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.
A word of warning: Tax preparers say many of us won’t be happy with our refunds this year, thanks mainly to the Republican tax overhaul. It lowered rates for many individual income levels and raised the standard deduction. But it also eliminated personal exemptions and many deductions that people had itemized to lower their tax burden — such as union dues and the fees that tax preparers charge.
All eyes on Apple: Tech giant Apple reports its latest earnings after the closing bell on Tuesday. Investors will be paying close attention to the company’s plans for responding to a slowdown in iPhone sales.
Powell speaks: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell is expected to be questioned by reporters about the government shutdown and the slowing economy in a news conference Wednesday. He will speak after Fed officials gather for a policy meeting, but they are not expected to change the central bank’s key interest rate.
Jobs check: The Labor Department on Friday will release the latest jobs report. Job growth is expected to have slowed to about 172,000 in January from 312,000 the previous month, but the government shutdown could skew the new figures.
At the movies: If you, like me, can’t get enough of Jake Gyllenhaal in totally weird thrillers, you’ll be excited to know that “Velvet Buzzsaw” opens Friday. It’s set in the L.A. art world, if that sweetens the deal. Also arriving this week is “Then Came You,” the story of “a terminally ill teenager and a 19-year old hypochondriac [who] help each other achieve their dreams and face their fears.” Whatever works.
Monday’s Business section settles in for a nice game of Battleship, checking out one of the Navy’s most advanced new destroyers, which is set to be commissioned in San Diego this weekend. But developing that cutting-edge technology has proved more difficult than expected, and a strategic pivot by the Navy has also changed the ships’ mission. In the end, what was once intended to be 32 destroyers will now only be three.
Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:
Streaming step: Viacom Inc., owner of prominent cable channels Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon, is plunging into the fast-growing world of streaming as younger consumers spend more of their time on YouTube, Netflix and Instagram. The cable television giant is spending $340 million for Pluto TV, a Los Angeles company that offers ad-supported live streams of more than 100 television channels, including news, sports and movies.
Robot workers: Is a robot coming for your job? That is more likely if you live in Riverside, San Bernardino or Merced and work on a farm, warehouse or have a lower-skilled job, according to a Brookings Institution report. The new study suggests that automation of employment will be dramatically different among cities, occupations, ethnic and racial groups, educational levels and age groups.
PG&E update: State investigators concluded that a 2017 fire that destroyed thousands of homes in Santa Rosa, Calif., and killed 22 people was caused by private power lines, not ones owned by utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Still, PG&E said it is moving forward with Chapter 11 protection even as a growing chorus of critics contend the move is less a financial necessity than a strategic business decision.
Shocking development: Construction on Oceanwide Plaza, a $1-billion mixed-use project across from Staples Center, has stalled. Oceanwide Holdings, the Beijing-based developer, said work will resume after a recapitalization, but the stoppage has raised concerns it’s related to restrictions on capital outflows from China or an FBI probe of possible corruption at City Hall involving foreign real estate projects.
Google dispute: The search giant, whose employees have captured attention through high-profile protests of workplace policies, has been quietly urging the National Labor Relations Board to reinstate a ruling allowing companies to ban organizing on their employee email systems. Google defended its action, saying it was only trying to protect itself against meritless claims at the NLRB.
WHAT WE’RE READING
And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:
Strange fruit: The Atlantic looks at the murky ethics of the ugly-fruit industry, companies that sell the less-than-pristine produce mainstream stores shun. “Depending on who you ask, ugly produce is either the salvation or destruction of America’s food system.”
Here, let me: How do other businesses curry favor with Amazon? According to the Wall Street Journal, you do Amazon’s heavy lifting. “The online retail giant is asking consumer-goods companies to create brands exclusively for Amazon after finding that developing them on its own is too costly and time-consuming.”
Hey, look: You’re reading this on a screen. That, says Wired, merits some discussion. It’s not about how much time we spend staring at screens. “The more salient question for a society in which people’s lives increasingly revolve around screens is how we spend that time. But to answer that question, we need better data.”
Ah dinnae ken: Perhaps you didn’t know (as I did not) that many Americans have a taste for haggis, “the Scottish pudding-like sausage made with oatmeal and sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, and lungs) and encased in the animal’s stomach.” The New Yorker says we have poet Robert Burns to thank.
No place like home: Hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin just spent $238 million on a penthouse apartment. The New York Times examines some of his other spending sprees, including “two floors of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Chicago, which he bought for just under $30 million; a $59 million penthouse on Chicago’s so-called Gold Coast; and a $60 million condominium in Miami.”
Kenneth Griffin isn’t the only person flaunting it. This Bloomberg video highlights how the super-rich aren’t just growing more plentiful, they’re getting younger. And how are they doing that, you ask? Not because they’re far-sighted entrepreneurs or business geniuses. No, they get their cash the old-fashioned way. They inherit it.
For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. Mad props to Laurence Darmiento for helping put this thing together.