Explaining Southern California's economy

Solar City IPO raises $92 million but doesn't deliver Chairman Elon Musk a great year

Tesla Worldwide Debut of Model X

Jordan Strauss/Getty Images for Tesla

Elon Musk speaks onstage in Los Angeles. A $1 billion valuation for Solar City after its IPO would have been the perfect way to top off a great year.

Elon Musk almost had a truly great year. The CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX saw Tesla's Model S sedan named Motor Trend's Car of the Year and the Dragon capsule successfully rendezvous with the International Space Station and splash down in the Pacific twice.

And I named the visionary entrepreneur the DeBord Report 2012 L.A. Businessperson of the Year!

Musk is also Chairman of Solar City, the San Mateo-based solar panel installation and leasing startup. Solar City staged an initial public offering Thursday. That should have been icing on Musk's 2012 cake (the company is run by two of his cousins, while he's one of the main investors). But it didn't entirely turn out that way.

The IPO wasn’t a disaster for Musk. Solar City raised $92 million in its Wall Street debut and now has a market cap of nearly $600 million. But the offering was priced lower than initially planned: $8 a share, rather than the $13 to $15 that had been announced in the lead up to the IPO. The higher price would have valued the company at a cool billion.


Have you read the Muppet Man? Greg Smith's Goldman Sachs book hits the stores

The Muppets Honored On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame

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They're disappointed with their banker, Goldman Sachs. But will they read Greg Smith's memoir, which hits bookstores today?

Back in March, Greg Smith really shook things up on Wall Street with his "See ya later!" walking-out-the-door New York Times op-ed about how Goldman Sachs has lost its way in the relentless quest for profits.

"Why I Left Goldman Sachs," the memoir for which Smith was paid a rumored $1.5 million to write, has now arrived in bookstores. Parts of it leaked out early, and there has a been a flurry of pre-publication punditry on what the book really means. Smith also went on "60 Minutes" Sunday to discuss all that has gone horribly wrong at Wall Street's most infamous investment bank.

Meanwhile, no shortage of Wall Street insiders and financial journalists of various stripes have begun to sift and parse Smith's motives, in some cases alledging that Smith was more con-man than crusader. 

Frankly, it is more than a little shocking that Goldman — the "vampire squid" of Matt Taibbi's famous Rolling Stone article, the firm that survived the 2008 financial crisis while less well-connected banks like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers vanished beneath the waves — had not fallen in for this treatment before Smith came along. Is it really cool to call your clients "muppets," even if the Muppets are your clients?


Why Oakland vs. Goldman Sachs is an interest-rate mess

Earns Goldman Sachs

Richard Drew/AP

The price of Goldman Sachs stock is shown at a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The Wall Street bank is fighting with Oakland about a deal that goes back to the late 1990s.

If you want to engage in a nice, deep dive into the murky depths of municipal finance, investment banking, and the post-financial crisis world of rock-bottom interest rates, then you're going to want to spend some time getting to know a dispute that's been brewing between Oakland and the Wall Street investment bank that everyone loves to hate, Goldman Sachs. 

The Financial Times has been covering the fracas. But I'll break it down to a few bullet points:

•15 years ago, Oakland did a deal with Goldman to buy interest rate swaps, a type of financial derivative, as insurance against interest-rate volatility on bonds Oakland had issued.

•The bonds in question were commonly used before the Great Recession, but since then cities have gotten rid of them, refinancing the variable-rate debt into fixed-rate debt. But Oakland's swap deal with Goldman runs through 2021.


June jobs report could 'surprise to the upside'

A jobs sign hangs above the entrance to


A jobs sign hangs above the entrance to the US Chamber of Commerce building in Washington, DC. Friday's jobs report from the Labor Department could be a happy surprise.

"Surprise to the upside" — that's finance-speak for something in the market turning out better than expected. After last month's fairly dreadful jobs report, with the U.S. adding only 69,000 jobs in May, many observers are expecting another sluggish month in June. However, some data that has arrived before the official Labor Department report tomorrow suggests that June could beat expectations.

As I wrote this morning, the ADP report says that the country added 176,000 new private-sector jobs in June — with the lion's share coming from small-business hiring. The Challenger report on layoffs also indicated that companies planned to lay off less than 40,000 workers in June, a 13-month low. And first-time unemployment insurance claims for the last week in June fell, to 374,000. If you're below 400,000, that's typically a good sign for the economy's improving health.


Goldman CEO Blankfein warns against risk of good times

Earns Goldman Sachs

Richard Drew/AP

The price of Goldman Sachs stock is shown at a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. CEO Lloyd Blankfein recently gave a revealing (sort of) interview to Bloomberg.

You heard it here first, folks! Well, actually, you heard it from Bloomberg (and I did via Naked Capitalism). The news service did a sit-down with Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein in which the Vampire Squid King delved into Goldman's various businesses and potential conflicts, in the aftermath of Greg Smith's notorious "Muppets" op-ed in the New York Times. 

(By the way, he thinks the whole "Vampire Squid" thing is hyperbole. That awkwardly suggests that while Goldman doesn't deserve to be called a Vampire Squid — in Matt Taibbi's infamous phrasing — it could perhaps be compared to a lesser cephalopod, perhaps a cuttlefish or adolescent octopus.)

Stay tuned until the end of the clip (see below), when Lloyd smartly notes that there's a disconnect between gloomy economists and more optimistic market people, such as...Lloyd Blankfein! He wryly asks us to look past the pundits who paint gloom-and-doom scenarios when, in fact, 90 percent of the time the situation actually improves. Then he suggests that we avoid getting distracted by the risk of things going wrong and focus on the risk of things...going right!