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Newsletter: California Inc.: Cattle industry finds new way to make mooolah

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It’s called “Moneyball for cattle” — using DNA tests and statistics to improve the quality of livestock.
(AFP/Getty Images)

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 Dow fell 354 points after President Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on all Mexican goods to as much as 25%, but the market is likely not done coming to terms with the news. As the Times Editorial Board commented: “Not only do many U.S. manufacturers’ supply chains run through Mexico — especially in the auto industry — but Mexico is the top importer of U.S. goods. Those sales could slump if Mexico retaliates with tariffs of its own.”

LOOKING AHEAD

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Cranking it out: Factory orders, a key metric of economic activity, will be released Tuesday. In March, new orders for manufactured goods rose $9.3 billion, or 1.9%, to $508.2 billion.

Beige Book: The Federal Reserve’s latest Beige Book comes out Wednesday. The April snapshot of regional economic activity found “slight-to-moderate” growth, with sluggish sales for both general retailers and auto dealers.

Jobs market: The jobs market takes the spotlight Friday. April saw especially strong numbers, with 263,000 new hires and the unemployment rate falling to 3.6%, the lowest level in a generation.

Heroic efforts: The early buzz hasn’t been great, but “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” arrives Friday with hopes of keeping this wheezing superhero franchise alive. I’m more intrigued by “Late Night,” starring Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling as a struggling TV host and her first female writer. Hijinks ensue, but with a cast like this, they’re probably worth watching.

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THE AGENDA

Monday’s Business section heads into the pasture to reveal a system of “Moneyball for cattle” — using DNA tests and statistics to improve the quality of livestock. “Back in the day, the eye of the stockman was all we had,” says one industry player, “and now we have high-powered analytical tools and can make progress so much faster.”

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:

Escalating war: The U.S.-China trade war heated up when the Asian country said that it will establish a list of “unreliable” entities that damage the interests of its domestic companies. China also hinted at cutting off the supply of rare earth materials used in a variety of processes and goods. The moves were widely seen as a response to a Trump administration decision to blacklist Huawei Technologies from getting access to chips and other key parts from American suppliers.

Second front: President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on all goods imported from Mexico unless authorities there stop migrants from illegally crossing into the U.S. drew broad criticism, including from business leaders who warned it could disrupt the economy and raise prices on a broad variety of consumer goods — from avocados to autos.

Mega merger: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is proposing a tie-up with French automaker Renault that would create the world’s third-biggest carmaker as manufacturers scramble for scale to tackle an expensive shift to electrification and autonomous driving. The transaction would be structured as a 50-50 ownership through a Dutch holding company, the Italian American automaker said.

No so far away: The $1-billion Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction at Disneyland that opened last week may have set a new standard but it will cost you, plenty. Think $8 blue milk, and $6,615 for an adult-size Stormtrooper outfit. There are only two rides but five shops, a cantina and four restaurants where you can shell it out in the far reaches of Anaheim, where dollar bills are gladly accepted.

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Abortion furor: During the weeks after Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a new restrictive abortion law, it appeared the top corporate figures in Hollywood were prepared to sit on the sidelines as the court system wrangles with the matter. Now, under pressure from actors, producers and directors, Netflix, Disney, NBC Universal and studios said they would rethink filming in the state.

WHAT WE’RE READING

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

It’s Tariff Man! The New York Times impressively explains President Trump’s fascination with tariffs in the form of a comic-book origin story. “Mr. Trump, then the host of ‘The Apprentice,’ saw winners and losers — and the United States was losing.”

Click here: The Wall Street Journal outlines the fine art of getting internet users to click on things. “For years, tech companies have used design tactics to prompt users into actions that benefit the company but not necessarily the user. Around Silicon Valley, some call these methods ‘growth hacking’ or ‘persuasive design.’ Critics use a different term—dark patterns.”

False hope: Bloomberg Businessweek delves into studies showing that some medicines don’t work or may be harmful to patients. “Drugs with unproven effectiveness sell false hope to desperate patients, who are likely paying thousands of dollars out of pocket for them.”

Sock it to me: From Wired, the tale of a Los Angeles company, Gumball Poodle, and its Trump-themed socks. The socks went viral, and suddenly Gumball Poodle was competing with tons of Chinese knockoffs. “To make matters worse, Amazon had chosen one of the frauds as the default seller, shutting Gumball Poodle out.”

Well-rounded: Is it better to be really good at one thing or pretty good at lots of things? The Atlantic chats with the author of “Range,” a book that explores the importance of trying — and sometimes failing at — life’s many opportunities. Among other things, research “has shown that quitting something that’s unrewarding or unfulfilling and moving on to something that’s a better fit makes people happier.”

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SPARE CHANGE

The New York Times’ Tariff Man saga provides a timely reason to ask which superhero movie has the best theme music. I’m thinking John Williams’ “Superman” theme is one of the best. Danny Elfman nailed a suitably spooky tone for his “Batman” theme. Hans Zimmer and DJ Junkie XL came on strong for the “Wonder Woman” theme. But the one that I think really stands out is Alan Silvestri’s “Avengers” theme, which hits all the right notes, especially when the fanfare kicks in.

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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