TOY DEAL: Mattel Inc. has announced it would buy HIT Entertainment, the company behind Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder, for $680 million in cash. The El Segundo toymaker is buying London-based HIT from a consortium led by private-equity firm Apax Partners. The deal is Mattel’s biggest acquisition in about a decade. The company already markets die-cast and plastic toys of Thomas & Friends characters under a license that has produced global sales of more than $150 million.

DOUR OUTLOOK: Optimism about the future among business owners and executives in Los Angeles County has plunged in the past eight months, according to a new BizPulse survey by the Los Angeles County Business Federation. The poll found that less than one-third of the respondents believe the economy will get better in the next six months, a significant drop from the beginning of the year. A rare bright spot in the survey is that only 10 percent of respondents plan to lay off workers in the near future, down from 20 percent earlier this year. But only 21 percent believe they’ll be able to increase their work force in the next few months.

JOBLESS RATE: L.A. County’s unemployment rate dropped slightly last month to 12.4 percent as teachers and other school personnel returned to work and local governments increased hiring. September’s seasonally adjusted rate compared with a year-earlier rate of 12.9 percent and August’s 12.5 percent. Educational and health services led all industries with a year-over-year job gain of 14,500. Construction saw the largest decline, down 3,900 jobs.

IPO: Rentech Nitrogen Partners LP announced the launch of an initial public offering that could raise roughly $300 million. The Rentech Inc. spinoff was formed in July by the L.A. alternative energy developer to own, operate and expand its companion nitrogen fertilizer business in the Midwest, while Rentech Inc. continues to commercialize its technology for creating cleaner-burning jet fuel from plant-based biomass. The offering will be for 15 million common units, with an anticipated share price of between $19 and $21. After the IPO, Rentech Inc. will indirectly own common units that represent about 60 percent ownership of Rentech Nitrogen.

IRISH CLOUD: J 2 Global Communications Inc. has acquired the online backup business of C Infinity, a Dublin, Ireland, provider of online data backup and hosting services for businesses. It’s the third such deal in the past 12 months for the L.A. provider of outsourced Internet fax, voice and e-mail services. J2 said the deal moves it toward the goal of becoming a one-stop shop for cloud services for business. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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