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Newsletter: California Inc.: A hot ticket at the movies, should you choose to accept it

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Tom Cruise (and cohorts) return for a sixth outing in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. Early reviews say this latest installment may be the best yet.
(David James)

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.

As last week came to a close, markets were roiled by President Trump saying he was willing to slap a tariff on everything China makes and his criticism of the Federal Reserve, which is supposed to be free from political influence.

Just another day in the life.

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LOOKING AHEAD

Fox vote: Shareholders of 21st Century Fox are scheduled to vote Friday on the proposed $71-billion merger agreement with the Walt Disney Co. The absence of a higher bid from Comcast brings the Burbank entertainment giant closer to its ambition of buying the Fox assets, including the prolific television and movie studios, cable channels FX and National Geographic, and a controlling interest in streaming service Hulu.

Economic growth: After a disappointing 2% annual growth rate in the first quarter, the Commerce Department is expected to report Friday that total economic output bounced back to about a 3.6% rate from April through June. That would be the best performance since 2014. The improvement would come from the recent tax cuts, as well as businesses and consumers making up for purchases and other activity they delayed in the first quarter.

Up, up and away: SpaceX is scheduled to launch commercial communications satellites Wednesday afternoon from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The launch will be the seventh for satellite communications firm Iridium, which is replacing its existing satellite fleet with new spacecraft.

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Mission: Profitable: Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” the sixth film to star Tom Cruise as superspy Ethan Hunt, is poised to top the box office this week with up to $65 million domestically. The film, featuring the requisite daring stunts by Cruise & Co., has already earned raves from critics, which could help it defy franchise fatigue.

THE AGENDA

Monday’s Business section gets in the passenger seat alongside a Chinese company that aims to give Tesla a run for its money in the country’s electric-car market. Xpeng Motors Technology expects to raise more than $600 million this month from investors, valuing it close to $4 billion. The company sees an opportunity in Tesla’s still-diminutive presence in China, creating an opening for local start-ups to hawk cheaper, technology-centric vehicles.

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:

Disney rules: Comcast Corp. dropped out of the hunt for 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets, handing Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger a major victory. The Burbank media giant will get even bigger with the the $71-billion purchase of Fox’s prolific television and movie studios, cable channels FX and National Geographic and other properties.

Record fine: Google was slapped with a $5 billion fine from European regulators who say the search giant’s practice of pre-installing its apps on Android devices made by third-party manufacturers stifles innovation and competition. The company was given 90 days to halt the practice, which is now drawing more scrutiny in the U.S.

Musk’s war: As Tesla struggles to mass-produce a car, iconoclastic founder Elon Musk appears at war with the world — from regulators, to journalists and, most recently, a British diver who helped rescue the Thai soccer team trapped in a cave. At least one major investor has had enough, saying that Musk needs to regain his focus.

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Executive termination: Paramount Television President Amy Powell has been fired after making racially charged comments. A person familiar with the matter said she made the remarks during a conference call about an upcoming Paramount TV show expected to feature a mostly black cast. The firing comes a month after Netflix ousted its chief communications officer for using a racial slur in the workplace.

Jobs puzzle: California added a meager 800 new jobs in June as unemployment remained at a record low. The slowdown could signal that the state is reaching full employment, with workers hard to find. Or it could be a sign of sagging confidence among executives as a growing trade war with China unnerves companies in logistics and beyond.

WHAT WE’RE READING

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

The Amazon threat: Is Amazon conquering the world? Maybe not as much as people think, says Wired. “By opening up its platform to third-party sellers, Amazon has ensured that it will nearly always face competition, even on its own website. And as Amazon has become one of the most valuable companies in the world, it has taken increasing pains to avoid doing anything that antitrust authorities might disapprove of.”

E-China: The New Yorker features an intriguing look at how e-commerce is transforming rural China. “Analysts predict that China’s online retail market will double in size in the next two years, and that the growth will come disproportionately from third- and fourth-tier cities and from the country’s vast rural hinterland.”

Sign me up: A four-day workweek is too good to be true, right? One company tested it out and found it boosted productivity. “Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks,” one researcher said. “Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five.”

A better burger: Fast Company takes us inside the El Segundo research lab of Beyond Meat, which is trying to make plant-based burgers that are indistinguishable from the animal-based variety. “The 26,000-square foot facility features every machine, gadget and gizmo dedicated to solving one question: How can we mimic meat? And more importantly, how do we make it look, feel, and taste like the real thing?”

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The horror, the horror: From the Wall Street Journal, some insights into the choices airlines make in deciding whether your flight will be relatively comfortable or an exercise in contortion. “Airlines have their long-held prejudices on seats. Some prefer a firm cushion. Others want softer. Even when manufacturers suggest one particular firmness that they think provides ideal support and comfort for most passengers, some airlines insist on modifications.”

SPARE CHANGE

An eye-opening video from Bloomberg about the forward-looking job of gene editing. “Dan Carlson helped develop dairy cattle that never grow horns. His hope: eliminating a painful procedure millions of calves undergo each year. But the unprecedented possibilities of gene editing also raise old fears about tinkering with nature.”

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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