Explaining Southern California's economy

Hostess bankruptcy: It's the trouble with Twinkies

Hostess Twinkies Celebrate 75th Anniversary

Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Four of the Twinkies that (ahem) drove Hostess Brands into a second bankruptcy since 2004.

Don't worry: the Twinkie supply won't dry up. Hostess Brands, however, is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in the past decade. Last time around, it set a record for languishing in restructuring. And even though a bankruptcy double-dip is never a good thing, Hostess' investors have enough confidence in the ongoing strength of the Twinkie-and-Wonder Bread market to produce additional financing.

Hostess, like a lot of companies that have been around for a while, has both a debt and a legacy cost/union problem. Total debt is "more than $860 million," according the Wall Street Journal. The pension plan is underfunded by $2 billion and fairly complicated, to boot, covering far more than employees than actually work for Hostess. And the union contracts...well, Chapter 11 will provide the excuse to renegotiate them.

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Wall Street pays bankers more to keep them from being unemployed

Mercer 3619

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Andrew Ross Sorkin has a good column today on banker pay, which has declined as the fortunes of big Wall Street investment banks have turned south. However, he insists that we look to a more opaque metric: the compensation-to-revenue ratio.

For publicly traded banks, increased profits from rising revenue is supposed to be returned to shareholders. But as Sorkin notes, there's a battle between shareholders and employees for the pieces of that pie. When the revenue-to-compensation ratio is out of whack — well above 50 percent, for example — it indicates that employees are winning. 

This becomes especially apparent when the economy is in a bearish mood and revenues are lower. The conventional wisdom says that this is no time to cut compensation at banks. Sorkin expresses some mild skepticism at this notion:

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California's budget: Hostage to the rich

California Budget

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Gov. Jerry Brown discusses the cuts he has already made to help reduce the state's budget deficit from nearly $20 billion last year to a gap of about $9.2 billion as he unveiled his proposed $92.5 billion 2012-13 state budget at a Capitol news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012. California faces a smaller budget deficit in the coming fiscal year but will require nearly $5 billion in cuts to public education if voters reject Brown's plan to raise taxes in the fall.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

The Los Angeles Times' Anthony York reports on a...disagreement between the Legislative Analyst's Office and California Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown's budget plan, released prematurely last week, calls for tax increases that would generate almost $7 billion in additional revenue each year, bringing the state deficit down to zero in five years — the time frame for the tax hikes.

Not so fast, says the LAO: it will only be $4.8 billion in 2012-13, then $5.5 billion thereafter.

Here's York:

The wide discrepancy is the latest split over numbers between the administration and the Legislative Analyst's Office. Last November, the Legislative Analyst's Office released a revised estimate for the state’s current budget picture. Less than a month later, Brown’s department of finance came back with estimates that were $1.5 billion higher than the Legislative Analyst's Office numbers.

In its analysis Monday, the Legislative Analyst's Office said that predicting just how much Brown’s tax measure would bring in is difficult because it is dependent on income taxes from upper earners. That money varies wildly from year to year.

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Where is the January Effect in the stock market?

A trader shows a graph illustrating stoc

MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

We got a nice bump in the markets at the dawn of the new year, but ever since then, results have been...well, pretty unremarkable. The Dow has been bumping along in a fairly narrow range, around the 12,400 level. So where's the vaunted "January Effect"— the idea that people sell stock in December to book some tax losses, then pile back in when the markets re-open after the holiday season.

The answer comes in one word: Europe.

Wall Street isn't going to budge until it either gets some great earnings news from U.S. companies or sees some progress on Europe righting its listing financial states. This is from AP, via the Washington Post:

Greece, Ireland and Portugal have all been bailed out but the fear in the markets is that much-bigger Italy and Spain may end up needing financial assistance. The yield on Italy’s benchmark ten-year bonds on Monday continued to hover around the 7 percent mark, widely considered to be unsustainable in the long run.

On the growth front, the two leaders told reporters that European nations should compare the continent’s best labor practices and implement them, as well as figure out how to use European funds to create jobs.

Their focus on the wider economy has come as mounting signs the 17-nation eurozone is heading for a recession have emerged over recent days, including figures Monday showing a bigger than anticipated 0.6 percent decline in German industrial production in November.

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In California, the housing crisis has also ruined the view

August Foreclosures Rise To Highest Since Level Beginning Of Housing Crisis

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

I was emailed this story from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune last week, about how Norman's Nursery is relocating what amounted to a semi-permanent landscaping forest from the San Gabriel Valley to Ventura Country. Why? The housing crisis has pushed the company's sales down 60 percent. And the effect?

The removal of thousands of boxed trees, shrubs and ornamentals stored along a one-mile stretch of Arrow Highway on the northern border of Irwindale and Baldwin Park has already had an aesthetic impact. The flat land adjoining the Santa Fe Dam was leased from the Army Corps of Engineers by Norman's Nursery for growing plants. The large swath of potted trees, plants and shrubs placed side by side and in rows formed a greenbelt that has existed for more than 20 years, Norman said. At first glance, it appeared as if the trees were permanently planted there.

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