Newsletter: California Inc.: New boss set to take over at Treasury Department?

Steven Mnuchin
Steven Mnuchin, President Trump’s pick for Treasury secretary, is scheduled to receive a full Senate vote -- and likely confirmation -- on Monday.
(AFP/Getty Images)

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 and the highlights of last week, including some unusual business news from the White House.

The president lashed out against Nordstrom after the store decided to stop selling his daughter’s clothing line, prompting White House adviser Kellyanne Conway to be “counseled” on ethics after urging Fox viewers to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.” Meanwhile, Melania Trump sued the U.K.’s Daily Mail over a critical story she said cost her millions of dollars in commercial opportunities during her term as first lady.



Cabinet actions: Donald Trump’s nominee for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is scheduled to receive a full Senate vote on Monday, and odds are he will be confirmed despite Democratic opposition. Next up: Trump’s Labor pick, Andy Puzder, who is scheduled to go before a Senate committee on Thursday. Puzder is the chief executive of CKE Restaurants, parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. His nomination could be in trouble after he admitted employing a housekeeper who was in the country illegally.

Fed watch: Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen will make two appearances on Capitol Hill this week to discuss monetary policy and the state of the economy. On Tuesday she appears before the Senate Banking Committee, and on Wednesday she testifies before the House Financial Services Committee. Financial leaders will be watching to see if Yellen gives clues to future interest rate hikes. On Feb. 1, the Fed announced it was leaving rates unchanged for now.

Merger vote: Time Warner shareholders will vote Wednesday on the proposed $85.4-billion acquisition of the company by telecom giant AT&T. Time Warner Chairman Jeff Bewkes said last week that the two companies “remain on track to close the transaction by the end of the year.” The deal was announced in October and still must undergo a Justice Department review. Time Warner owns HBO, CNN, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network and Warner Bros., the Burbank-based movie and television studio.

TV earnings: CBS Corp. will report its fourth-quarter and 2016 financials Wednesday. Investors will be noting how the company is doing at a time when ad revenue growth for the entire TV business remains in the low single-digit range. CBS, the top-rated network, has some of the most-watched programs in the world, including “NCIS,” but does not have a revenue-generating film studio or stable of big cable networks.


Skyrocket in flight: SpaceX is planning to launch its latest rocket Saturday. It’ll be the Hawthorne company’s first launch from the historic Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, previously used for the Apollo and space shuttle programs. The Falcon 9 rocket will carry supplies for NASA to the International Space Station. Last month, SpaceX successfully launched a rocket sending 10 satellites into orbit, its first flight since a September launch pad explosion.


Monday’s Business section opens the door on housing. An hour after Donald Trump took the oath of office last month, his administration suspended a planned cut in FHA mortgage-insurance premiums. The Department of Housing and Urban Development cited the need for further analysis to protect taxpayers in halting the policy that would have saved FHA borrowers as much as $1,000 or more a year. But the move, which overturned an Obama administration decision, could signal something more: a new conservative bent to the nation’s housing policy.


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

Price is right: Rep. Tom Price won Senate confirmation to be Health and Human Services secretary, overcoming bitter opposition from Democrats who have criticized the Georgia congressman’s calls to repeal the Affordable Care Act and scale back Medicare, Medicaid and other government safety-net programs. The 52-47 vote broke along party lines, with every Republican in the chamber voting to confirm Price and almost every Democrat and independent voting against him.

Retirement plan battle: A confrontation is looming between California and congressional Republicans over a state law aimed at creating retirement security for low-income workers. The GOP-led Congress is trying to block a 2016 California law that requires employers to enroll 6.8 million California workers who currently have no access to a retirement savings account at work in a state-sponsored plan.

New strategy: Viacom’s new installed CEO, Bob Bakish, rolled out an ambitious turnaround plan focused on six key global brands: MTV, Comedy Central, BET, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Paramount. Viacom plans to rebrand its Spike channel as the Paramount Network next year to capitalize on its association with the legendary Hollywood film studio.


Acting scam cases: The Los Angeles city attorney’s office filed criminal charges against 25 people who own, operate or work with five casting workshop companies, alleging that they have violated the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act by requiring actors to pay illegal fees in exchange for auditions. California’s Krekorian Act makes it a misdemeanor for casting workshops to charge for auditions or other employment opportunities.

No privacy: If you have a Vizio television, it may have been spying on you. The Irivine television maker agreed to a $2.2-million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and New Jersey attorney general’s office over allegations it secretly collected — and sold — data about its customers’ locations, demographics and viewing habits. The revelation comes amid growing concerns that many “smart” Internet-connected appliances could be sending sensitive personal information back to their manufacturers.


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

Grain drain: American grain farmers are being driven out of business by rising production costs and falling prices for their product, says the Wall Street Journal. “The U.S. share of the global grain market is less than half what it was in the 1970s.” Meanwhile, Russia has grown to become the world’s largest wheat exporter.

Murder he crunched: Modern data analysis is helping companies sell products and find customers more efficiently than ever before. Now it may help find murderers. Bloomberg reports how a retired news reporter from Virginia named Thomas Hargrove has been crunching numbers in a way that could help identify serial killers. But first he has to get the police to take him seriously.

Bumpy road: A bizarre freeway interchange in Breezewood, Pa., that ensnarls millions of cars and trucks in a slow crawl each year demonstrates what happens when politics outweigh common sense, notes the New York Times. The history of the interchange “shows how legal quirks, powerful politicians and opaque bureaucratic procedures can influence decisions about how to spend taxpayer dollars.”

Political climate change: Two former members of Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet, in a commentary published by the Wall Street Journal, outline a conservative approach to climate change. George Shultz and Jim Baker say a carbon tax and a “carbon dividend payment” can be used to replace many existing regulations. “There is mounting evidence of problems with the atmosphere that are growing too compelling to ignore.”


Wet wheels: Could waterbiking be the next great watersport? Bloomberg says resorts and outdoors enthusiasts are getting excited about riding around on a $4,500 contraption that’s part bicycle, part catamaran. “The thing about riding a bike in the middle of a large body of water is that people stare.” Not a surprise.


The waterbiking piece got me wondering: Is Paul Newman’s little jaunt with Katharine Ross in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” the best cinematic cycling scene ever? There are some good bike films — “Breaking Away,” “Premium Rush,” of course “The Bicycle Thief” — but my fave is probably “American Flyers,” a semi-cheesy ‘80s movie featuring a young, mustachioed Kevin Costner in a supporting role.

For the latest money news, go to Mad props to Scott J. Wilson for helping put this thing together. Until next time, I’ll see you in the Business section.