Review & Preview

French Fight: Vivendi Chairman Jean-Marie Messier fired Pierre Lescure, the popular director of Vivendi Universal's money-losing pay television unit, and an uproar quickly ensued within the French media industry. There were even reports that Messier himself might be forced out in advance of this week's shareholders meeting in Paris. All of which could have a significant trickle down effect at Universal Studios, which Vivendi acquired two years ago.



Sales Frenzy: Home prices continue to defy gravity. The median price of a Los Angeles County home reached a record $251,000 in March, a 15 percent jump from a year ago, according to DataQuick Information Systems. Sales of new and existing homes jumped 17 percent, the highest level since the home-buying frenzy in 1989. Earlier this year, there had been expectations that sales would start to taper off, especially with mortgage rates inching up, but now the forecasts are for sales to remain robust through much of the year.



Hello?: Former customers of Pacific Bell are receiving worse service since the local phone company was acquired by SBC Communications, according a state consumer advocacy group. But service has gotten better for the former customers of GTE, which was acquired by Bell Atlantic, now Verizon Communications. The Office of Ratepayer Advocates, an independent arm of the state Public Utilities Commission, based its findings on surveys sent out last year to business and residential customers.



Fox in Henhouse: Jeff Shell, who until last week was president and chief executive of News Corp.'s Fox Cable Networks Group, was named co-president and chief operating officer at Gemstar-TV Guide International. News Corp., with a 42.6 percent stake in Gemstar, is its largest shareholder and has been watching the company's stock freefall in recent weeks. Henry Yuen remains the company's chairman and chief executive.



Tax Fight: Tribune Co. disclosed that it might owe up to $880 million in back taxes and interest as a result of two transactions by Times Mirror Co., which Tribune later acquired. The transactions involved divesting itself of two publishing subsidiaries that Times Mirror treated not as sales but stock swaps, which sheltered the company from taxes. Resolving the question of whether stock swaps should be subject to tax could have widespread ramifications. Tribune says it intends to "vigorously defend its position."



Toxic Settlement: Ending a six-year battle, Lockheed Martin Corp. will pay $1.3 million to settle outstanding claims by Burbank homeowners who claim they were sickened by chemical contamination at the company's Skunk Works plant. Since 1966, Lockheed has paid out $66 million in three legal actions related to toxic contamination. This was the only remaining case.



Far Along?: National Golf Properties Inc. faced new opposition to its proposed merger with a troubled affiliate, American Golf Corp. Farallon Capital Management, a San Francisco investment partnership, has taken a 7.9 percent share in National Golf, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Farallon said it believes the principal beneficiaries of the proposed merger are "David Price (the chairman and founder of both companies), American Golf and their affiliates." Farallon purchased most of its 1 million shares in recent weeks.

PREVIEW

Seasonal Swing: First quarter earnings season begins in earnest this week, with a number of area companies issuing reports. Among them are media and tech firms Walt Disney, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, j2 Global Communications, SeeBeyond Technology, Ticketmaster Online, Tekelec, Digital Insight, Overture Services and MRV Communications. Also reporting are Ducommun, California Pizza Kitchen, IndyMac Bancorp, Ryland Group, IHOP, K-Swiss, Occidental Petroleum and WellPoint Health Networks.



AG Speech: California Attorney General Bill Lockyer will speak at Loyola Law School on Friday (26th) on the legal aspects of elder abuse. Subjects include financial abuse of the elderly, litigation cases for the elderly and elder abuse in the gaming industries. Lockyer is co-chairman of the National Association of Attorneys General Consumer Protection Committee.



Numbers Talk: The first peek at the nation's first quarter gross domestic product comes out on Friday (26th) perhaps an indicator of whether the apparent economic upturn is as robust as some economists claim. This initial number, however, will be revised several more times.



Holidays: Just so that you remember, the 32nd annual Earth Day is on Monday (22nd) and Administrative Professionals Day (the former Secretaries Day) is on Wednesday (24th).



Awards Dinner: State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, the Reverend Cecil Murray of First AME Church and Robin Kramer of the California Community Foundation will be honored on Thursday (25th) as the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs holds its annual awards dinner at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.



Playoff Fever: Kings and Lakers fans will have their hands full this week as the NHL and NBA playoffs get cooking. The Kings continue their best of seven series against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday and Tuesday (22nd and 23rd) at Staples and then, if necessary, in Colorado on the 25th. The Lakers, meanwhile will play the second game in the best of five series at Staples on Thursday (25th) against the Portland Trailblazers and then it's up to Portland on Sunday (28th).



Cardinal Rules: Cardinal Roger Mahony receives the "Heart of the City Award" on Thursday (25th) from Mayor James Hahn at the Central City Association's annual Treasures of Los Angeles luncheon at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. Other "treasures" this year include economist Jack Kyser, singer Pat Boone, the Dodgers and the Pacific Dining Car restaurant.

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