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Newsletter: California Inc.: Heads up, investors, it’s the season of the witch

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Friday marks a so-called quadruple witching, which is what you get when there are simultaneous expirations of stock index futures, stock index options, stock options and single stock futures. Watch for market volatility.
(AP)

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 after Friday’s Adrenalin shot of way-strong jobs numbers. Employers generated 313,000 net new jobs in February — the most since mid-2016 — although wage growth slowed as long-awaited gains in worker pay have yet to take permanent hold. The unemployment rate held steady at 4.1%, the lowest since 2000, as the labor force swelled by 806,000.

LOOKING AHEAD

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Bank proxy: Wells Fargo this week is expected to release its annual proxy statement, which will detail how much the San Francisco finance giant paid to its top brass in 2017. The filing also will detail any proposals up for a vote at the company’s annual meeting, scheduled for next month. California Treasurer John Chiang has called for a shareholder vote on a proposal that would end the bank’s use of forced arbitration.

Gun control: Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. is scheduled to report its results for the fourth quarter of last year on Tuesday and hold a conference call with analysts, during which Dick’s executives are likely to elaborate on the chain’s decision to curb gun sales in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Disney clubs: A Superior Court judge in Santa Ana is scheduled Wednesday to hear an update on a lawsuit by founders of a Disneyland social club who claim they’re the victims of bullying tactics by another social club. The suit by John and Leslee Sarno, who founded a club called Main Street Fire Station 55, accuses a rival club, the White Rabbits, of demanding “protection money” for a theme park fundraiser.

Tomb Raider redux: Video game icon Lara Croft returns to the multiplex in the new Warner Bros.-MGM production “Tomb Raider.” This time Alicia Vikander plays the archeologist-turned-action hero, replacing Angelina Jolie of the 2001 and 2003 versions. The new film is expected to gross a tepid $30 million in its opening weekend.

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Witch hunt: Friday marks a so-called quadruple witching, which is what you get when there are simultaneous expirations of stock index futures, stock index options, stock options and single stock futures. On such days, which occur only four times a year, many investors seek to unwind positions before contracts end, leading to a surge in volatility.

THE AGENDA

Last week’s $52-billion merger of insurer Cigna Corp. and pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts Holding Co. is just one of several recent multibillion-dollar combinations in the healthcare industry. In December, CVS Health — an Express Scripts rival — announced it would buy Aetna, an insurer with some 45 million members. But it’s not at all clear these deals will deliver lower premiums or cheaper drugs.

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:

Ratings dud: The audience for ABC’s annual telecast of the Oscars declined for a fourth consecutive year, dropping to an all-time low of 26.5 million viewers. The dip of nearly 20% from last year put it under the previous low of 32 million in 2008. The steep decline for the 90th Academy Awards can partly be attributed to the challenge that all major television events face: the emergence of streaming online video.

Steely resolve: President Trump’s final order to slap tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminum looks less like an effort to preserve national security and more like an attempt to create a giant bargaining chip that the president can play around the world. In doing so, the president swept aside a flurry of warnings from ally nations, companies and lawmakers from his own party, who worry Trump’s actions will ignite a dangerous trade war.

Plot twist: The $500-million deal for an investor group to acquire Harvey Weinstein’s former movie and TV studio has collapsed — again — in yet another turn in the chaotic saga of Weinstein Co. Sources close to the investor group, led by former Obama administration official Maria Contreras-Sweet, said that it found at least $50 million in undisclosed liabilities on the New York company’s books, which would have raised the price of the sale.

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Dirty Money: Red Granite Pictures, the West Hollywood company behind “The Wolf of Wall Street,” has agreed to pay $60 million to settle its corruption case with the U.S. government. Prosecutors allege the 2013 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio was financed by money embezzled from 1MDB, a Malaysian economic development fund. Red Granite co-founder Riza Aziz, stepson of Malaysia’s prime minister, has denied knowingly receiving illicit funds.

TV Drama: Univision Communications Chief Executive Randy Falco is stepping down after nearly eight years — a move that comes just months after a contract renewal and underscores disarray within the nation’s largest Spanish-language media company. The heavily indebted company is looking for a new strategy at a time when it can no longer count on millions of Spanish-speaking immigrants to stay glued to their TVs.

WHAT WE’RE READING

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

Bye, Blankfein: Lloyd Blankfein is preparing to step down as CEO of Goldman Sachs as soon as the end of the year, the Wall Street Journal reported. “Goldman is likely to follow an announcement of Mr. Blankfein’s departure with a quick transfer of power and isn’t looking beyond Goldman’s two co-presidents, Harvey Schwartz and David Solomon, to replace him.”

Pharma bro sentenced: Disgraced biotech exec Martin Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison, putting an end to a saga that captivated and sometimes enraged Washington, Wall Street and the tabloids, Bloomberg said. “This is my fault,” he said, choking back tears. “I am terribly sorry I lost your trust. You deserved far better.”

Think pink: Japan wants more women in construction, the New York Times says. But tone-deaf recruiting efforts by the government aren’t helping. “To promote female welders, for example, the site links to a cartoon that shows a woman wearing a pink, heart-patterned uniform and holding a pink, heart-shaped welding mask.”

Annals of harassment: The Atlantic reveals how to lose your dream job in 33 easy steps. “The distance between a dream gig and a nightmare can be tiny when you have no power.”

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Ha ha ha: As Fast Company sees it, those stories of Amazon’s Alexa breaking into spontaneous creepy laughter is a bigger problem than the company admits. “Amazon could have avoided its weird laughing problem entirely simply by positioning Alexa’s own personality as a computer you can talk to, rather than a cyborg bestie.”

SPARE CHANGE

While many cat owners will say there’s no way to improve on purrfection, researchers at USC are giving it their best shot by building a robot kitty — which could have an impact on other automatons. As this video from Wired shows, scientists are “using lessons from biology to create more dexterous machines.”

For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. Mad props to Laurence Darmiento and Scott J. Wilson for helping put this thing together.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the Business section.


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