SUNNY FORECAST: In its annual forecast, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. predicted sunny skies for the local economy, estimating that the county will add a total of 150,000 payroll jobs over the course of this year and the next, bringing employment to record levels. The forecast from the LAEDC’s Kyser Center for Economic Research said the unemployment rate should dip to 6.6 percent by the end of next year, its lowest level in eight years. The county is projected to have record employment of 4.27 million, finally surpassing the 2007 prerecession peak, according to the forecast.
SIRI BARBIE: After reporting that Barbie sales had plunged, again, in the final quarter of last year, Christopher Sinclair, interim chief executive of El Segundo toymaker Mattel Inc., told investors the company would make changes “with a heightened sense of urgency.” Apparently, one of those urgent changes is the introduction of the Hello Barbie, an interactive doll that can have two-way conversations with children, much like Apple Inc.’s Siri system, rather than spitting out preprogrammed phrases like the talking Barbies of yore. Mattel has partnered with San Francisco startup ToyTalk, which has developed a speech-recognition platform.
BANK BUY: Downtown L.A. investment company SunPac Financial has agreed to acquire Security First Bank in Fresno, its first step in establishing a new bank that will eventually serve Los Angeles. SunPac was formed in July by a team led by V. Charles Jackson, former chief executive of First Private Bank & Trust in Encino and Community Bank in Pasadena, with the intent of developing a commercial and private bank in Southern California. Security First, which has a single branch and assets of $104 million, gives the firm an entrée into the banking business as well as a platform on which to build its proposed L.A. bank. SunPac will pay $10.50 in cash for each share of Security First, though it’s not clear how many shares are outstanding.
SHOPPING SPREE: Venice digital media firm Zealot Networks has continued its recent string of acquisitions by purchasing two creative marketing companies for an undisclosed sum: Neighbor Agency of Venice and L.A.’s Idea Farmer. Launched in August by Danny Zappin, co-founder and former chief executive of Culver City’s Maker Studios Inc., Zealot has been on a buying spree. Over the last three months, it bought Sherman Oaks music licensing firm AudioMicro for $20 million, and Encino management company Premier Sports & Entertainment and New York management and multimedia production studio Converge Media Group for undisclosed sums.
NEW ROUND: Venice startup Snapchat is seeking a new round of funding that would value the company as high as $19 billion, sources told Bloomberg, making it the third-most-valuable venture-backed company in the world. After a series of experiments over the last few months intended to show that Snapchat is capable of actually making money on its hundreds of millions of users, the app is seeking to raise up to $500 million. Last year, Snapchat received $485 million from a group that included Menlo Park venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. That money helped the small startup grow from 35 employees to 200.
NOT CHEAP: A Mediterranean-style villa in Beverly Hills offered for sale for $195 million by real estate entrepreneur Jeff Greene has been put up for lease at $475,000 a month. A 50-seat theater, a bowling alley, a game room and a ballroom with a revolving dance floor, DJ booth and laser-light system are among the amenities.
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