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.
A storm cloud on the horizon: Americans enjoyed a healthy increase in income last month but didn’t spend much of the gain. The Commerce Department said Friday that personal income rose 0.4% in May, but consumer spending rose just 0.1%. Because consumer spending accounts for about 70% of U.S. economic activity, it’s a potential danger sign if people are keeping their cash to themselves.
Cartoon biz: The largest anime and manga convention in North America continues Monday and Tuesday with a full slate of events at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The Anime Expo, which began Saturday, includes debuts of new games and videos, technical classes and panels of industry experts. Last year’s convention, also held in L.A., drew some 100,000 people, many of them dressed as characters from popular Japanese videos and comic books.
Power conference: Experts on energy use and efficiency are gathering in San Diego this week for ECOS 2017, an international conference aimed at sharing scientific and engineering knowledge in power generation. The conference, held in a different country each year, will run from Monday through Thursday at San Diego State University. Speakers will address such topics as managing electricity demand, information security in the utility industry and waste heat recovery.
Employment stats: On Friday, the Labor Department releases its monthly jobs report. Analysts expect it to show job growth picked up to about 180,000 in June from 138,000 the previous month. The unemployment rate is forecast to have held steady at 4.3%, the lowest since 2001. The nation’s lowest unemployment, at 2.3%, is in Colorado. The highest is in Alaska, at 6.7%. During the Great Recession of 2008-09, national joblessness reached 10%.
Web master: “Spider-Man: Homecoming” hits theaters on Friday. “Homecoming” is the first Spider-Man movie to exist in Marvel’s broad “cinematic universe” of interwoven superhero movies, something fans of the comics have desired for years. Sony teamed with Marvel Studios, owned by rival Walt Disney Co., for the film. The trailers have emphasized Robert Downey Jr. in the movie as Tony Stark (Iron Man), one of the most popular Marvel characters.
DWP bill: On Friday, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers may get a step closer to recovering their money from a landmark class-action settlement. The settlement stems from a suit over a faulty DWP computer billing system that overcharged tens of thousands of customers while failing to bill others. A judge will be considering final approval of the settlement Friday. The DWP owes at least $67.5 million in refunds and credits, an independent monitor concluded.
Monday’s Business section observes that from the northern-most point in Mexico to the tip of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, Latin American countries are experiencing an energy transformation. The issues may seem remote to energy consumers in the United States, which, in the space of less than a decade, has experienced what’s been called an “energy renaissance” in oil and natural gas production. But experts say south-of-the-border energy developments can have a big impact on U.S. jobs and industry.
Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:
Banks R Us: Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is buying 700 million shares in Bank of America, making Buffett the largest shareholder in two of the nation’s largest banks. Berkshire said it will convert warrants purchased in Bank of America in 2011, when the bank was struggling following the financial crisis, into common shares in the bank. Buffett is also the largest shareholder in Wells Fargo.
Sky buy: Rupert Murdoch and his sons’ bid to expand their media empire by acquiring full control of the European pay-TV giant Sky for $15 billion was dealt a setback. Britain’s secretary of state for culture, Karen Bradley, told members of Parliament that she was considering recommending a more comprehensive review of 21st Century Fox’s proposal to buy the 61% of Sky that Fox does not own. Bradley did not rule out eventually approving Fox’s proposed takeover of Sky.
Eviction rules: Los Angeles is exploring whether to require landlords to show “just cause” to evict a tenant, reasons that would include damaging a unit, creating a nuisance or not paying rent. Currently, only tenants in rent-controlled units have such protections. Landlords of other properties can end a lease without any justification as long as they give notices of 30 to 60 days, depending on the length of the tenancy.
Loot Crate: On its way to becoming the nation’s fastest-growing start-up, Loot Crate fostered a workplace in which employees warred with Nerf guns and brandished Captain America socks. Now Chris Davis, CEO of the Los Angeles firm, says he may have grown the company too fast. In February, he laid off 60 workers and announced a narrowed focus that favors profit over adding subscribers who buy its monthly shipments of apparel and collectibles related to video games, comics and pop culture.
Power suit: The city of San Juan Capistrano is suing the California Public Utilities Commission over a proposed $350-million transmission line that critics argue is just the latest in a series of unnecessary and costly utility projects. In a 35-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the Orange County municipality asked the court to stop the project, citing reports of excess power on the state’s electric grid.
WHAT WE’RE READING
And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:
Say “cheese”: Planet Labs, a San Francisco start-up, is creating a new age in space by sending batches of shoebox-size satellites into orbit, reports Bloomberg. The satellites each carry a high-powered telescope and a camera designed to photograph a different part of the Earth. “With all 149 satellites in place, Planet will be able to photograph every inch of Earth’s surface every day — something even the U.S. government can’t do.”
Drone danger: A former U.S. military intelligence analyst, writing on DefenseOne.com, warns that drones available to consumers could be used to drop bombs, grenades and even poison on unsuspecting targets. Brett Velicovich says that terrorists — or anyone — can buy a drone for use as a weapon off the shelf at Walmart. “As a former intelligence soldier who now sells drones for a living, I can tell you that this problem is bigger than almost anyone realizes.”
Oil delivery: The Wall Street Journal reports that the Keystone XL pipeline, delayed by protests and regulatory hurdles for nearly a decade, faces a new problem: oil producers and refiners don’t seem to want it. The pipeline is designed to ship crude oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, but owner TransCanada is having trouble lining up customers. Low oil prices have tempered demand and some companies have found other options, like rail, for moving crude.
Eric Trump: While the Eric Trump Foundation has long told its donors their contributions go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a pediatric cancer center in Memphis, Tenn., some of the money is going to other causes, reports Forbes. From 2011-15, the foundation founded by the president’s son gave $500,000 to 40 other charities, while assuring contributors that all donations supported St. Jude. Nonprofit experts say the distribution of money raises legal questions.
Apple crop: The iPhone just marked its 10th birthday and Fortune took that opportunity to consider whether buying the first model, at $600, was a good investment. If a consumer had taken that money and bought Apple stock instead, that investment would have grown to a value of $5,598 over 10 years, counting both the rise in the share price and dividends. It turns out a first-generation iPhone in mint condition today might be worth just as much.
The iPhone’s birthday got me thinking about the ubiquity of Apple products in movies and TV shows. It’s not just because they’re cool. Testifying in a patent lawsuit in 2012, an Apple marketing official said a company exec works closely with Hollywood to get Apple gear prominently featured. For instance, Carrie Bradshaw described all her city sex on an Apple laptop. Tom Cruise practiced espionage on a PowerBook. “House of Cards” could be called House of Apple. And, impressively, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” set an entire scene in an Apple store.
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.