Explaining Southern California's economy

September housing starts, more on Pandit, Microsoft prices Surface

Microsoft Surface

Microsoft

The new Microsoft Surface tablet. Microsoft will price it a levels competitive with the Apple iPad.

Builders haven't been building this fast since July 2008: "Construction activity rose in three of the nation's four regions. The biggest increases came in the West and South. Housing starts increased by nearly 20 percent in both regions." (Commerce Dept.)

Maybe buying Merrill Lynch wasn't such a great idea. Bank of America suffers an expensive quarter: "Overall, Bank of America reported a profit $340 million versus a profit of $6.23 billion a year earlier." (WSJ)

North American energy boom continues: "Exxon Mobil agreed on Wednesday to buy Celtic Exploration for about $3.1 billion in cash and stock, as it sought to expand its presence in the energy-rich shale formations of western Canada." (DealBook)

The beginning of the end for the PC? Intel takes a hit in the quarter: "The big chip maker, whose microprocessors power most desktop PCs and laptops, said it is significantly scaling back production in the fourth quarter in response to weaker than expected demand." (WSJ)

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New CEO Marissa Mayer is a huge hire for Yahoo

FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Dinner New York City

Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Time Inc.

Marissa Mayer speaks onstage at the FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Dinner New York City. The 37-year-old was named CEO of Yahoo today.

One thing's for sure about newly named Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer: no one will question the Stanford computer science grad's credentials, as they ultimately did those of Mayer's predecessor, Scott Thompson, who had exaggerations in his resume that were revealed by activist Yahoo shareholder Dan Loeb earlier this year.

Mayer actually ups the ante on engineering cred: the 37-year-old was Google's first female engineer, as well as one of the first 20 employees hired (she was in fact number 20). She can't, however, repeat that achievement in the Yahoo C-suite: she follows Carol Bartz (ousted last September) as the second woman to hold the top job.

This move has taken the tech world by surprise ("shock" might be a better word). It was widely expected interim CEO Ross Levinsohn would get the nod, given that he seemed to have Loeb's support. In this respect, the naming of Mayer is earth-shattering, and it comes on the heels of rumors that she had been passed over for advancement at Google, even though she had been standing in for co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin at public events and in the media. Mayer ranks right alongside Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg as powerful women in Silicon Valley go.

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Dell buys Quest for $2.4 billion, and the enterprise market gets hotter

Dell Opens New R&D Center In Silicon Valley And Holds Career Fair

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The new Dell research and development facility in Santa Clara, California. The Texas-based tech firm announced that's it's buying Orange County's Quest Software for $2.4 billion.

Texas-based Dell Computer just announced that it's buying Orange County's Quest Software, for a very respectable $2.4 billion, roughly a $422-million premium on what the company was considered to be worth a few months back, when Dell offered $23 a share and kicked off a bidding war that pushed Quest's value to $28 a share.

The consensus view is that Dell is buying future growth. The so-called "enterprise" market is getting hot, as the consumer Web space has become a lot more crowded, both for desktop software and new mobile applications. Businesses have more complex needs, however, and often seek out custom solutions — and they do it often enough to make this a roughly $250-billion market, according to Gartner, an IT advisory company.

Oracle, IBM, and SAP are well-known in this field. But Microsoft is actually the biggest player. Dell, on the other hand, made its name for building PCs to order. And with the advent of smartphones and tablets, that market is fading. It may take a while to completely vanish, but established PC makers are eyeing other lines of business and spending aggressively to acquire them. Dell alone has been buying at a decent clip, spending down $15 billion in cash last year to around $13 billion in the first quarter of this year.

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Yammer sells to Microsoft for $1.2 billion. Good call on skipping that IPO!

Yammer

The enterprise social network would do anything to avoid an IPO. And then along came Microsoft...

Yammer, based in San Francisco, is basically Twitter for business — although in the two roughly years since I regularly used it, it's evidently added some Facebook-esque features. It's been at the vanguard of "enterprise social networking," or bringing microblogging and social networking into the business environment. With the consumer space tapped out, this is where a lot of companies are looking to expand. 

Or, in Microsoft's case, acquire. Just for perspective, $1.2 billion is FAT valuation for Yammer. Remember Instagram, the year-and-half old photo sharing site with 13 employees that Facebook bought on the eve of its IPO for $1 billion? Yeah, that seems so long ago now...

Yammer sold for a little more than one "Instagram," in the new parlance of Silicon Valley. But more importantly, Microsoft bought the company for all cash. Instagram, by contrast, was a cash-and-stock deal, mostly stock. So Yammer's investors, who had put about $150 million into the startup, are going to see a very large payday, composed of actual money that they can use to either buy a second yacht or turn around and pour into other startup investments.

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Microsoft unveils Surface tablet in Hollywood

Microsoft Surface

Microsoft

The new Microsoft Surface tablet PC was unveiled today in Hollywood. Should Apple and the iPad be worried?

As expected, Microsoft unveiled its new tablet, called "Surface," in Hollywood today. The device is designed to attack the market-leading iPad's only real weakness: the perception that it's a device for consumption rather than creation — for reading and watching rather than getting things done.

Unlike the iPad, Surface is less a pure tablet than a sort of collapsible PC. It runs Windows 8, the latest version of Microsoft's well-known operating system. There's an integrated stand and two covers that double as full keyboards, one of which provides a more conventional, tactile typing experience. The whole thing weighs in at about a pound and a half. It's sleek and black and has a ultrabook-esque selection of ports. (Covers come in a range of colors.)

A relatively subdued but kind of intense Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, called the tablet "a tool to surface you passions, ideas and creativity." He also stressed that it's all about Windows 8, a piece of software that "deserved its own hardware innovation."

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