Lewis Operating Corp. finds deals in downtrodden real-estate market

     The real-estate meltdown’s negative effects haven’t bypassed Upland-based Lewis Operating Corp., one of the largest real-estate companies in Southern California.
     Still, the Inland Empire’s iconic developer and real-estate manager announced on Tuesday that it shelved out about $57 million for almost 700 acres of land throughout California and Nevada since December.
     “We’re one of the only companies that’s actually been buying deals,” said Randall Lewis, executive vice president, about lots that’ve dropped significantly in price since the downturn.
     It might be finding deals, but Lewis Operating Corp. isn’t doing the same amount of business it saw in 2003 and 2004. The company has had layoffs.
     “The sheer number of transactions is down… more than half,” Lewis said about land contracts. “We’ll continue to be selective. But we think, if anything, there will probably be more opportunities in the next six months than the last six months.”
     Overall, he thinks the commercial real-estate industry’s downturn isn’t changing anytime soon.
     But the niche market for new homes could be bottoming out by the end of 2008, he said.
     As far as the resale residential market, “it’s probably sometime in 2009,” Lewis said.
     He joins an ever-increasing group of real-estate and finance professionals who are pushing off their bets that the entire residential market will bottom out late this year and instead pegging the time frame in 2009, 2010, or even 2011.
     The company’s recent purchases include 36 acres of commercial land in Adelanto slated for a Target-anchored shopping center, 21 acres in Mira Loma which will sport a mixed-use retail-residential project, and 30 acres in Chino for upcoming housing projects in The Preserve at Chino, a master-planned community.
     More than 500 acres of residential land was bought in the Sacramento area for homes, parks, retail shops and an elementary school, and 90 acres purchased in North Las Vegas for homes.
     –matthew.wrye@inlandnewspapers.com

     Look below to read Lewis Operating Corp.’s news release on recent land acquisitions:

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I.E. unemployment rate inches to 8 percent

      Unemployment keeps shooting upward in San Bernardino and Riverside counties and now stands at 8 percent, according to June numbers released on Friday by the state’s Employment Development Department.
     It stood at 5 percent in late 2006.
     From May to June, most job losses came from local government. Federal, state and local government laid off 1,700 employees, the area’s greatest month-over-month decline, the report says.
     The leisure and hospitality business shed 1,200 workers during the same period. The arts, entertainment, accommodation, recreation and food services industries each slashed 600 jobs.
     It’s no surprise that the two-county region’s badly-bruised housing sector is spilling over into other areas, but residential construction workers are taking the worst beating.
     Throughout the mid- to late-1990s and during the housing boom, the area’s construction employment soared to more than 127,000 jobs by 2006, according to a quarterly economic report released on Friday by Redlands-based regional economist John Husing.
     But in two years, the counties lost more than 28,000 of these jobs — about 22 percent of the hiring peak in 2006.
     We’re facing “the most challenging economy in over four decades,” Husing states. “2008 will be the first year since at least 1964 when the economy will have a net job loss.”
     The region’s 8-percent unemployment rate hasn’t been seen since the mid-1990s.
     –matthew.wrye@inlandnewspapers.com

     Look below to read the latest unemployment report from the state’s Employment Development Department:

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Foreclosures, price drops spur area home sales amid recession

     On a year-over-year basis, San Bernardino and Riverside counties are the only counties in Southern California seeing an up-tick in home sales, according to a report published on Wednesday.
     But the news out of DataQuick Information Systems, a La Jolla-based real-estate information service, comes amid home sales across Southern California dropping to their slowest pace in more than 20 years, the company said.
     On the same day, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation said in a mid-year forecast that California is “on the brink of a recession” and that the Inland Empire is already in the throes of one.
     A major housing slump has put thousands of residential construction workers out of work over the last year and keeps pummeling the local real-estate market.
     After months of negative home sales numbers, the two-county region is finally getting rid of some inventory. Median home prices dropped more than 31 percent in both counties from June 2007 to June 2008, DataQuick said.
     Hefty price drops and thousands of foreclosures have spurred a mere 1.1 percent increase in new and existing home sales in San Bernardino County this June compared to June 2007, while sales in Riverside County jumped almost 12 percent during the same period.
     Some home builders are fighting tooth and nail to slash prices in a market that several economists say won’t bottom out any time soon.
     More than 17,400 houses and condos across Southern California sold in June versus about 20,100 in June 2007 — a 13-percent drop.
     Compare that to June of 2005, when more than 40,000 homes sold, DataQuick’s report says.
     –matthew.wrye@inlandnewspapers.com

     Look below to see DataQuick’s full report:

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Ontario HD TV manufacturer tries to quell investors’ fears

     Ontario-based Soyo Group Inc. (OTCBB: SOYO.OB) tried reassuring investors on Monday afternoon that its growth prospects are “solid” even though a similar Tempe, Ariz.-based high-definition TV manufacturer will probably be delisted from the Nasdaq Stock Exchange in New York because of bankruptcy.
     A number of concerned Soyo investors called and e-mailed the Ontario company because of the industry news.
     Syntax-Brillian Corp. (NasdaqGM: BRLC) filed bankruptcy last week and said on Monday that it’s receiving $7.5 million from various lenders and Silver Point Finance LLC to continue operations while selling assets to its major investor, Olevia International Group LLC.
     Olevia is owned by privately-held TCV Group and would assume $60 million of Syntax’s debt.
     Soyo, which supplies Honeywell International Inc. and other companies with flat-panel televisions, saw its stock close at 51 cents on Monday.
     Soyo also said it signed a five-year lease at a 75,000-square-foot building — double its current space — in Ontario about five miles from where the company is currently located. It’s scheduled to move there in September.
     Soyo is trying to get on the American Stock Exchange, which means increasing its stock value. The stock peaked at $1.48 in October 2007.
     Shareholders will be asked to approve a common stock increase from 75 million to 200 million shares at Soyo’s Aug. 4 annual shareholder meeting. If approved, the company might be a lucrative prospect for institutional investors.
     The company is trying to rebound from almost $5 million in losses for 2003 and 2004, and build upon the $6.5 million in earnings it reported from 2005 to 2007.
     –matthew.wrye@inlandnewspapers.com

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I.E. is a glimpse into Freddie and Fannie’s financial woes

     History was made on Monday when the Federal Reserve said it would lend money to the nation’s two mega mortgage holders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the Treasury Department also said it would invest in them if needed.
     Freddie and Fannie fell prey to the same financial woes hitting real-estate markets across the nation, especially the Inland Empire’s market for new homes.
     As foreclosures keep pounding San Bernardino and Riverside counties, and elsewhere, some experts say the Fed and treasury’s action is going past liquidity measures and borderlines government solvency, thus saddling taxpayers with millions in potential liabilities.
     Congress may be asked to ultimately approve $300 billion in credit to the two government-chartered stockholder-owned financial institutions.
     Besides the Inland Empire, the state of California’s real-estate market is a prime example of a housing market in the middle of going bust after a huge boom, and also why Freddie and Fannie are in the mess they’re facing today.
     According to real-estate data analysis company Loan Performance / First American CoreLogic, California home prices dropped almost 15 percent in 2007, and several economists believe prices will continue to fall another 15-25 percent throughout 2008.
     In California, more than 78,000 subprime adjustable -rate mortgages worth about $27 billion are scheduled to reset between January 2008 and January 2017. Most will reset between now and December 2008.
     Also, 325,000 adjustable-rate mortgages statewide worth about $120 billion are scheduled to reset between January 2008 and early 2017. Most will reset between now and early 2013.
     Home values nationwide were inflated by a total of $5 trillion in January of this year, some financial real-estate experts say.

     –matthew.wrye@inlandnewspapers.com

     Look below to read the Associated Press story on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae:

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Credit union league meets with 50 worldwide leaders in China

     India. Poland. China.
     Leaders from these countries are eager to throw more credit unions into their financial markets, and they’ve visited the California Credit Union League over the last year to learn how to do it.
     But from Sunday to Wednesday, executives from the Rancho Cucamonga-based organization will be guests in a foreign land.
     The league will join its sister branch, the Nevada Credit Union League, and meet with government and financial representatives from more than 50 countries at the World Council of Credit Unions’ 2008 World Credit Union Conference in Hong Kong.
     The four-day conference targets credit union issues and lets leaders share ideas that they can take back and implement in their own countries. The sluggish U.S. economy, marred by a roiling financial crisis, will also take center stage.
     Conference attendees will also discuss mobil-phone Internet banking services at European credit unions and how that model can be applied in America.
     Both leagues provide information, education, advocacy and support services to more than 400 credit unions in California and Nevada.
     More than 9 million Californians and Nevadans are credit union members and part of the International Credit Union, which has 177 million members.

     –matthew.wrye@inlandnewspapers.com

EMRISE Corp. awarded $2.3 million in orders for Eurofighter

     Rancho Cucamonga-based EMRISE Corp. said on Thursday it’s been awarded one of the largest ever production contracts in the company’s history from a “long-standing U.K. customer” for Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft electrical devices.
     The aerospace-industry manufacturer’s England-based subsidiary, Xcel Power Systems Ltd, received more than $2.3 million in orders and said it expects to ship out $1.1 million in Eurofighter parts for the rest of this year and more than $4 million from now until 2010.
     On the same day, Heartland Advisors Inc., a Milwaukee-based private investment firm, reported it owned 4.9 percent of EMRISE — more than 1.8 million shares of stock. Heartland previously reported that it owned 8.7 percent in early February.
     EMRISE stock closed at 55 cents a share on Friday. It peaked at $11.25 in 1992.  The company must increase stock value to stay listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It will ask shareholders to approve a reverse stock split later this year.
     EMRISE suffered a first-quarter loss of $900,000, mostly due to production and customer-related delays. Before that, the company saw a total of $5.5 million in losses between 2006 and 2007 because of slower sales, among other reasons.
     The company must acquire Advanced Control Components for the reverse stock split to happen, assuming shareholders approve the split. It expects to close the deal by Aug. 15.
     European aerospace companies in Germany, Italy, Spain and elsewhere, as well as the Royal Saudi Air Force, use EMRISE products for making fighter aircrafts.
     –matthew.wrye@inlandnewspapers.com

     Look below to read the latest news release from EMRISE Corp.:

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Medina International Holdings needs capital to stay alive

     Medina International Holdings Inc. (OTCBB: MIHI), a small boat manufacturer in San Bernardino, announced on Wednesday that it signed a five-year deal with Timothy Spooner to market Medina’s commercial and recreational boats.
     The $2.5 million market-capitalized company went public in September at 48 cents a share, but it closed at 7 cents a share on Thursday afternoon.
     Medina International has reported more than $2.7 million in combined losses since its inception in 1998, according to documents filed with the Securities Exchange Commission.
     The company’s first-quarter filing in March shows a deficit of $2.8 million and liabilities exceeding assets by more than $500,000.
     It also says the company needs to raise capital if it’s going to stay alive. There was “substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue,” according to the annual report filed in April 2007.
     Daniel Medina, president of Medina International, couldn’t be reached Thursday afternoon.
     Spooner has been working at Harbor Guard Boats — also known as Modena Sports Design LLC — for the past five years as vice president of sales and distribution. Modena Sports became a subsidiary of Medina International in June.
     Medina International produces commercial fire, rescue, police and patrol boats utilizing the highest design and performance standards. The company’s products combine safety, power, handling and stability with a proprietary hull design and equipment features that address specific niche markets.
     –matthew.wrye@inlandnewspapers.com

     Look below to read the latest press release from Medina International Holdings Inc.:

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I.E. is No. 5 nationwide in foreclosure filings

     Nationwide foreclosure activity dropped 3 percent in June, but the San Bernardino-Riverside-Ontario metropolitan area still ranks No. 5 in the country on the foreclosure filing totem pole.
     One in every 95 local households received a foreclosure filing, according to a report released this morning by Irvine-based real-estate data company RealtyTrac Inc.
     These so-called “filings” include default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions.
     June marks the region’s second consecutive month of being ranked at No. 5. In April, the area’s rank peaked at No. 4.
     Seven out of the top 10 cities in today’s report are in California, a sign that foreclosures will continue to pummel the state’s real-estate market for the time being.
     Foreclosure filings for California decreased 4.5 percent from May to June, but they’re up 77 percent when compared to June 2007.
     One out of every 192 households in California received a foreclosure filing in June, more than double the national average.
     Quarterly, the San Bernardino-Riverside-Ontario area ranks even worse.
     RealtyTrac said in late April that the region was No. 2 nationwide in foreclosure filings for the first quarter of this year. Its second-quarter report will be released in late July.
     –matthew.wrye@inlandnewspapers.com

     Look below to see RealtyTrac’s foreclosure report for June:

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Former Vineyard CEO submits rival board nominees

     Vineyard National Bancorp’s former CEO led the financial institution through risky waters from 2005 to 2007 as it made shaky loans to home developers, but now the ousted executive stated he wants to nominate a new board who can transform the bank into a business and commercial lender.
     On Monday evening, Norman Morales, along with investor Jon Salmanson, submitted a proposed slate for the board of directors in opposition to Vineyard’s proposed slate that was filed last week. Morales has nominated himself.
     After being forced to resign in January, the ex-CEO is vying for control over the holding company, which is parent company of Vineyard Bank.
     Morales’s nominees are steeped in commercial lending experience, according to a Securities Exchange Commission document he filed on Monday.
     Vineyard was designated as a financially “troubled condition” in May by the Federal Reserve Board and Office of Comptroller of the Currency in Washington, D.C. Any board-of-director candidate nominations will have to pass approval by those regulatory agencies.
     Vineyard reported a loss of $13.3 million in its first quarter and also said it has $142 million in “substandard loans” from 2007 on its books.
     Shareholders will vote on the nominees at the annual meeting on Aug. 5.
Besides himself, Morales is asking shareholders to approve Thomas Koss II, Douglas Kratz, Cynthia Harriss, Harice “Dev” Ogle, Lester Strong and Glen Terry as board members.
     Through investor group One Investments LLC, Kratz bought almost 10 percent of Vineyard’s stock in late June for about $6.3 million. Morales and Salmanson joined Kratz in the $6.3 million stock purchase.
     Vineyard is asking shareholders to approve Frank Alvarez, David Buxbaum, Charles Keagle, James LeSieur, Robb Quincey, Joel Ravitz and J. Steven Roush as board members.
     –matthew.wrye@inlandnewspapers.com

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