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.
Stocks gained ground Friday after the Labor Department said the economy added a surprisingly strong 242,000 net positions in February, while the unemployment rate held steady at an eight-year low of 4.9%. The dismal-science crowd says this should ease fears that the U.S. is slipping toward another recession. California’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.7% in January from 5.9% the previous month.
Tech gathering: The Montgomery Summit, one of Southern California’s biggest technology conferences, kicks off Tuesday in Santa Monica. Keynote speakers for the two-day gathering of industry bigwigs will include Rob High, vice president and chief technology officer for IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence group, and retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Presentations will feature chief executives from 145 private technology companies. About 1,000 people are expected to attend the invitation-only event.
Coastal commission: The California Coastal Commission will meet in Santa Monica on Wednesday for its first session since the controversial firing of Chief Executive Charles Lester last month. The commission, which oversees development along the state’s 1,000-mile shore, will consider naming Senior Deputy Director Jack Ainsworth as acting executive director until a permanent replacement for Lester is found. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Lester was fired despite objections from many environmentalists, local government officials, commission staff members and former commissioners.
SXSW opens: South by Southwest, the influential festival of film, music and interactive media held in Austin, Texas, will kick off Friday with an appearance by President Obama. The president will sit down for a discussion about the role of technology and entrepreneurs in civic life. After a controversy last fall when the festival canceled two sessions because of threats of violence, the interactive portion of SXSW now features a full day of programming on Saturday dedicated to the subject of online harassment.
Buying Freedom: A deadline looms this week for companies interested in buying the Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise newspapers. Companies that want to acquire those or other assets from bankrupt publishing company Freedom Communications must submit bids by Friday. So far, only L.A. Times owner Tribune Publishing and L.A. Daily News owner Digital First Media have submitted offers, though a group led by current Freedom executives was trying to put together a bid. A bankruptcy auction is scheduled for March 16.
Monday’s Business section asks a timely question: What would a President Trump mean for the stock market? Investors generally aren’t yet trading in anticipation of a Trump presidency, analysts say, because Trump still must win the nomination, then get elected to the White House and then try to push his programs through Congress. But Trump nonetheless is having an impact on markets because his march toward the nomination is adding to the volatility that’s rocked equities so far this year.
Here are some of the other stories that ran in The Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:
Plenty of popcorn: AMC Entertainment has entered an agreement to acquire Carmike Cinemas, which would create the largest chain of movie theaters in the country and the world. Under the terms of the agreement, Chinese-owned AMC would buy Carmike for $30 a share, in a deal valued at $1.1 billion, including assumption of Carmike’s debt. Leawood, Kan.-based AMC is currently the second-largest U.S. movie theater operator, behind Regal Entertainment Group. Carmike is the fourth biggest. Adding Carmike’s 274 locations would expand AMC’s reach to 653 theaters, making it the world’s biggest chain. Knoxville, Tenn.-based Regal operates 572 cinemas.
Store closings: Sports Authority will close 19 stores in California. The Englewood, Colo.-based sporting goods retailer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week and said it would close or sell about 140 stores, or nearly one-third of its locations. The retailer has struggled to service $1.3 billion in debt it was saddled with through a 2006 leveraged buyout by Los Angeles private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners. Sports Authority has 463 stores in 41 states and in Puerto Rico. Stores are closing throughout the Southland and across California.
Hip harbor: For years, San Pedro’s faux New England fishing village Ports O’ Call has been down on its luck. The collection of Old English-, New England- and Spanish-styled buildings that opened in the 1960s has long showed its age. Shops sat empty. And while packed on weekends, the village was decidedly sleepy during the work week. But now, Ports O’ Call Village is set to get a $100-million makeover. City officials and developers unveiled plans for turning the aging property into a hip destination with restaurants, an amphitheater and marketplace. The long-awaited redevelopment is seen as a key step in transforming San Pedro’s once-industrial waterfront into a regional destination.
Virtual nausea: For those adrenaline junkies who don’t get enough of a thrill riding a regular roller coaster, Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia is adding virtual reality to the mix. In a partnership with electronics giant Samsung, Six Flags plans to strap virtual-reality goggles onto riders of the park’s Revolution roller coaster so they can feel the twists, drops and climbs of the coaster track while watching images of a midair battle with space aliens. The images in the goggles, created with the help of technology firm Oculus VR, are synced to the motion of the coaster.
Expanded role: Davan Maharaj, editor of the Los Angeles Times, has been named publisher as well, part of a sweeping reorganization by the newspaper’s parent company, Tribune Publishing Co. Editors at eight other Tribune papers will assume similar dual roles as editor-publishers. The shake-up comes a month after Michael W. Ferro Jr., a Chicago tech entrepreneur, became the company’s largest shareholder and chairman. A Tribune news release said editors “are in the unique position of understanding their local communities” as they make business decisions.
WHAT WE’RE READING
And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:
Adios, Texas: Bloomberg spots a new twist to plunging oil prices: Mexican shoppers are disappearing from Texas, and that’s bad for local businesses. “We are talking about millions and millions of dollars per day that Mexicans spend in Texas,” says one economist.
Not Facebook: Snapchat managed to build a business, Bloomberg says, by confusing older people. “As Facebook has transformed from a slightly wild place to a communications tool for parents, teachers, and heads of state,” Snapchat has become “the looser, goofier social network.”
Capitalist tool: The Wall Street Journal has cooked up a very cool interactive tool to let you know where you stand relative to the 1%. It takes a little figuring, but what you do is slide the cursor to your income level to see your percentile ranking. Someone pulling down just over $60,000 is a 20 percenter.
Defending Apple: The Guardian notes that not everyone in Washington is keen on weakening encryption. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says that as far as the Pentagon is concerned, “data security, including encryption, is absolutely essential to us.”
McClendon: Former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon was charged with breaking federal antitrust laws. A day later, says Reuters, he died when his car slammed into an overpass. What happened?
Economic growth has begun transforming wild habitats in East Africa into an almost dystopian industrial landscape. Photographer Nick Brandt documented the changes in a Wall Street Journal photo essay.
For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. Until next time, I’ll see you in the Business section.