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.
Trading resumes Monday amid some sunny economic weather. We learned Friday that employers added another burst of new jobs last month and stepped up the rate of pay for workers, a one-two punch that makes it likely the Fed will bump interest rates higher this week. Job growth totaled 235,000 in February, well above analysts’ expectations. The nation’s unemployment rate dropped a notch to 4.7%.
Pay for writers: The Writers Guild of America will begin formal contract negotiations Monday with studios, networks and independent producers to discuss compensation for its members. The union, whose 13,000 members write for TV, movies and Internet productions, will be negotiating the new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The current three-year agreement expires May 1.
The pi of wrath: Tuesday is Pi Day (March 14, or 3.14) and Silicon Valley technology workers plan to mark the occasion with a day of protest aimed at President Trump. For the Stand Up for Tech protest, some 1,600 people plan to walk off their jobs in Palo Alto. Similar actions are planned in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. Among those expected to take part in the protest are employees of Facebook, Apple and Google. The event is the brainchild of Brad Taylor, a software engineer at Optimizely.
Interest rates: On Wednesday, Federal Reserve monetary policymakers are expected to raise a key interest rate after a two-day meeting. The Fed has strongly signaled that a hike in the benchmark federal funds rate is coming this month, thanks to an improving economy and solid job growth. It would be the second increase in three months, after the Fed waited 6½ years for the first increase following the end of the recession in 2009.
Cabinet nominee: President Trump’s second choice for secretary of Labor will go before a Senate committee for confirmation on Wednesday. R. Alexander Acosta, a former Justice Department official, was nominated for the Labor post on Feb. 16 after the withdrawal of the president’s first pick, outspoken Southern California fast-food executive Andy Puzder. If Acosta wins approval by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and then the full Senate, he would be the only Latino in Trump’s Cabinet.
Movie premiere: Friday marks the debut of Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens and directed by Bill Condon. Hollywood watchers expect it to be the biggest opening weekend of the year so far, with a projected $120 million in North American ticket sales. There’s been an unexpected controversy, as one of the characters has a gay story line. Russia has banned children under 16 from seeing the movie.
Monday’s Business section delves into the future of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. When FirmGreen, a Newport Beach renewable energy company, was unable to get the necessary loan guarantees from the Ex-Im Bank, it had to seek them from China’s version of the federal export-credit agency. And that financial assistance was only available if FirmGreen promised to manufacture the project’s equipment in China. Now exporters are urging President Trump to help fix the Ex-Im Bank — a move that they say would boost efforts to increase U.S. manufacturing jobs and reduce the nation’s trade deficit.
Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:
Troubled waters: President Trump ordered his new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, to scale back the agency’s interpretation of the Clean Water Act. Agricultural interests are thrilled. A set of regulations known as the Waters of the U.S. rules, which extended the authority of the Clean Water Act to many small upstream tributaries and isolated wetlands, led growers to worry that a law aimed at developers and heavy industry would be applied to their ditches, canals and wetlands.
Leaky alliance: After WikiLeaks released documents showing the CIA had tools to hack into Apple and Android phones, and even Internet-connected TVs, the radical group’s founder, Julian Assange, said his organization will work with tech companies to help defend against the spy agency’s tactics.The approach sets up a potential conflict between Silicon Valley firms eager to protect their products and an agency stung by WikiLeaks’ disclosures.
Tech resistance: The president’s new travel ban was revised to pass legal muster, but the changes did nothing to win support in Silicon Valley, where signs of political activism remain on the rise. Unlike the first travel ban, which was issued a week after President Trump took office, the new order does not include Iraq and ensures that holders of visas and green cards can enter the U.S. The tech world has loudly voiced its opposition to the administration’s border and immigration policies.
Child’s play: Could movie theaters with playgrounds bring in more families? Mexico-based theater chain Cinepolis is betting it can lure more parents and their kids back to the multiplex with its new in-theater playground concept. Cinepolis Junior makes its U.S. debut at two Southern California locations this week. The remodeled auditoriums in Pico Rivera and Vista each feature a colorful play area near the screen, a jungle gym and cushy beanbag chairs.
Professional pooches: Although dogs have been office mates at some free-wheeling tech and entertainment companies for years, they are still rare. But the practice is getting more mainstream these days as a growing number of businesses follow the dot-com industry’s management cues and try to foster creative, collaborative environments. “The millennials run the world and we have to accommodate them,” says one landlord.
WHAT WE’RE READING
And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:
Cash of Clans: The Wall Street Journal reports that an obscure financial structure known as the “family office” is emerging as a new force in the financial world. This type of entity has become the preferred investment vehicle for wealthy families because they afford complete control and near-secrecy. “These entities, set up to manage the fortunes of the wealthy, and able to operate under the radar, are making their presence felt with their growing numbers, fat wallets and hunger for deals.”
How am I doing? JPMorgan Chase & Co. is trying to do away with the traditional annual employee review and replace it with immediate feedback, reports Bloomberg. Chase has been experimenting with an online system that lets workers across the sprawling organization send or receive instant critiques of their colleagues. “The new technology means that moments after a meeting or project is completed, a manager can ping participants for reactions on how a specific employee performed.”
Labor losing ground: Workers are getting a shrinking slice of the economic pie, reports the New York Times. One possible reason: The rise of “superstar firms” that dominate a market. “While such concentration has resulted in enormous profits for investors and owners of behemoths like Facebook, Google and Amazon, this type of ‘winner take most’ competition may not be so good for workers as a whole.”
Street cred: The popularity of cocktails made with promethazine codeine cough syrup, a prescription pain reliever and cough suppressant, has created an unusual symbiotic relationship between the hip-hop community and drug companies, reports Bloomberg. “Users and dealers might not know how these companies did last quarter, but they all have opinions on who puts out the sweetest, most potent sip.”
For the uninitiated, that story about cough-syrup cocktails refers to a blend known colloquially as “sizzurp.” Not surprisingly, it’s already found its way into pop culture, such as this clip from “Family Guy” and this one from “The Simpsons.” Here’s the thing: This stuff isn’t cool. It’s addictive and very dangerous.
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.