Newsletter: California Inc.: Hollywood hopes bad puppets bring box-office mojo

“The Happytime Murders,” opening Friday, stars Melissa McCarthy and a bunch of puppets. The surprisingly naughty movie sports an R rating and a willingness to go where Roger Rabbit didn’t dare.

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.

On Friday, we learned that California payrolls grew by 46,700 jobs in July as the unemployment rate held at a record low of 4.2%. June’s initial report, which said employers added only 800 jobs, raised concerns the Golden State’s economic engine was pausing after a remarkable run. But June’s gains were revised upward Friday to 21,500.



CFPB nominee: The Senate Banking Committee is expected on Thursday to narrowly confirm White House aide Kathy Kraninger as the next director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, paving the way for a full Senate vote in the coming weeks. Nearly all Democrats oppose Kraninger because she has no experience in finance, banking regulation or consumer protection.

New home sales: The latest stats on new home sales will be released by the Commerce Department on Thursday. In June, sales of new single-family homes fell to an eight-month low, and data for the prior month was revised sharply lower, the latest indications that the housing market is slowing.

Powell speaks: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell delivers a speech Friday titled “Monetary Policy in a Changing Economy” at a central banking conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo. It will be Powell’s first public comments since President Trump publicly criticized the Fed’s recent interest rate hikes.

Puppet love: Hollywood hopes a little “Roger Rabbit” magic will rub off on “The Happytime Murders,” a comedy thriller opening Friday that stars Melissa McCarthy and a bunch of puppets. The surprisingly naughty, Los Angeles-set movie sports an R rating and, judging from the trailer, a willingness to go where Roger and Jessica didn’t dare.



Monday’s Business section examines the demise of the cable bundle. Who’s responsible? “The answer can be traced to a few decisions in recent years that have set the stage for this extraordinarily lucrative and long-lived business model to unravel: licensing reruns to Netflix, shelling out billions for sports rights, introducing slimmer bundles and failing to promote a Netflix killer called TV Everywhere.”


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

Musk’s troubles: Speculation mounted that Tesla’s board will hire an executive to run the electric carmaker after billionaire founder Elon Musk gave an emotional interview to the New York Times discussing the difficulties he has had ramping up production of Tesla’s Model 3 sedan. It followed a recent tweet by Musk saying he had a plan to take Tesla private, but it now appears there is no secure funding for any stockholder buyout.

Cable challenge: At a time when other local news outlets are cutting resources, cable TV giant Charter Communications is launching a 24-hour local news channel in November that will be available in the 1.5 million homes in greater Los Angeles that receive the company’s Spectrum pay-TV service. The channel would challenge local broadcast stations who have long dominated the news with car chases, traffic tie-ups and the latest disasters.

No fairy tale: Walt Disney Co. has put a hold on plans to build a luxury hotel in Disneyland Resort’s shopping district after Anaheim officials withdrew a $267-million tax break that the Burbank media giant was expecting to get from operating the hotel. Disney has changed the location of the hotel, and emboldened city officials now say the subsidy applies only to the project as it was proposed at the previous address.

Facebook complaint: Federal regulators are alleging that Facebook Inc.’s advertising tools allow landlords and real estate brokers to violate the Fair Housing Act. The Department of Housing and Urban Development said in an administrative complaint that the social media giant’s targeting systems allow advertisers to exclude certain audiences, such as families with young children or disabled people, from seeing housing ads.


Earnings debate: At the urging of outgoing PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, President Trump said he asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to study doing away with quarterly earnings statements and replacing them with twice-yearly reports. Trump is joining critics who say quarterly results make companies focus too much on short-term results at the expense of long-term planning.


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

Unfriendly skies: From the Atlantic, a look at some of the amazing high-tech ways the Chinese government is spying on its citizens, including drones disguised as birds that flap their wings and mimic the real things. “In fact, animals on the ground often can’t make the distinction, and even real birds in the sky sometimes fly alongside the drones.”

Dictating terms: Bloomberg says college donors are increasingly attaching strings to their financial gifts. “Ever since the family of industrialist Henry Ford blanched at the perceived liberal leaning of the foundation that bears his name, America’s 1% has fumed over institutions that have, in their view, subverted their legacies.”

Alphabet city: Fast Company provides a peek at efforts by Google’s parent company to build a smart city in Canada. “The smart district would be developed from scratch, and much has been hypothesized about the possibilities that could be opened up by a ground-up, tech-driven infrastructure.”

Time’s a-wastin’: The Wall Street Journal delves into the myriad ways that bosses manage to waste workers’ time. “They give orders without realizing how much work those directives entail. They make offhand comments and don’t consider that their employees may interpret them as commands. And they solicit opinions without realizing that people will bend over backward to tell them what they want to hear.”

All about Elon: An opinion piece in the New York Times from tech writer Kara Swisher asks a question many may be wondering: Is Elon Musk crazy? The answer, she says, is no, but the Tesla CEO is “an impulsive and driven boss who runs a very hot and messy kitchen and does not spend a lot of time apologizing for it.”



Wired serves up a video detailing Musk’s plan to solve traffic jams in general and the snarls surrounding Dodger Stadium in particular. Underground tunnels are the name of the game, and aside from the legal, financial and practical barriers to making this dream a reality, it must be said that Musk is onto something.

For the latest money news, go to Mad props to Laurence Darmiento for helping put this thing together.

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

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