Explaining Southern California's economy

GM posts record 2011 profit, with most coming from toughest auto market

Matthew DeBord

Don't think cool cars can some in small packages? No so. The new Chevy Sonic is proof that General Motors can finally do a tiny ride that commands attention.

Good news today for General Motors: it generated its highest annual profit ever in 2011. That's $7.6 billion. And yes, you read that first sentence right: highest annual profit ever. Higher than when GM owned half the U.S. market. Higher than when it was the largest industrial concern on the planet.

This is remarkable for two reasons, one obvious, one not. First the obvious: three years ago, GM had to be bailed out by the taxpayer before entering bankruptcy. It was under fierce attack in North America from Toyota and others. The future looked, if not completely dim, then not exactly luminous.

Now the not-obvious. Most of GM's 2011 profit came from North America. Some analysts have pointed to this as a problem and highlighted GM's struggles with its main European division, Opel, which it decided to hold on to rather than sell, post-Chapter 11. (Other observers, notably Slate's Matt Yglesias, have complained that all the rah-rah around GM suggests that America is still too close to the auto-industrial business model that built the country in the 20th century.)

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Will online media ever converge?

Engagement patterns by device

Matthew DeBord/KPCC

Media engagement patterns vary greatly depending on what device — PC, smartphone/cellphone, or tablet — the user is employing.

I attended a conference about a week ago put on by students and alumni from USC's Marshall School of Business. It's called "E2: Evolution of Entertainment Conference," and it's designed to bring business, entertainment, technology, and media together. Makes sense, as all four are important to the Southern California economy — and to USC students.

The conference is now in its fourth year, drawing seasoned media, entertainment, and business professionals to USC to provide their insight.

On one of the panels, Joe Perez, who just left an executive role at Demand Media, made an interesting comment. He said that he'd just come across some research that indicated PC, cell phone, and tablet users engage in unique daily online and/or wireless patterns. I've created a simple, some might say crude, drawing (right) that summarizes these patterns:

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Lawyers, guns, and coffee: Starbucks may have to kick gun lovers out

Chris Scott/Flickr.

Starbucks re-opening, 2010.

Starbucks has gotten itself into the very definition of an awkward position, particularly in California. The coffee chain is being protested by an anti-gun group for looking the other way when practitioners of what's called "open carry" show up for meetings at Starbucks with their unloaded firearms.

Starbucks has said that it's just respecting the local laws. But there's speculation that 'Bucks is being used as a forum by the open-carry crowd to invite challenges to its rights (they're even come up with a gun-weilding Starbucks alterna-logo that probably horrifies Howard Schultz). And of course Starbucks' core demographic isn't as friendly to the Second Amendment as the core demo of the National Rifle Association.

So Starbucks has a business problem. Gun advocates and gun haters both like coffee. Why would you want to choose between groups?

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The DeBord Report on "America Now with Andy Dean"

Listen in to my latest appearance on "America Now with Andy Dean." We have a lively conversation about the Greek debt negotiations, U.S. energy policy, and what in the world we should do about the U.S. Postal Service, which is probably going to run out of money by October. Andy is his usual take-no-prisoners self when it comes to things like European socialism, but I make a decent point or two about how we need to look at our national energy future A LOT differently as the discovery and extraction of new domestic resources threatens to turn us into the world's largest energy producer by 2020.

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Finance beats democracy in Europe

Violence Erupts As Greece Decides On Euro Future

Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

GREECE, ATHENS - FEBRUARY 12: Demonstrators throw pfire bombs to riot police during violent protests in central Athens February 12, 2012. Thousands of demonstrators clashed with police as the Greek parliament prepared to vote on a new and deeply unpopular EU/IMF austerity deal, to secure a 130 billion euro bailout, aimed at saving Greece from bankruptcy and what Prime Minister Lucas Papademos warned would be "uncontrollable economic chaos". (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

He doesn't go quite as far as I did yesterday when I said that the ongoing European debt crisis has spawned a series of financial coup d'etat, with democracy being subjugated to the needs of markets. But at Project Syndicate, Kemal Dervis lays out a similar case:

Beyond the specific problems of the monetary union, there is also a global dimension to Europe’s challenges – the tension, emphasized by authors such as Dani Rodrik, and Jean Michel Severino and Olivier Ray, between national democratic politics and globalization. Trade, communication, and financial linkages have created a degree of interdependence among national economies, which, together with heightened vulnerability to financial-market swings, has restricted national policymakers’ freedom of action everywhere.

Perhaps the most dramatic sign of this tension came when Greece’s then-prime minister, George Papandreou, announced a referendum on the policy package proposed to allow Greece to stay in the eurozone. While one can debate the merits of referenda for decision-making, the heart of the problem was the very notion of holding a national debate for several weeks, given that markets move in hours or minutes. It took less than 24 hours for Papandreou’s proposal to collapse under the pressure of financial markets (and European leaders’ fear of them).

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