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.
Data breaches remain a dark cloud over the business world. On Friday, Whole Foods became the latest company to report getting hacked. Days earlier, the burger chain Sonic said it too had been hit. And Equifax continues making news with its mega-breach involving 143 million consumers. It’s offering to “lock” people’s credit files for free. My solution: A $100 fine for everyone whose info is endangered.
Worker rights: Opening its new term Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a key employee rights case. The question in NLRB vs. Murphy Oil is whether companies can require workers to waive their rights to join any class or collective action against their employer and instead resolve disputes as individuals through binding arbitration. The Trump administration says such waivers are OK.
Young immigrants: How will President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program impact the California agriculture industry? The California State Board of Food and Agriculture will hold a public meeting in Sacramento on Tuesday to discuss how the end of DACA, designed to help immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, will affect the state’s farms. Some estimate that half of California farmworkers entered the country illegally.
Hacked data: The former head of Equifax, who retired last week in the wake of a data breach that exposed the Social Security numbers and birth dates of up to 143 million people, will address the episode when he appears before two congressional panels this week. Richard Smith will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday and the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday. Numerous members of Congress have criticized Equifax over the data breach.
New Nordstrom: A new-concept Nordstrom store — with no merchandise on hand to purchase — will open Tuesday in West Hollywood. The store, named Nordstrom Local, will include some garments for shoppers to try on, but there will be no inventory to buy on site. Items shoppers want will be ordered and delivered to the store that day. Instead of being around 140,000 square feet like most Nordstrom locations, the store will be a compact 3,000.
For sale: The longtime family ranch and a North Hollywood dance studio of late singer-actress Debbie Reynolds will go up for auction this weekend. The ranch-estate in Creston, Calif., had been offered for sale before Reynolds’ death last year for $4.8 million but was taken off the market in June. The studio on Lankershim Boulevard is for sale, with an asking price of $6.15 million. Both will hit the auction block starting Saturday in an auction run by the firm Profiles in History.
Monday’s Business section is jolted awake by earthquake insurance — or the lack thereof among California homeowners and renters. Only 10.8% of state residents with residential insurance had earthquake coverage at the end of last year, compared with nearly 33% when the Northridge quake struck in the early morning of Jan. 17, 1994. The figure has stayed below 11% for the past five years. The question is: Will those stats change in light of the recent quakes in Mexico and a likelihood that we’re due for a Big One of our own?
Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:
Trump tax plan: Many Californians face a big financial hit under the Republican tax plan because the proposal would eliminate the federal deduction for state and local taxes. Meanwhile, tax experts say the plan to nearly double the standard deduction actually could make things tougher for families with two or more kids, while a lower rate for so-called pass-through firms likely would benefit the wealthy rather than small businesses.
Television City: Broadcast giant CBS is pondering the sale of its historic Television City studio complex in the Fairfax district as the Los Angeles construction boom propels developers in search of new places to build. CBS has not decided whether to part with the property it has owned since the 1950s, but real estate brokers put a tempting value on it for the owners — $500 million to $750 million. One insider estimated the price at more than $900 million.
A playboy’s passing: Hugh Hefner, who built a publishing and entertainment empire on the idea that Americans should shed their hang-ups and enjoy sex, died at the age of 91. Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, pitched a lifestyle where the desire for sex is being as normal as craving apple pie. Part of his legacy was the Playboy Mansion, a Gothic Tudor-designed home in Holmby Hills that became almost as famous — or infamous — as the man himself.
Roku debut: Investors brushed aside concerns about Roku’s stiff competition in the video streaming business, sending the company’s shares up 68% in its stock market debut. Roku stock closed at $23.50 on its first trading day after pricing its 18 million shares at $14 apiece. The enthusiastic response to Roku’s $252-million initial public offering comes despite concerns the Los Gatos, Calif., company is up against the world’s biggest technology giants, namely Amazon, Apple and Google.
Fat IPO: The upcoming initial public offering of stock in Fatburger’s parent company won’t be big by Wall Street standards. But it will draw attention because of the burger chain’s near-cult status in L.A. Besides its celebrity franchise owners, which include Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, and such fans as Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber, the company has a rich history. Today, privately run FAT Brands is enjoying its best financial performance in years. Revenue passed $10 million in 2016 and is climbing 12% so far this year.
WHAT WE’RE READING
And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:
Robot cars: Anthony Levandowski, the star engineer at the center of Uber’s fight with self-driving rival Waymo, is determined to create a robotically enhanced future, reports Wired. “Levandowski has done perhaps more than anyone else to propel transportation toward its own Singularity, a time when automated cars, trucks and aircraft either free us from the danger and drudgery of human operation — or decimate mass transit, encourage urban sprawl, and enable deadly bugs and hacks.”
All about the shoes: Behind the scenes in sports is a multibillion-dollar battle among shoe companies, reports the New York Times. “The company that gets its shoes on the best basketball players, football players and soccer players wins, because those athletes’ footwear choices have outsize influence over everyone else’s purchasing decisions.” Secretive deals with shoe companies were part of last week’s criminal charges against some college basketball coaches.
Nuclear waste: Two moms are fighting to clean up a radiation-filled landfill in St. Louis, reports Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The West Lake dump site was first identified as a problem by federal authorities decades ago. “Now, in a twist few would have anticipated, Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA, wants West Lake to be a showcase of Trump-style environmentalism: dismissing climate change, deregulating industry, but taking action on toxic sites.”
Race barrier: There are currently no African American women at the head of large publicly traded U.S. corporations, reports Fortune. While women of other races are making cracks in the glass ceiling, the barrier seems to remain in place for blacks. “Black women are at a disadvantage in trying to bridge the familiarity gap with white men in positions of power, because in the words of talent management research firm Catalyst, they are ‘double outsiders’: They’re neither white, nor men.”
I remember my disappointment as a kid to discover that Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy After Dark” TV show wasn’t what I thought it would be. On the other hand, it was a showcase for some pretty awesome musical acts, including Fleetwood Mac, Ike and Tina Turner, Joe Cocker and the great B.B. King.
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.