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California Inc.: Rebooting Microsoft with Windows 10

Welcome to California Inc., the weekly newsletter of the L.A. Times Business section. I'm assistant Business editor Nancy Rivera Brooks filling in for David Lazarus.

Here’s a rundown of upcoming stories this week and the highlights of last week.

Looking Ahead

Covering Californians: California’s Obamacare exchange today will announce its rates and health plans for 2016. Covered California’s premium increases are a closely watched yardstick for how the Affordable Care Act is performing nationwide. The state exchange has about 1.4 million people enrolled.

Virgin Galactic: Federal investigators plan to release their final report Tuesday on what caused Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo to break apart in midair last October. The National Transportation Safety Board will discuss the accident, which killed one of two pilots, at a morning meeting in Washington, D.C. Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, is continuing to build a new rocket plane in the Mojave in its quest to eventually fly tourists to space.

Housing prices: Standard & Poor's on Tuesday will release its S&P/Case-Shiller index of home prices for May. Although the index lags behind other indicators, it gives an accurate picture of the direction of home prices in major U.S. cities. Analysts expect the index to show a continuation of the leveling off in price appreciation seen in recent months.

Fed rate hike: The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee will issue a monetary policy statement Wednesday after a two-day meeting. Fed officials are not expected to increase the central bank’s benchmark short-term interest rate but could signal a rate hike is coming soon. Many analysts expect a rate hike, the first since 2006, at the Fed’s next meeting, in mid-September.

Healthcare results: Fresh off its agreement Friday to buy Cigna Corp. for $54 billion, health insurance giant Anthem Inc. will release its quarterly earnings Wednesday. Biotech behemoth Amgen Inc. reports financial results Thursday. Amgen executives also may discuss the recent approval in Europe of its cholesterol-lowering drug, Repatha, and new competition from a knockoff version of one of its top-selling drugs.

The Agenda

Monday's Business section looks at this week's release of Windows 10, the latest version of the ubiquitous operating system that built the Microsoft Corp. empire. Windows 10 is central to the reboot of Microsoft, which has lost some luster in the last few years. Tech reporter Paresh Dave details some of the new features and handicaps when Windows 10 might show up at your workplace.

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:

Gas profits soar: The surge in California's gasoline prices this year, coming as oil prices have fallen, has helped the state's fuel refineries collect record gross profits on a gallon of gasoline — as much as $1.17 a gallon in May. That compares with a more typical gross profit (equal to refinery costs plus profit) of 49 cents a gallon in recent years, state data show.

SpaceX blame: SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the company believes its rocket disintegrated last month after a small steel strut purchased from a subcontractor snapped under pressure. In addition to the shoddy part, Musk said, employee complacency over quality control could have contributed to the mishap.

Fading refis: Homeowners who didn't refinance their mortgages when interest rates were below 4% may be out of luck for quite a while. Banks report that refis have slowed dramatically now that average interest rates have risen.

Minimum wage: Mirroring the city of L.A., the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to increase the minimum wage in unincorporated areas to $15 an hour by 2020, a move that applies to hundreds of thousands of workers. The next day, UC President Janet Napolitano announced that several thousand workers would have their salaries increased to $15 an hour by 2017.

Legal thriller: Aiming to remove barriers to the consumption of digital content across the continent, EU regulators opened an antitrust case against six major Hollywood movie studios and British pay-TV provider Sky UK, alleging the companies have illegally blocked consumers in most of Europe from watching U.S. movies, TV shows and other content. The studios — Walt Disney Co., NBCUniversal, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. — each face fines of as much as 10% of annual revenues for allegedly entering into improper licensing agreements with Sky UK.

AT&Tv: With the blessing of the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T completed its $49-billion purchase of DirecTV. The deal transforms the phone giant into the nation's largest pay-television operator and may signal an easier path for other pay-TV and Internet company mergers. But consumer groups worry that reduced competition will result in customers paying more.

What We're Reading

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

Catching a Jet: The New Yorker looks at online marketplace Jet.com, which opened to the public on Tuesday, and poses the question of whether the low-priced shopping site backed with $225 million in capital can take on Amazon and win. The Wall Street Journal's take is that the frenzy surrounding the e-commerce start-up is reminiscent of the dot-com boom — and everyone remembers how that flamed out.

Bagel, schmagel: The New York Times wonders why it is so difficult to get a decent New York bagel in California. It seems to have something to do with West Coast schmendricks being too fancy-schmancy, or something. Lots of interesting bagel lore, though.

Hollywood headache: Entertainment companies have a new piracy problem caused by the growing popularity of 3-D printers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Toys, figurines and other physical products tied to films and television were long thought to be immune from widespread illegal copying. But the increasing use of machines that can create small plastic items from computer files, and their improving affordability, raises the specter that the lucrative merchandising business could face competition from do-it-yourselfers.

Potholes and politics: ProPublica examines Congress' inability to keep the Highway Trust Fund flush because of the unpopularity of raising the federal gasoline tax that pays most of the tab for the U.S. federal highway program. That tax has been stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993. Costs to build roads, fix bridges and the like have been rising while fuel-efficient cars have reduced gasoline consumption. With the fund going deep into the red, major projects have stalled.

Getting speedy: Dave Girouard, former president of Google Enterprise Apps and current CEO of personal finance start-up Upstart, shares tips for becoming faster as employees, leaders and businesses. Writing for Firstround.com, he quotes Gen. George Patton, "A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week."

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

 

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