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Newsletter: California Inc.: To infinity and the box office

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Word is that “Toy Story 4” is as great as its three predecessors. The latest adventures of Woody and Buzz come out Friday.
(Pixar)

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.

Who wants to run Wells Fargo? Not a lot of people, apparently. More than two months into the troubled bank’s search for a new leader, it’s increasingly looking like the caretaker CEO will stay on the job for the simple reason that other candidates keep turning it down. Can’t imagine why.

LOOKING AHEAD

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Housing starts: We’ll learn if builders are building when housing starts for May are released Tuesday. In April, housing starts rose 5.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.235 million units, driven by gains in construction of both single- and multi-family housing units.

Interest rates: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will speak Wednesday after a two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. A rate cut this month is unlikely, analysts say, but they’ll be listening closely for any clues about a July cut.

Jobless claims: Weekly jobless claims come out Thursday. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 222,000 in the week ended June 8. Data for the prior week were revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Opening this week: A fourth bite of the apple is normally the kiss of death for movies, but word is that “Toy Story 4” is as great as its three predecessors. The latest adventures of Woody and Buzz come out Friday. For something a little different, check out “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” a documentary about the acclaimed author.

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THE AGENDA

Monday’s Business section observes that Amazon’s Alexa is now conducting story time in classrooms, queuing up professional narrators to read the tale aloud, quizzing kids in its robot voice and offering hints when someone flubbed an answer to questions about “Davy Duck’s Grumpy Day.” I’m guessing more than a few teachers are thinking robots are coming for their jobs.

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:

Spirited effort: When low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines begins new service from Hollywood Burbank to Las Vegas later this month, passengers may be surprised to find the carrier do something it hasn’t been known for: Arrive on time. The carrier that shook the airline industry a dozen years ago with its ultra low-cost fares and high fees has overhauled its business plan.

Consumer prices: Nationally, consumer prices are barely moving, with inflation clocking in at just 1.8% for May. But if you live in a major urban area of California, you’ve noticed a much bigger hit. Among the chief culprits? Housing costs. A handful of California metropolitan areas saw the greatest jump in the consumer price index in May.

Contractor campaign: Uber and Lyft launched a public campaign to pressure California lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom into exempting them from pending legislation that might force them to classify drivers as employees. The ride-hailing giants have lobbied behind the scenes for months, arguing that their drivers should retain “independent contractor” status.

Not playing around: The scrutiny of Riot Games over allegations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the “League of Legends” video game maker has grown wider: California regulators revealed they’re investigating the matter as well. The state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the agency that enforces California’s civil rights laws, said it filed a court action demanding that the Los Angeles company provide it with employee pay data.

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Trump bump: President Trump has visited California three times since entering the White House, but he’ll have one less place to stay for the next trip. The Trump Organization has quietly unloaded one of its last two properties in Los Angeles County, a Tudor-style home in Beverly Hills, for $13.5 million in an off-market sale. The company bought the home for $7 million in 2007, when it was controlled by Trump. It’s now run by his two sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr.

WHAT WE’RE READING

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

Running a tab: The Wall Street Journal delves into Washington’s (and Republicans’) newfound embrace of debt and deficits. “The Congressional Budget Office, which expects the average interest cost on debt to rise to 3.5% over the next decade from 2.3%, estimates the government will spend more on interest in 2020 than on Medicaid and more in 2025 than on national defense.”

Rethinking Welch: Bloomberg Businessweek offers an interesting reappraisal of the storied career of former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. “Was Jack Welch a great manager? Of course he was. But the bull market — and the culture’s new emphasis on share price — made him look better than he really was.”

Used clothes: The Atlantic casts an eye on the emerging trend of teens (read: influencers) selling clothes from their own closets, thanks to an app called Depop. “Most Depop users sell old clothes and vintage garments. If sellers are successful enough, sometimes they’ll start their own brand and distribute it exclusively through Depop.”

Don’t fence me in: From Wired, a report on how Wyoming is becoming the latest haven for cryptocurrencies. “Wyoming’s push is a reflection of the nation’s patchwork of state laws, created in the absence of clear federal rules. ... Legislators in Wyoming, as well as neighboring Colorado and Montana, see that as an opening.”

Too clever: The New York Times tells of a Vancouver store that introduced novelty plastic bags to persuade customers to bring reusable alternatives. “Far from spurring customers to bring their own reusables, the plastic bags — variously emblazoned with ‘Dr. Toews’ Wart Ointment Wholesale,’ ‘Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium’ or ‘The Colon Care Co-op’ — have become somewhat of a surprise hit.”

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SPARE CHANGE

The New Yorker reflects on Jazzercise, which made its debut 50 years ago. The Jazzercise website says that “when you hear Jazzercise you think leg warmers and leotards, right? Or a workout for your Mom but not for you? ... It’s true that we were the original dance party workout. But today the leotards — and the ’80s — are long gone and our classes are way too hot for leg warmers. We’re still evolving and transforming people’s bodies and their lives.” In case you were wondering.

For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. Until next time, I’ll see you in the Business section.


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