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.
After the long holiday weekend, trading resumes Tuesday as investors place their first bets since learning that the economy started 2017 with a whimper, though not quite as weak as first thought. The government on Friday revised up its January-March growth reading to a rate of 1.2% — better than an earlier estimate of 0.7% but well below President Trump‘s ambitious growth targets. Growth in the gross domestic product is down from a 2.1% annual growth rate in the fourth quarter and marks the weakest result in a year.
Cyber-threats: Three cybersecurity experts will address online risks at a Trojan Talk in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday. “Your Security, from the Internet to Your Pocket” will feature Terry Benzel, deputy director of USC’s Computer Networks Division; Adam Gertz, legal analyst for Mayor Eric Garcetti; and Kevin Mahaffey, chief technology officer at cybersecurity software company Lookout. Registration opens at 6 p.m. at the California Club. Admission is $39 to $45.
Sony’s new chief: Tony Vinciquerra takes over as chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment on Thursday, replacing Michael Lynton. Vinciquerra, 62, has spent more than 30 years in the TV business. He ran one of the nation’s largest station chains, Hearst Argyle, before joining Fox, where he helped transform a hodgepodge of cable channels into a multibillion-dollar empire. Since leaving Fox in 2011, Vinciquerra has been a senior advisor to the private equity firm Texas Pacific Group.
Budget flights: A new discount airline will take off Thursday and land its first flight in Los Angeles. Level, a creation of British Airways’ parent company International Airlines Group, will fly two round-trips each week between Barcelona, Spain, and LAX, and three times a week between Barcelona and Oakland. The airline stirred excitement when it started selling tickets in March, offering one-way fares between California and Spain for as little as $149. Fares are now higher.
Surfing USA: The companies that manage Titans of Mavericks, California’s most famous big-wave surfing competition, plan to auction the event’s business-related assets Thursday as part of bankruptcy proceedings. Titans of Mavericks and affiliate Cartel Management, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in late January, will hold the public sale at the law offices of Levene, Neale, Bender, Yoo & Brill in Los Angeles. Minimum opening bids of $1 million are required.
Wonderful: On Friday, Wonder Woman finally gets her own big-screen moment after 75 years on comic-book pages and TV. Gal Gadot plays the Amazon princess-turned-superhero, introduced last year in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” “Wonder Woman” could prove a turning point for Warner Bros.’s DC Comics movie franchise business. “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad” made a lot of money, but got little love from critics and fans.
Monday’s Business section examines the best way to structure trade deals. In his first swing through Europe as president, Donald Trump left little doubt that he would pursue his “America First” policy in economic relations as he created a stir by denouncing Germany’s trade surplus with the U.S. and promising to end it. “The Germans are bad, very bad,” he was quoted as saying. But as part of the European Union, Germany does not negotiate trade agreements. That authority rests with the EU.
Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:
Boom times: Consumer tastes for fresh strawberries and leaf lettuce — two of California’s most stubbornly labor-intensive crops — have driven a boom along a coastal corridor from the Salinas Valley through the Oxnard Plain in Ventura County, according to a Times analysis. If growers have their way, they’ll open the door to more guest workers under a visa program known as H-2A and face fewer barriers, delays and regulations.
Bank deal: Wells Fargo may have to pay more than $142 million to settle class-action lawsuits connected with its unauthorized-accounts scandal. A federal judge said that he would approve a settlement reached by the bank and plaintiffs’ attorneys — if they agree to a guarantee that all customers be fully compensated for their losses. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said the proposed $142-million payout, while potentially more than enough, could fall short and leave customers in the lurch.
Housing costs: The median home price in L.A. County has reached the all-time high set in 2007, a milestone that follows five years of steady recovery but comes amid renewed concerns over housing affordability. Home prices rose nearly 6% in April from a year earlier, hitting the $550,000 level where the median plateaued in summer 2007 before a sharp decline that bottomed out in 2012. Other areas in Southern California also are hitting record levels.
TV troubles: Fox News is reeling from a succession of events. Last week, it retracted a story pushing a right-wing conspiracy theory that a Democratic National Committee staffer may have been killed because he provided emails to WikiLeaks. This has led some advertisers to abandon Sean Hannity’s program. The conservative cable news channel also has been dealing with sexual harassment scandals involving its late founder, Roger Ailes, and former star anchor Bill O’Reilly.
Pink boxes: The pink doughnut box is a distinctly regional tradition, one so ingrained it often requires an outsider to notice. The Northeast has Dunkin’ Donuts and its neon orange and pink box. The South has Krispy Kreme and its polka dot box. But come to Los Angeles and it’s the no-frills pink box, with signature grease marks, that commands counter space in our offices, waiting rooms and police stations.
WHAT WE’RE READING
And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:
Robocars: In the fall, Pittsburgh was welcoming Uber and its driverless-car experiment into the city with open arms. Things have since gone sour, reports the New York Times. Residents and officials say Uber has reneged on promises and has not created the jobs it said it would. “The deteriorating relationship between Pittsburgh and Uber offers a cautionary tale, especially as other cities consider rolling out driverless car trials from Uber, Alphabet’s Waymo and others.”
Going bananas: Amazon has disrupted the world of retail sales, remote data storage and, now, bananas. The Wall Street Journal reports on how Amazon has given away over a million free bananas at fruit stands around its Seattle headquarters. While many people love the freebie, some nearby restaurants complain that the giveaways have cut into their business. “Other workers say it is now hard to find bananas in stock at nearby grocery stores.”
Drug plugs: The drug Soliris, made by Alexion Pharmaceuticals, has been life-changing for people who suffer from a rare blood disease. But with Alexion dependent on this one drug for much of its income, the company puts extraordinary pressure on physicians to prescribe Soliris, reports Bloomberg. “For years, the sales culture at Alexion was so pressure-packed that aggressive phone calls to doctors were among its milder transgressions.”
Cauliflower rice: The rice industry is fuming over a new product called “cauliflower rice,” reports Quartz. The name of the shredded cauliflower product will confuse consumers, rice growers argue. ”Only rice is rice,” says an industry spokesperson. On the other hand, rice growers have lately been fighting the dairy industry in order to sell so-called rice milk. “This isn’t a clean case for the rice lobby, which now finds itself in the unenviable position of appearing to speak out of both sides of its mouth.”
Cheese whiz: The cheese that goes on pizzas at Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s and Little Caesars all comes from a single company run by a publicty shy billionaire in Colorado. James Leprino, head of Leprino Foods, is “one of America’s all-time monopolists,” reports Forbes. “His laser focus on large pizza chains has allowed him to control as much as 85% of the market for pizza cheese.” Leprino Foods sells more than a billion pounds of cheese a year, making $3 billion in revenue.
As I perused that last story on pizza cheese, I remarked to a colleague that I couldn’t think of any songs about pizza, that most important and beloved of foods. I was wrong. Dean Martin embraced pizza’s metaphorical possibilities. Louis Prima sang the praises of his local pizzeria’s waitress. Herman Cain (remember him?) weighed in with a pizza-related interpretation of a classic. But the mother of all pizza songs has to be this rap-inspired number from Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.
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.