Welcome to California Inc., the weekly newsletter of the L.A. Times Business section.
I'm Business columnist David Lazarus, and here's a rundown of upcoming stories this week and the highlights of last week.
Apple Music: On Tuesday, Apple launches its new music streaming service in 100 countries for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. Apple Music features a songs-on-demand service for $9.99 a month, plus a free radio station dubbed Beats 1 and a social media component for artists and fans. Spotify, the current leader, is girding for the competition by adding video, podcasts, playlist recommendations and a feature for joggers.
Agency shutdown: The Export-Import Bank, an 81-year-old federal agency, is slated to end its mission Tuesday of providing aid to exporters and helping foreign buyers purchase U.S. goods. House Republicans have targeted the federal agency for extinction, refusing to reauthorize the bank’s charter. Democratic supporters of the bank say the action will jeopardize projects and thousands of U.S. jobs.
Greek debt: Greece faces a deadline Tuesday for a crucial $1.8-billion debt payment to the International Monetary Fund. The nation is trying to negotiate a financing deal, but creditors, led by Germany, first want Athens to implement significant economic reforms.
Change at Fox: A new era begins Wednesday at 21st Century Fox when James Murdoch replaces his father, Rupert Murdoch, as chief executive. At the same time, James’ brother, Lachlan, will be made executive co-chairman alongside his 84-year-old father. Rupert Murdoch, however, is expected to remain deeply involved in Fox's business affairs.
Drug database: California will launch an enhanced prescription drug database Wednesday in an effort to prevent people from obtaining overlapping drug prescriptions from multiple doctors. But the revamped Controlled Substances Utilization Review and Evaluation System already has critics. Some health providers say it will be incompatible with their computer systems, hobbling access to a tool meant to combat drug abuse.
Jobs report: Economists expect the Labor Department's monthly employment report, to be released Thursday, to show that 210,000 new jobs were created in June, a solid number but well below the robust 280,000 jobs created in May. The unemployment rate is expected to drop a tick to 5.4%. The report will likely keep the Federal Reserve on track to raise its key benchmark rate later this year.
Monday’s Business section focuses on how the online music industry is changing — hello, Apple Music — but one problem remains the same: piracy. Roughly a fifth of Internet users regularly go to sites that offer copyright-infringing music, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. That’s despite the rise of companies that grant easy access to licensed music, much of which is available for free through ad-supported apps and websites.
Here are some of the other stories that ran in The Times Business section in recent days that we're continuing to follow:
Disney taxes: A pact that has spared Walt Disney Co. from paying entertainment taxes on its Anaheim amusement parks may be extended for three decades if the entertainment giant agrees to invest at least $1 billion in its resort in the coming years. Supporters are encouraged that Disney will continue to expand. Critics say Disney's break could put residents at risk if the city’s finances falter.
Win for Obamacare: With two Supreme Court decisions in the past three years upholding it, the Affordable Care Act is about as firmly ensconced as a law can be in a politically divided country. The court, in a strongly worded 6-3 decision, pushed aside the latest legal challenge that threatened to take away insurance subsidies that more than 6 million Americans rely on to get healthcare.
Fast track: A long, acrimonious legislative battle ended with a vote giving President Obama the power needed to complete a major Pacific Rim trade agreement. The final legislation reflects the steady march of globalization and the nation's deep ambivalence about the consequences of America's widening economic engagement with the world.
Pension woes: The nation's biggest public pension fund is falling far short of its annual investment goals. The California Public Employees' Retirement System earned only 3% in the 10 months ended April 30 and likely will fall short of its 7.5% annual target when the fiscal year ends Tuesday.
Car sharing: Ford Motor Co. is testing a car-sharing program that helps people rent out autos they purchased from the automaker to prescreened customers as a way to defray the cost of maintaining a vehicle. The test is a tip of the hat by the automaker to ride-sharing services Uber, Lyft and Zipcar, which are starting to change how people get around.
New luxury hotel: The Chinese owners of a former department store site in Beverly Hills — long considered one of the region's most desirable development locations — are proposing to add a top-of-the-line hotel in their planned $1-billion condominium complex. Wanda Group, which bought the 9900 Wilshire Blvd. property last year, wants to reduce the number of condos in the development.
Cinema gaming: Movie theaters are working harder to lure younger patrons away from the inexorable flow of entertainment at home, including online movies and video games. Attendance at movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada last year was nearly 1.3 billion, down from 1.5 billion in 2004. To change that, big theater chains have taken to hosting video-game contests. Minecraft, anyone?
What We're Reading
And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:
Same-sex marriage: The Supreme Court's decision to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples nationwide wasn't just a civil rights victory for LGBT couples, it was a financial win, says CNN.com. Without state recognition of your marriage, for instance, you don't get the same Social Security benefit that heterosexual married couples enjoy, and filing taxes can be tricky.
Tech jobs: As Uber grapples with a recent California Labor Commission ruling that its drivers should be considered employees, not contractors, smaller Silicon Valley start-ups are trying to get ahead. The founder of a company called Enjoy Technology Inc. in Menlo Park, Calif., which delivers and sets up tech products in homes and offices, told the New York Times that he made clear to potential investors that he wanted employees, not freelancers.
Arnold's back: The Wall Street Journal gets right to the point: Arnold Schwarzenegger is back. He returns in "Terminator Genisys," which opens Wednesday. It's his first appearance in the franchise since 2003, just before he became governor of California. Now 67, he's active in Hollywood, raising funds for after-school programs and staying fit. In case you were wondering, he favors circuit training over pumping iron these days.
Fast flights: Highlighting their multimedia wizardry, the number crunchers at FiveThirtyEight.com have come up with a nifty tool for figuring out which flight will get you from Point A to Point B fastest. It's a cool concept, not just for the information it imparts but the slick way it does it. The fastest airline on average? Virgin, followed by Alaska, Delta and US Airways.
Martha’s sweet deal: Many Martha Stewart Omnimedia investors thought they were shortchanged by the $353-million buyout of the company by Sequential Brands, reports Deadline Hollywood. Lawsuits may be filed. But don't fret for Martha. According to a regulatory filing, her contract runs through 2020, with six weeks of vacation a year. It guarantees her a $500,000 base salary, discretionary bonus and a $1.3-million annual "guaranteed payment." It's a good thing.
Today's Cool Consumer Tip
Hot weather isn't just rough on people – it's no picnic for car tires either. "Hot weather exacerbates heat buildup and weakens the tire, potentially leading to abrupt and sometime catastrophic failure," says Consumer Reports. Check your tire pressure every month, but only when they're cool or motionless for at least three hours. Make sure they're inflated to the manufacturer's specifications. And don't forget the spare.
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