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.
Good news out of the Golden State: California added 17,600 new jobs in May, dropping the unemployment rate to 4.7%. The jobless rate tied a record low reached in November 2000. The latest stats follow a disappointing April, when the state lost jobs for the first time in several months. Even so, California’s economy grew slower over the last 12 months than the U.S. economy.
Liftoff: On Monday, Hawthorne-based SpaceX is scheduled to launch a commercial communications satellite into orbit from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch window for BulgariaSat-1, Bulgaria’s first geostationary telecommunications satellite, will be from 11:10 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. PDT. The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will be using a reused first-stage booster — the second time a “flight proven” booster is being used to launch a satellite.
TV buy: Britain’s Office of Communications, which regulates media, is expected to report Tuesday on a proposed $14-billion takeover of Sky, the European television giant, by Rupert Murdoch’s U.S.-based media company, 21st Century Fox. British regulators will determine whether Fox would be a “fit and proper” owner of Sky, the satellite TV service with 22 million customers. Fox currently controls 39% of Sky and is trying to consolidate the 61% it doesn’t hold.
Screen time: VidCon, a massive get-together of online video creators, will run Wednesday through Saturday at the Anaheim Convention Center. The event is to include appearances by popular YouTube stars such as Dan Howell and Phil Lester (“Dan and Phil”), John Green, Hannah Hart and Jenna Marbles. The event offers separate “tracks” for creators, industry and community. Last year’s VidCon drew 26,400 attendees to Anaheim, a 30% increase over its previous gathering.
Job openings: In business, hiring the right people can be a crucial decision. The Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Kings will be making those decisions this week as the NBA and NHL hold their annual drafts. The Lakers have the second pick in the NBA draft, which is set for Thursday in Brooklyn (the L.A. Clippers don’t have any picks, having traded them away). The Kings have the 11th pick in the NHL draft, which is scheduled for Friday and Saturday in Chicago.
Night lights: On Friday, Universal Studios Hollywood will debut an ambitious new light show at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The attraction, called Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle, is exclusive to Universal Studios Hollywood and is to run multiple times a night during its summer run. The five-minute show features iconic imagery from Harry Potter and an original musical arrangement created by John Williams and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.
Amazon has conquered online retail, dominated in cloud computing and taken on the entertainment world. And with its Friday deal to buy Whole Foods, the Seattle-based e-commerce giant is upending yet another market. Indeed, after nearly 80 acquisitions, it’s hard to remember Amazon once only sold books. “There's virtually nothing left that they haven’t touched,” said Kelly O’Keefe, professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter.
Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:
For-profit schools: As Corinthian Colleges, ITT Technical Institute and other for-profit schools collapsed in recent years, the Obama administration overhauled regulations to make it easier to forgive loans for stranded students and to try to prevent future abuses. Now, the Trump administration is suspending those rules, which had been set to go into effect July 1. The Department of Education, under Secretary Betsy DeVos, also is launching an effort to rewrite the rules.
Uber absence: When chief executives take a leave of absence, it’s typically because they have a serious problem on their hands. So when Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick announced that he was going on indefinite leave, people took notice. Kalanick’s announcement came at a tumultuous time for Uber. Former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. had just wrapped up a months-long investigation into allegations of systemic sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying at the company.
Movie rights: Federal prosecutors hope to seize rights to comedy films “Dumb and Dumber To” and “Daddy’s Home,” as well as stock in a high-powered Silicon Valley data-analytics company, alleging they were acquired with money embezzled by Malaysian government officials. In court filings, the Department of Justice said the movie rights are among nearly $1.7 billion in U.S. assets acquired with money pilfered from the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad fund, or 1MDB.
Rebuilding: The shopping mall is dying and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, says Times columnist Steve Lopez. “Malls I can do without, and rather than hold a wake, we should celebrate the opportunity to put so much concrete and asphalt to better use.” Malls across the country are being remade into parks, housing, medical centers, transit centers and, in one case, offices for Ford Motor Co.’s purchasing and engineering staff.
Basketball arena: The city of Inglewood and the Forum are clashing over attempts to build a new arena for the Los Angeles Clippers. After Inglewood’s City Council unanimously approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with a Clippers-controlled company to explore building a new arena, the Forum assailed the deal. The Forum accused Inglewood of “doing a lot of backroom dealing” and violating the state’s open meetings law.
WHAT WE’RE READING
And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:
Rigged market: Port trucking companies in Southern California have spent the last decade forcing drivers to finance their own trucks by taking on debt they could not afford, USA Today finds. “Companies then used that debt as leverage to extract forced labor and trap drivers in jobs that left them destitute.”
Podcasting stats: Apple is going to start helping the makers of podcasts understand what their listeners like and don’t like, reports Recode. A new version of Apple’s market-leading Podcast app will tell creators of the audio shows when listeners start an episode, when they stop and what parts they skip. “The reason all of that is important is that up until now, Apple has provided almost no data at all about podcast listening behavior.”
Digital theft: Bloomberg reports on how a hacker managed to steal $55 million of a virtual currency called ether, rattling the backers of new technology known as a decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO. Thousands of eager tech supporters had invested in DAO, but the hacker exposed the frailties of the system. “Brought to life, the DAO ended up staggering off the table and turning on the community that wanted it so badly.”
In the rough: A Wisconsin businessman with only a passing interest in golf turned a rural cow pasture into the site of the prestigious U.S. Open, but it cost him almost everything, reports the Wall Street Journal. Bob Lang poured millions of dollars into creating the Erin Hills course northwest of Milwaukee. “Lang built and operated Erin Hills with a manic zeal that blinded him to the magnitude of his costs.”
Costly acquisitions: General Electric’s outgoing president, Jeff Immelt, spent over $175 billion acquiring other companies during his 16 years at the helm — but has little to show for it, reports Forbes. “Despite all of the wheeling and dealing, which made Immelt an investment banker’s dream, GE’s stock is poised to end lower than when he assumed the reins in September 2001.”
Thanks to that trucking story above, I’ve got 18-wheelers rolling through my head. Top trucking song? C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” is almost too easy. Jerry Reed’s “East Bound and Down” casts a similarly long shadow. But my top picks are “Six Days on the Road” by Dave Dudley and this little ditty from the Grateful Dead.
For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. Mad props to Scott J. Wilson for helping put this thing together.
Until next time, I'll see you in the Business section.