout California. The contribution will fund a pilot program called “BeSchoolReady”, an Internet-based educational tool that introduces young children to computer technology through Internet-delivered learning modules designed to develop learning, language and cognitive skills. The purpose of the program is to prepare preschool students to begin their formal education and increase their chances of kindergarten success.

AT&T’s contribution will provide over 1,300 preschool students from low-income families within the next two years with the opportunity to use the BeSchoolReady program. For many children, and their parents, it will be a first-time experience with computers, so the project also helps to encourage technology literacy in the Latino community. MAOF preschool children are already using the BeSchoolReady web program at several Los Angeles County MAOF Centers.

“We are thrilled to partner with AT&T to help encourage technology literacy in the Latino community,” explained Martin Castro, MAOF President & CEO. “The launch of the BeSchoolReady program will help ensure our preschoolers are comfortable with computers and can be better prepared to succeed in the public school system when they enter kindergarten.”

Filed under Education and Training, Mexico, Philanthropy by

Californians expect economic slump

A majority of Californians expect the economy to worsen over the next year as housing sales plunge and more residents lose their homes to foreclosure, according to the results of a poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California. Fifty-nine percent of adults expect “bad times” financially over the next 12 months, a jump of 10 percentage points since June, according to the survey. “There has been a significant shift in attitude this year,” Mark Baldassare, the president of the institute, said in a statement. “For so many people, the feeling of overall financial well-being is tied to the value of their homes, something that seems increasingly threatened as they see sales slow, prices dip, and foreclosures rise.” Pessimism about the state’s economy cuts across all regions and income levels and is similar for those who own and rent homes, according to the poll.

Filed under California Economy, Real Estate and Housing by

Congressman Farr seeks to attract international visitors

According to Voice of America News:

Two U.S. Congressmen have introduced legislation aimed at improving America’s image abroad by promoting international tourism to the United States. The bill would establish a competitive $50 million grant to boost international business and leisure travel to America from five target countries. As VOA’s Cindy Saine reports from Washington, the program will also seek to give foreign tourists a friendlier welcome at U.S. airports and other entry points.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Congressman Sam Farr, a Democrat representing California’s scenic central coast, summed up how fewer foreign tourists are coming to America. “International travelers aren’t coming to America and figures show it,” said Sam Farr. “The U.S. has experienced a 17- percent decline in overseas visitors since September 11, 2001.”

Congressman Farr says he believes Americans are among the friendliest, most helpful and most accepting people in the world. But he thinks the current “fortress America” image comes from a combination of factors. “Kids have access to Ipods and media, they’ve just seen America as a very violent country, they’re afraid to come here,” he said. “Frequent travelers find that when they come now they get hassled and it’s uncomfortable for them, they are distinguished people.”

The co-sponsor of the tourism bill, Representative Jon Porter, says the U.S. should be secure and welcoming at the same time. “The problem is that right now there is this perception that we’re not as friendly as we really are,” said Jon Porter. “And because of our emphasis on security, homeland security, I think that the pendulum has swung too far, and that is how we are treating our visitors.”

Filed under Travel and Tourism by

Speculation on the impact of a dirty bomb on Los Angeles Ports

The Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events at the University of Southern California recently speculated on the impact of a radiological dispersal device- i.e. a “dirty bomb” on the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, CA. Their conclusion: such an attack would likely result in few deaths, but there would be severe economic and psychological consequences resulting in losses of hundreds of billions of dollars, and the incident would create a critical missing link in the worldwide supply chain as the port is closed. More of this cheerful report can be found at this link: http://www.scdigest.com/assets/newsViews/07-09-18-3.php?cid=1229

Filed under California Ports, Defense and Military by

California to divest from Iran

The Los Angeles Times reports that Governor Schwarzenegger will sign legislation requiring California’s multibillion-dollar government pension funds to divest from the country:

As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid his controversial visit to New York on Monday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger moved to steal some of the spotlight by announcing that California would sever ties with companies doing business in Iran.

Schwarzenegger, who like Ahmadinejad went to New York to address the United Nations, announced in a written statement after his speech that he would sign legislation requiring California’s multibillion-dollar state pension funds to divest from the country.

The move, pushed by a diverse coalition of activists who argued that the federal government has not done enough to keep multinational corporations out of Iran, puts California at the forefront of a national movement. The bill, AB 221, which passed the Legislature with no opposition, follows the state’s divestment from Sudan last year.

“California has a long history of leadership and doing what’s right with our investment portfolio,” the governor said in his statement. “Last year, I was proud to sign legislation to divest from the Sudan to take a powerful stand against genocide. I look forward to signing legislation to divest from Iran to take an equally powerful stand against terrorism.”

Schwarzenegger announced his decision as politicians from across the country jockeyed to outdo one another in condemning the Iranian president, who is scheduled to address the United Nations today. Ahmadinejad, whom the U.S. government accuses of leading a terrorist regime that arms Iraqi insurgents and is developing nuclear weapons

Filed under Foreign Relations, Iran by

Warner Bros. in multibillion-dollar joint venture with UAE firms

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. studio struck a multibillion-dollar joint venture deal Wednesday with two Abu Dhabi companies that will build a huge entertainment complex in the Persian Gulf region:

The partners have agreed to build a theme park, a hotel and multiplex cinemas in Abu Dhabi, the leading power in the United Arab Emirates. They also plan to produce movies and video games as well as undertake Web initiatives as part of the deal, which is arguably the most ambitious gamble yet by a U.S. entertainment giant in a region traditionally wary of Western culture.

Flush with cash from the oil boom, the Persian Gulf monarchies have been in a race to attract foreign investment in real estate, finance, healthcare and technology. Over the last year, Abu Dhabi and its smaller neighbor Dubai have made cross-cultural alliances with Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures in an effort to establish entertainment hubs in the Arab world…

Bahrain has emerged as a center for consumerism and tourism in the Middle East. Establishing an entertainment beachhead is seen by the emirates as helping to shake its reputation as lacking cultural attractions. The strategic alliance between Warner Bros.; ALDAR Properties, Abu Dhabi’s leading real estate developer; and the newly established Abu Dhabi Media Co. represents the Burbank-based studio’s first venture into the region.

“We think it’s a region of the world that has great potential and opportunities on many levels,” Warner Bros. Chairman and Chief Executive Barry Meyer said. “This is a unique arrangement for us. There’s nothing of the size, scope and breadth that encompasses so many of our businesses.”

In a conference call with Meyer from Time Warner’s corporate headquarters in New York, top executives from ALDAR and Abu Dhabi Media also expressed enthusiasm for the new arrangement. “We’ve found the right partner to start building our entertainment and media infrastructure,” said Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh, chairman of ALDAR. “In the next five years, we hope to be the leader in the region. To do that, we need to attract world-class names, and Warner Bros. is certainly a very trusted name.”

Filed under Joint Ventures, Media and Entertainment, United Arab Emirates by

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