California Inc.: A big week for professional poker players

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.

The major U.S. stock indexes posted cumulative gains last week despite a persistent weakness in oil prices that have devastated the domestic oil industry. Those low oil prices kept consumer prices unchanged in January, the Labor Department said, although core inflation — which does not count volatile energy and food prices — posted its biggest monthly increase since 2011. The betting line on Wall Street is that the latest numbers bolster the case for upcoming rate hikes by the Fed.

LOOKING AHEAD

Satellite launch: Rocket maker SpaceX is scheduled to launch a satellite Wednesday for Luxembourg communications company SES. The launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida will again give the Hawthorne company a chance — after three unsuccessful tries — to land the booster portion of the rocket on a platform at sea. In the last attempt, on Jan. 17, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage experienced a hard landing, which caused it to fall over and explode. SpaceX’s goal is to cut the cost of launches by reusing rockets.

Power dispute: The U.S. Supreme Court — down to eight members after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia — will hear arguments Wednesday in a case that could resolve a national dispute over how far states may go to encourage power generation for residents. A group of power companies say Maryland gave a new natural gas power plant an unfair advantage by subsidizing the facility’s construction. Dozens of other states have created similar incentives to increase power capacity or to encourage utilities to rely on a larger share of renewable energy sources.

Poker league: An ambitious plan to reinvigorate the poker industry by turning Texas Hold ’Em into a team sport kicks off with a draft of players Thursday at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. The Global Poker League, backed by about $5 million in investments from Chinese venture capitalists, poker players and media executives, will have 12 teams, each with a roster of six players. Timed matches at small studios in Burbank and Berlin will begin airing on the Web in March, with championships planned for a larger venue in the summer.

Catalina freight: A heated battle among companies vying for the right to ship food and supplies to Santa Catalina Island is scheduled to be decided by the California Public Utilities Commission when it meets in San Francisco on Thursday. Three companies are competing for a license to ship the freight, causing a yearlong dispute that has consumed the island. Avalon Freight Services currently has an exclusive contract, but two other companies have argued that multiple shippers should be allowed to compete to help keep prices low.

Oscars: Voting for the 88th Academy Awards closes Tuesday, and the Oscars will be handed out Sunday when the film industry’s stars and power players gather at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. This year’s awards have been heavily scrutinized after the 6,200 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences selected an all-white slate of acting nominees for the second year in a row. Since then, the academy has announced new rules aimed at bringing more women and minorities into the organization.

THE AGENDA

Monday’s Business section looks at the bumpy world of technology stocks following disappointing growth forecasts that sent shares of LinkedIn Corp. and another company plunging more than 40% early this month. But anyone speculating that the sell-off meant a bubble had burst again for the tech sector had guessed wrong — at least for now. Many technology shares have rebounded in the past two weeks, and at least one analyst thinks the stocks have been undervalued.

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:

Apple battle: Apple’s resounding “no” to federal authorities’ demand that the company help hack the San Bernardino shooters’ iPhone generated beaucoup buzz last week. Some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley quickly lined up behind Apple, while some observers said the fight could reverberate across the world. Late in the week, government lawyers filed a motion to compel Apple to comply, arguing other technology companies in the past have written software to satisfy subpoenas. This much seemed clear: The dispute will go a long way in defining the legacy of Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Bullet train: Facing high construction costs and political opposition in Southern California, the state has decided to build the first 250-mile section of the California bullet train from San Jose to Bakersfield, rather than from Fresno to Burbank. The reversal by the California High Speed Rail Authority could result in serious financial, political and transportation consequences for Southern California, which was originally considered as the end point for the project’s initial operating segment. According to the draft plan, the shift to the Bay Area will help the rail authority hold down costs and expedite construction of the system, which is already two years behind schedule.

High-profile promotion: Channing Dungey was named entertainment president of Disney’s ABC television network, becoming the first African American to lead a major broadcast network at a time when the lack of diversity in Hollywood has come under increasing scrutiny. Dungey, 46, who has been a Walt Disney Co. executive for more than a decade, helped develop ABC hits including “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” In a statement, she said she was “thrilled and humbled that Ben [Sherwood, the ABC Television Group president] has entrusted me with this tremendous opportunity.” The entertainment industry has been under increasing pressure to promote more women and people of color. A UCLA report last year on Hollywood diversity found that 96% of TV network and studio heads were white, and 71% were men.

Set-top boxes: Federal regulators have put the metal boxes most Americans rent to receive cable or satellite programming at the center of a high-stakes fight over the future of TV and video. The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 along party lines to begin crafting rules intended to spur competition in the set-top-box market by developing technology standards so third-party devices and apps could decode pay-TV signals. Such a move would let consumers purchase boxes from technology companies instead of renting them from their cable or satellite provider. The rules could open the door to all-encompassing devices and apps that combine pay-TV access with Internet streaming.

Stop the presses: A printing plant that used to churn out daily newspapers could soon be home to a much hotter commodity: creative office space. Kearny Real Estate plans to spend more than $100 million to turn a former Los Angeles Times plant in Costa Mesa into 300,000 square feet of the kind of trendy, open office space many companies desire but that’s in short supply in Orange County. Though Kearny is saving only the shell of the building, the project will hearken back to its former use as a printing plant and newsroom. Renderings of the project, called the Press, include images of printing presses throughout the interior.

WHAT WE’RE READING

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

Pony up: David Milch is the creative whiz behind “Deadwood” and “NYPD Blue.” He’s also, according to the Hollywood Reporter, a racetrack regular who has lost his homes, owes the IRS $17 million and is on a $40-a-week allowance.

Bye, Ben?: Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, writing in the Washington Post, makes the case for doing away with the $100 bill. Because he hates Ben Franklin? No. Because of "the linkage between high denomination notes and crime."

Air vino: Japan’s Yamaha Motor is bringing drone crop dusters to Napa Valley after winning federal certification to use the devices as agricultural aircraft, Bloomberg says. “The market will expand as the agriculture industry embraces unmanned farming,” predicts a former company official.

Slippery slope: For young Saudis, the nation’s oil wealth was once a ticket to a cushy job. Not any more, says the New York Times. Low oil prices “pose a threat to the unwritten social contract that has long underpinned life in the kingdom.”

Frightening: What goes on at a gun shop? Bloomberg spent a few days at Westside Armory in Las Vegas. If there’s any one thing fueling firearm sales these days, it’s fear.

SPARE CHANGE

Speaking of guns, it’s alarming that there are dozens of songs about firearms. Top of my list would be the Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” (which, mysteriously, is no longer available for linkage). So here’s a little something else from the Boomtown Rats, just in time for a Monday newsletter.

For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. Until next time, I’ll see you in the Business section.

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