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California Inc.: Peele brings scares to box office again with ‘Us’

California Inc.: Peele brings scares to box office again with ‘Us’
We’ll see if lightning strikes twice for director Jordan Peele when his new fright fest, “Us,” comes out Friday. This latest offering focuses on a family’s fight for survival after four masked strangers show up. (Universal Pictures)

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, which was marred by a plane crash and mass shooting.

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The admissions scandal is getting more attention than the emissions scandal, but the latter has yet to run its course. U.S. regulators have charged Volkswagen and former CEO Martin Winterkorn with defrauding investors as far back as 2010 in the scheme. The surprise charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission come two years after the German automaker settled with the U.S. over criminal and civil charges.

LOOKING AHEAD

Powell at the podium: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell holds a news conference Wednesday after a monetary policy meeting. The Fed is not expected to make any interest rate changes but could announce a halt this year to the unwinding of a key stimulus program.

Mouse eats Fox: Walt Disney Co. is poised to close its $71.3-billion purchase of 21st Century Fox on Wednesday. Disney will own all the “Star Wars” movies, “Avatar,” “X-Men” and cable networks including National Geographic and FX. The question on Hollywood’s mind is how many job cuts there will be, and when.

Jobless claims: Weekly jobless claims come out Thursday. The number of people filing applications for unemployment benefits increased more than expected in the week ended March 9. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 229,000.

Home sales: The latest figures on existing home sales will be released Friday. Sales of previously owned homes fell 1.2% in January from the previous month. However, a decline in home prices and mortgage rates may bode well for this spring.

New scares: We’ll see if lightning strikes twice for director Jordan Peele when his new fright fest, “Us,” comes out Friday. The follow-up to Peele’s well-received “Get Out,” this latest offering focuses on a family’s fight for survival after four masked strangers show up. For something a bit different, check out “Ramen Shop,” which appears to share some DNA (or noodles) with “Tampopo.”

THE AGENDA

The muddled response by U.S. regulators and the Trump administration to the safety risks of the Boeing 737 Max raised doubt about American aviation leadership. Across the globe, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for decades represented the gold standard for air safety, yet since the Ethiopian Airlines crash, foreign observers watched Washington's handling of the crisis with mounting alarm.

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:

737 crash: The second crash within six months of a 737 Max jetliner roiled the international aviation community and plane maker, Boeing. The March 10 crash shortly after takeoff of the Ethiopian Airlines plane halted deliveries of the jet, hitting Boeing’s stock, amid concerns that the new fuel-efficient model that may have a design and software flaw.

Admissions scandal: The shocking indictment of dozens of wealthy parents in a scheme to help their children allegedly cheat their way into elite schools such as UCLA, USC, Stanford and Yale captivated the nation’s attention. While much of the coverage focused on Hollywood celebrities caught up in the scandal, business columnist Mike Hiltzik took issue with the indicted executives and other professionals whose jobs require them to follow a code of conduct.

Tesla SUV: Elon Musk unveiled the latest addition to Tesla’s lineup — a small sport utility vehicle based on the Model S sedan — at the car maker’s LA Design Studio. The next day investors sent shares down 5%, with the concerns less about the Model Y’s derivative design than its lengthy delivery schedule. The first model, which starts at $47,000, won’t be available until the fall of 2020, when there will be heightened competition in the electric-vehicle market.

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Wells Fargo hearing: Tim Sloan, CEO of the embattled San Francisco financial institution, faced bipartisan wrath during a House Financial Services Committee hearing. Members displayed impatience with continued disclosures of consumer abuses at the mega bank, which got into trouble in 2016 for an unauthorized accounts scandal. committee Chairwoman and L.A. Democrat Maxine Waters later called on Sloan to resign after learning he got a nearly $1-million pay hike last year.

Tech-savvy massacre: The mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 was engineered to be shared on the world’s largest technology platforms, drawing rebukes of Silicon Valley’s laissez-faire approach to content moderation. The planned shooting began with a racist manifesto uploaded to a document-sharing service linked to a Twitter account. The shooter’s helmet-mounted camera live-streamed the massacre to a Facebook Live account linked to a hate-filled online community.

WHAT WE’RE READING

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

Off with his head: From Bloomberg Businessweek, the tale of Tesla’s Elon Musk facing off with a leaker of company info. Many CEOs would ignore situations like this. “Instead, as accounts from police, former employees and documents produced by Tesla’s own internal investigation reveal, Musk set out to destroy him.”

Interesting times: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has roots in Hollywood. The New York Times sees a potential conflict as he seeks more access to China for the U.S. film industry. “While Mr. Mnuchin divested from his Hollywood film production company after joining the Trump administration, he maintains ties to the industry through his wife, the actress and filmmaker Louise Linton.”

Regrets, he has a few: The World Wide Web turned 30 last week. Time interviews the web’s founder, Tim Berners-Lee. In this age of misinformation, he says, “we have to make sure that the web is serving humanity. Not just by just keeping it free and open, but making sure that the things that people build in this permissionless space are actually helping democracy.”

Your own private Idaho: Why would anyone buy multiple properties in the same development? The Wall Street Journal says it’s all about more. “Some bulk buyers are driven by business reasons and aim to either create rental income or build equity. Others simply want enough units so they can house their extended families, plus friends, if they want to come and visit.”

Color me amused: A nifty story from the New Yorker on the business of color consulting for high-end homes. One consultant says the trend nowadays is for warmer, brighter colors. “When the world is in a bit of turmoil, as it is at the moment, we all want to take a bit of comfort,” she says. “We want colors that will nourish our homes and nourish our souls.”

SPARE CHANGE

How many cameras does a cellphone really need? That’s the question explored in this video from the Journal, which focuses on the new Samsung Galaxy S10, boasting no fewer than five cameras. Cameras matter become Instagram matters, because Snapchat matters. And what all those extra lenses do is give you more choices. Specifically, more ways to zoom in on what you’re capturing. (Food bloggers, take note.)

For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. 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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