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California Inc.: 'Sicario' sequel unlikely to vanquish dinosaurs, superheroes

California Inc.: 'Sicario' sequel unlikely to vanquish dinosaurs, superheroes
Benicio Del Toro brings his chill tough-guy presence to the screen again in the sequel to "Sicario." The film is projected to haul in about $12 million during its opening weekend. (Associated Press)

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.

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Markets were volatile last week as President Trump’s pursuit of tariffs against allies and others made the prospect of trade wars increasingly likely. There were reports Friday that White House officials were scrambling to get a lid on the tense relations, especially with China, which has threatened to match any U.S. action tariff for tariff. Don’t look for the volatility to end anytime soon.

LOOKING AHEAD

New homes: The latest stats on new home sales will be released Monday. In April, sales of newly built, single-family homes in the U.S. slipped 1.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 662,000 units after a downwardly revised March 2018 report.

Going up: SpaceX is set to launch more supplies to the International Space Station on Friday afternoon. The launch will take place at Kennedy Space Center in Florida as NASA continues outsourcing such functions to the private sector.

Consumer spending: How much consumers are plunking down on goodies will be announced Friday by the Commerce Department. Personal-consumption expenditures rose a seasonally adjusted 0.6% in April — the largest increase in five months.

Benicio’s back: The summer box office is taking a siesta this weekend. The biggest new Hollywood movie is “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” the sequel to the critically acclaimed 2015 crime thriller. The Sony Pictures film, starring Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, is expected to open with about $12 million, meaning either the “Jurassic World” or “Incredibles” sequel will be No. 1.

THE AGENDA

Monday’s Business section takes flight with the often sky-high cost of air ambulances. The industry says reimbursements from U.S. government health programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, don’t cover their expenses. The companies say they must ask others to pay more — and when health plans balk, patients get stuck with the tab.

STORY LINES

Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:

Trade dispute: President Trump reiterated his threat to place a hefty tariff on automobiles imported from the European Union if the trading bloc doesn’t remove tariffs placed on a variety of U.S. products as part of an escalating trade war. The biggest hit, if the U.S. follows through, is likely to be on luxury car purchasers, because many European SUVs are made in the U.S. and would not be subject to the tariffs.

Placeholder pick?: Kathy Kraninger, the Trump administrations nominee to head the powerful Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, drew widespread criticism for her lack of financial and consumer-protection experience. One analyst speculated the move was actually aimed at keeping White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney in place as acting director. Mulvaney has been praised by Republicans for scaling back the bureau’s activities.

Online taxes: The Supreme Court ruled that all online sales are subject to the same state and local sales taxes collected by traditional retailers. The decision will inject billions of dollars into state coffers but increase prices for many shoppers. The 5-4 vote overturned past rulings that had shielded internet sellers from collecting taxes in states where they had no stores, warehouses or other physical presence.

Accident report: The human backup driver in an autonomous Uber SUV that killed an Arizona pedestrian was streaming “The Voice” on her phone and looking down just before the accident, according to a report by Tempe police. Driver Rafaela Vasquez had been streaming the musical talent show via Hulu in the 43 minutes before the March 18 crash that killed Elaine Herzberg. The report said the evening crash could have been prevented had the driver not been distracted.

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Fox rift: The Murdoch family-controlled media conglomerate that has long thrived as a big tent is being pulled apart by partisan politics in the age of President Trump. “Modern Family” co-creator Steve Levitan shook the entertainment industry when he tweeted that he would leave Fox’s TV studio, citing his personal disgust with Fox News. He later revised his statement, saying he would make his decision after 21st Century Fox completes the pending sale of its movie and TV studio assets to either Walt Disney Co. or Comcast, which are now bidding for them.

WHAT WE’RE READING

And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:

Tobacco road: A disturbing story from the Atlantic about children working America’s tobacco fields. “In most industries in the United States, child labor is highly regulated … The Fair Labor Standards Act makes exceptions for many small farms, meaning they can hire children at any age — an exception that many family farms have relied on to run their businesses.”

Pass the chips: The New York Times examines Chinese efforts to abscond with American microchip technology. “China has ambitious plans to overhaul its economy and compete head-to-head with the United States and other nations in the technology of tomorrow. The heist of the designs two years ago ... represents the dark side of that effort.”

Crypto-mess: Wired delves into a scandal rocking the world of cryptocurrencies. “Arthur and Kathleen Breitman thought they held the secret to building a new decentralized utopia. On the way, they plunged into a new kind of hell.”

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Unprepared: From the Wall Street Journal, a look at how a generation of Americans is the least-prepared in decades for old age. “They have high average debt, are often paying off children’s educations and are dipping into savings to care for aging parents. Their paltry 401(k) retirement funds will bring in a median income of under $8,000 a year for a household of two.”

Walk the line: Fast Company offers some tips on how to go above and beyond at work without being a chump. “Taking initiative at work helps you stand out as an employee, but if you take it too far, you risk being taken advantage of.”

SPARE CHANGE

A nifty video and story from Bloomberg about what top chefs cook for their dogs. Not surprisingly, these pooches eat very well indeed.

For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. Mad props to Laurence Darmiento and Scott J. Wilson for helping put this thing together.

Until next time, I'll see you in the Business section.

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