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Newsletter: California Inc.: DC hopes to challenge Marvel’s box-office dominance with a single word

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“Shazam!” comes out Friday, marking DC’s best shot at crafting a superhero movie that isn’t a study in darkness.
(AP)

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.

The stock market keeps surprising, with the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 index closing out its best quarter in nearly a decade. New data pointing to lower inflation, plus optimism that the U.S.-China trade talks are making progress, helped drive the rally. Also contributing was Lyft’s 8.7% pop in its trading debut on the Nasdaq. More on the ride-hailing company below.

LOOKING AHEAD

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Retail sales: The latest figures on retail sales come out Monday. In January, retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted 0.2% from a month earlier to $504.4 billion. December sales were revised lower to a 1.6% drop from an initially published 1.2% decline.

Vehicle sales: How’s the car market looking? We’ll find out Tuesday when motor vehicle sales are tabulated. In February, sales fell 2.8% from the same month a year ago to 1.26 million. That translates to an annualized industry sales rate of 16.6 million.

Jobs market: All eyes will be on the Labor Department on Friday when the latest unemployment numbers are released. Hiring slowed sharply in February as employers added just 20,000 jobs — the fewest job gains since September 2017. Economists had expected about 181,000 jobs to be added in the month.

You know my name: “Shazam!” comes out Friday, marking DC’s best shot at crafting a superhero movie that isn’t a study in darkness. Those looking for a fright can catch the remake of “Pet Sematary.” And for something more uplifting, there’s “Amazing Grace,” a long-shelved 1972 concert film featuring the incomparable Aretha Franklin.

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THE AGENDA

When Donald Trump wanted to make a good impression — on a lender, a business partner, or a journalist — he sometimes sent them official-looking documents called “Statements of Financial Condition” that laid out Trump’s properties, debts and multibillion-dollar net worth. But some omitted properties that carried big debts or overvalued listed assets. Now investigators are looking at these unusual documents in an apparent attempt to determine whether the president’s familiar bragging ever crossed a line into fraud.

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:

Streaming Apple: The iPhone maker’s much-anticipated Hollywood plans took shape as CEO Tim Cook unveiled a Netflix-style streaming service that will feature original series from such luminaries as Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey. At a presentation at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., he also debuted Apple News+, a news service that will cost $9.99 a month and include journalism from the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and hundreds of magazines.

Getting a Lyft: The No. 2 U.S. ride-hailing company, Lyft Inc., soared in its stock-market debut after raising $2.34 billion in an initial public offering that priced at the top of an elevated range. That sends an encouraging signal to the stampede of Silicon Valley companies lining up to go public this year. Shares opened at $87.24 — 21% above the IPO price of $72 — and closed the day up 8.7% at $78.29. That gives the company a market value of about $22.4 billion.

Exit Sloan: Wells Fargo’s embattled Chief Executive Tim Sloan abruptly stepped down as CEO and president and as a board member, with his retirement taking effect June 30. Sloan, who struggled to get the giant San Francisco bank past a seemingly endless series of customer abuse scandals, was replaced on an interim basis by C. Allen Parker, the company’s general counsel. Wells Fargo plans to seek a permanent chief from outside the bank.

Doublewide ban: The May 31 opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge — the biggest expansion in Disneyland’s history — is expected to attract hordes of fans, prompting Walt Disney Co. to eliminate the park’s last smoking areas as of May 1. The Burbank media giant also is banning strollers wider than 31 inches, which includes some double strollers by well-known brands such as Baby Jogger. Wagons that are pulled, such as the classic Radio Flyer, already are banned.

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737 crash: Boeing Co. will modify the flight control system of its 737 Max jetliner so its software cannot send the aircraft into a series of uncontrolled dives, as it may have done in two crashes over the last five months. Boeing also will recommend increased pilot training and make standard a more advanced cockpit data display. The changes were announced by Boeing on the same day air safety regulators testified before a Senate subcommittee about the plane’s certification process.

WHAT WE’RE READING

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

Party on, Wayne: Some of Silicon Valley’s “unicorns” are going public, and a number of people and businesses will make a ton of money as a result. The New York Times provides a helpful rundown of whose pockets are getting heavier as Lyft, Uber, Pinterest, Postmates and Slack let the good time roll.

His majesty: Wired goes in pursuit of Adrian Abramovich, the robocall king. “The laws governing robocalls are complex and sometimes contradictory ... But the gist is simple enough: no calling cell phones, no using automated or prerecorded messages, and no using fake names or numbers. According to the FCC, Abramovich had broken all of these rules.”

Farewell and adieu: The Wall Street Journal examines the fall from grace of Carlos Ghosn, a giant of the auto industry. “Two Nissan executives, determined to halt further corporate integration, instigated a probe of Mr. Ghosn, chasing longtime rumors of wrongdoing, until they found evidence of alleged financial crimes to give prosecutors.”

Open wide: Newsweek says artificial intelligence could improve healthcare, but at the cost of your privacy. “If you think Facebook and Google invaded your privacy, imagine what hackers could do with a minute-to-minute log of your disease symptoms, behaviors, locations and even your appearance and conversations.”

Trust but verify: Should companies regulate themselves? Bloomberg looks at Boeing and others, and suggests this perhaps isn’t the best way to keep people safe. “The self-regulatory freedom enjoyed by Boeing is common in the U.S. And it raises questions about the efficacy of the nation’s consumer-protection system, long the envy of the world and part of the reason American products are trusted more than those of many other countries.”

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SPARE CHANGE

In honor of Tim Sloan, who stepped down last week as CEO of scandal-plagued Wells Fargo, some classic songs about saying adios. The Beatles had a little something to offer on the subject. So did Simple Minds. And Whitney Houston. But perhaps the greatest sendoff tune ever came from Steam. (Go ahead, sing along — you know the words.)

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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