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Newsletter: California Inc.: L.A. aiming for 50 million tourists visiting annually

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We’ll find out Wednesday how many tourists came to L.A. County last year. Above, visitors to the city see a home that may or may not belong to Paris Hilton.
(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 this week and the highlights of last week.

Investors are still digesting the Dow closing above 25,000 for the first time ever. Is the porridge too hot or just right? They’re also casting a wary eye at somewhat disappointing jobs numbers out Friday that were below analyst estimates, reflecting an economy near full employment.

LOOKING AHEAD

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Tourism report: On Wednesday, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and tourism officials will hold a news conference at LAX to announce how many tourists visited L.A. County in 2017. In 2016, the county hosted a record 47.3 million visitors, up 4% from the previous year. Garcetti and other tourism leaders have set a goal of attracting 50 million visitors a year.

Holiday sales: The Commerce Department will report December retail sales on Friday. The holiday shopping season got off to a strong start in November, with retail sales increasing 0.8%. Economists forecast that sales growth slowed last month to about 0.4%.

Inflation check: Federal Reserve officials have been worried about low inflation. They’ll get their latest look at the numbers Friday when the Labor Department releases the consumer price index for December. Analysts expect price growth to have eased to about 0.2%, down from 0.4% the previous month.

3 … 2 … 1: SpaceX plans to hold a static test fire of its long-anticipated Falcon Heavy rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida this week. Falcon Heavy will be SpaceX’s most powerful rocket yet, generating more than 5 million pounds of thrust at lift-off. The first proper test launch of the rocket is slated for the end of this month.

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Movie night: A handful of new films will debut Friday on U.S. screens. Warner Bros. will release “Paddington 2” after a scramble to market the family sequel bought from the troubled Weinstein Co. Taraji P. Henson stars in the thriller “Proud Mary” from Screen Gems, and Liam Neeson is once again in high-testosterone mode for Lionsgate’s “The Commuter.”

THE AGENDA

Monday’s Business section seeks extra mealtime value by looking at the flurry of competition among fast-food purveyors for budget-minded customers. Mickey D’s has rolled out a new version of its “Dollar Menu,” with various items priced at $1, $2 and $3. Taco Bell, the Irvine-based unit of Yum! Brands, is selling a new item, Nacho Fries, for $1 starting Jan. 25. Wendy’s expanded the chain’s “4 for $4” menu to include eight entrees. And Jack in the Box, based in San Diego, launched “Value Done Jack’s Way” with items priced from $1 to $5.

STORY LINES

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

Pot shot: Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions’ decision to scrap an Obama-era policy that offered legal shelter for state-sanctioned marijuana sales may not necessarily lead to a wave of federal drug busts. But it could crimp California’s budding pot industry in another way: by cutting its already-tenuous access to the financial system.

Chip flaws: Apple said all Mac computers and iOS devices are affected by chip security flaws unearthed last week, but the company emphasized that there are no known exploits affecting users. The Cupertino tech giant said recent software updates for iPads, iPhones, iPod Touch devices, Mac desktops and laptops and the Apple TV set-top box mitigate one of the vulnerabilities, known as Meltdown. The Apple Watch is not affected.

Exit strategy: Former Uber Technologies CEO Travis Kalanick, who has long boasted that he’s never sold any shares in the company he co-founded, plans to sell about 29% of his stake in the ride-hailing company, sources said. Kalanick stands to reap about $1.4 billion from the transaction with SoftBank Group and a consortium of investors who have agreed to buy equity valuing Uber at $48 billion.

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Scary Mickey? 21st Century Fox TV execs and producers are watching to see how their boundary-pushing programming will mesh with Disney’s brand of family-friendly entertainment. As one producer asked, “Am I going to have to put Mickey Mouse in ‘American Horror Story’?” For now, the answer, apparently, is no.

Suit settled: Southwest Airlines has agreed to pay $15 million to settle a lawsuit that accuses the nation’s four biggest air carriers of colluding to limit capacity to keep air fares high. The Dallas-based airline said it continues to reject the allegations made by dozens of passengers in several lawsuits that were consolidated in 2016 but agreed to the settlement to cut its losses.

WHAT WE’RE READING

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

Painful times: The New Yorker asks if Hollywood can change its ways after a year of scandal. As one former studio head says, “It’s a wrenching time of ripping the Band-Aid off and realizing that there is a deep wound that we all have to take some responsibility for creating — for complacency, if not complicity.”

No soup for you: Some companies are handing out bonuses to workers after Republican lawmakers cut corporate taxes. But, as Bloomberg reports, most employers remain highly reluctant to raise wages. “Companies, for their part, say salary bumps are too permanent — too expensive.”

Equal pay: In the United States, women earn 80 cents for every dollar made by guys. In Iceland, according to the New York Times, companies now have to prove everyone gets paid the same. “Of course it has always been illegal to unequally pay men and women,” said the chairwoman of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Assn. “But this is a legally binding tool kit.”

Grim content: From Wired, a call for reckoning at YouTube after a “dead body” video posted by Logan Paul shocked many users of the site. “YouTube, which failed to do anything about Paul’s video, has now found itself wrapped in another controversy over how and when it should police offensive and disturbing content on its platform — and as importantly, the culture it foments that led to it.”

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Alexa, flush: CNET takes us into the bathroom of the future, courtesy of fixture maker Kohler. The big advance: It talks. “When your door lock, your light bulb, your ceiling fan and your coffee maker are all online, it’s probably inevitable that your toilet and your shower will eventually be, too.”

SPARE CHANGE

CES, a.k.a. the Consumer Electronics Show, gets underway this week in Las Vegas. So let’s strap into our Wayback Machine and check out the Gadget Guru, a Nashville TV show from 1988 featuring some of the latest technological advances, including “a microwave oven that automatically pops popcorn” and “a telephone that lets you see the person you’re speaking with.” These are just some of the great new devices “that will make your life easier and more fun.”

For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. Until next time, I’ll see you in the Business section.


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