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.
Market players will join the rest of the world in paying close attention to Tuesday’s scheduled meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. A diplomatic breakthrough could send stocks soaring. But Trump has seemed to lower expectations in recent days, suggesting he’ll be satisfied just getting to know Kim better.
AT&T ruling: A U.S. District Court judge is expected to announce his ruling Tuesday on whether AT&T will be allowed to buy Time Warner, owner of HBO, CNN and the Warner Bros. movie and television studio. AT&T unveiled the $85-billion deal in October 2016, but in November 2017 the Department of Justice brought a lawsuit to try to block the merger, saying it would hinder competition and raise prices for consumers.
Talking banks: Joseph Otting, the nation’s top bank regulator, will face questions from the House and Senate banking committees this week, marking his first appearance before Congress since his confirmation hearing last summer. The Trump appointee, a former bank executive, has sought to soften regulations since taking office and could face questions about plans to change rules that require banks to lend in minority and low-income communities.
Po-tential for fun: Universal Studios on Friday will open an immersive attraction starring the characters from DreamWorks’ “Kung Fu Panda” movies. Visitors sit in a theater equipped with projection mapping — a technology that projects moving images on uneven surfaces. The theater seats gyrate and shift to bring scenes to life. The attraction replaces a similar offering based on the DreamWorks flick “Shrek.”
Super: Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are set to rule the box office with the Friday release of Disney-Pixar’s “Incredibles 2,” which arrives 14 years after the original hit computer-animated superhero movie. Assuming reviews are good, the long-awaited sequel is expected to debut with up to $140 million in domestic receipts.
Witches galore: Watch out, boys and girls. There’s a quadruple witching on Friday. That’s not when Washington “witch hunts” get even scarier for the White House. Rather, it’s what happens on the third Friday of every March, June, September and December. On these days, market index futures, market index options, stock options and stock futures expire, which can increase volatility.
Monday’s Business section explores the latest boom in the Texas oil biz. The industry currently has such a ferocious appetite for workers that it’ll hire just about anyone with the most basic skills. In the country’s busiest oil patch, where the rig count has climbed by nearly one-third in the past year, drillers, service providers and trucking companies have been poaching in all corners, recruiting everyone from police officers to grocery clerks.
Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:
Culinary loss: Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef who traveled the world to explore the nexus of food and culture, died in an apparent suicide. He was 61. Bourdain transformed his popularity as a bestselling author into TV stardom, with his CNN travel series “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” one of the network’s most popular programs. Bourdain hanged himself in a French hotel room.
Bank abuses: The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which fined Wells Fargo more than $500 million over its creation of unauthorized accounts and other abuses, has found evidence of accounts being opened without proof of customer consent at other banks following a broad industry review. However, the federal regulator refuses to name the institutions, claiming the results of bank exams are private. Consumer advocates criticized the stance.
Fading star?: Until “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” Walt Disney Co.’s efforts to continue the long-running space opera series were virtually unassailable. Disney’s first three “Star Wars” movies, starting in 2015 with “The Force Awakens,” paid off handsomely. But with “Solo,” the seemingly invincible saga has delivered a box-office dud raising worries about Star Wars fatigue. The $250-million film may result in a write-down of $50 million or more for Disney, one analyst predicted.
Musk prevails: A vote to kick Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk out of his chairman’s seat failed at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting. A shareholder activist had pushed the measure saying the company was too big for one person to hold both positions. Musk confided to shareholders that the last several months were the most “hellish” in his life but that he expected production of the troubled Model 3 electric sedan to hit 5,000 vehicles a week by the end of June.
Jobs bonanza: The labor market has hit a tipping point that should help boost wages: There are more job openings than unemployed workers — the first time that’s happened since the Labor Department began tracking job openings in 2000. There were a record 6.7 million openings in April, an increase from an upwardly revised 6.63 million in March. The revised data show that job openings outstripped total unemployed workers in March for the first time.
WHAT WE’RE READING
And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:
Buy or die: The Wall Street Journal looks at the looming reordering of Hollywood’s power structure. “Technology giants are rapidly devouring a media industry that has long been dominated by the same group of entertainment companies — storied Hollywood studios, television networks and cable giants. Now, many of those incumbents are scrambling to transform themselves so that they can stand up to the powerful invaders from Northern California.”
No fun: Was Toys R Us mismanaged on its way to bankruptcy? Looks that way, says Bloomberg. “It’s become clear that Toys R Us didn’t only have an improvident amount of debt — it also had a debt structure as complex and precarious as a Jenga tower, which obscured the company’s tenuous finances. But gravity always wins in the end.”
Wrong approach: The Atlantic says normalizing trade relations with China was a mistake. “Lawmakers wanted to turn a potential enemy into a friend — instead, they squandered their leverage, in ways that shortchanged both nations.”
Bad jobs: The New Yorker takes a gander at a new book about jobs that has a word in the title I can’t use here (hint: it has to do with bulls). Such work is “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”
Online bullying: From Wired, a cautionary tale of how “Star Wars” actress Kelly Marie Tran got hounded off Instagram in our increasingly mean-spirited times. “Everyone has the right to ask transnational entertainment companies to make the movies they want, and if those companies don’t respond, to stop giving the companies money. But harassment, threats, jokes about someone’s race or gender? A Jedi would fight someone who did that stuff.”
With housing prices rising sharply across the nation, the New York Times takes a highly visual look at one possible solution: a new trend in prefabricated housing. And we’re not talking your traditional double-wide here. Instead, think Legos on steroids: units that can be coupled together and stacked high enough to construct an apartment building.
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.