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.
Bills to ponder: Fixing roads and regulating tobacco will top the agenda today when the California Legislature returns from its summer recess. Lawmakers have proposed tax and fee hikes to help produce $6 billion a year for highway and bridge maintenance. They also will consider bills to restrict access to electronic cigarettes, ban tobacco from schools and expand smoke-free workplace laws.
CalPERS results: The board of the California Public Employees' Retirement System, which is meeting today through Wednesday, is expected to address CalPERS’ sub-par performance for its fiscal year ended June 30. The nation's largest public pension fund said its investments returned just 2.4% for the year, far below its 7.5% target. Also, the fund’s upcoming disclosure of its private equity investment fees may be addressed.
Greek bailout: Greece faces its first deadline Thursday under its new bailout. The beleaguered government must pay $3.2 billion to the European Central Bank to avoid a default on its debts. Tense talks with its financial partners, including the International Monetary Fund, led to an agreement in which Greece must impose harsh austerity measures to get up to $94 billion in aid over three years.
Edison faces fines: Southern California Edison has until Thursday to tell a judge why it shouldn’t face penalties for illegal communications with members and staff of the California Public Utilities Commission over the last two years. An administrative law judge has recommended that Edison pay penalties as high as $34 million for 10 unreported communications with commissioners or staff.
Union vote: Ballots are due Thursday in a hotly contested election for leader of Hollywood's largest entertainment union, SAG-AFTRA. The current president, Ken Howard, star of “The White Shadow,” is being challenged by Patricia Richardson, the mom in the 1990s sitcom "Home Improvement." The race has highlighted anxieties over how talent is compensated in the Internet age.
Today's Business section focuses on the growing trend of companies installing cybersecurity experts at senior levels. In recent months, American International Group, BlackBerry, CMS Energy, General Motors and Wells Fargo have added them to their boards. The reasons are clear. Cyber attacks on large companies skyrocketed 44% last year from 2013. Cybercrime costs businesses more than $400 billion a year, according to Lloyd's of London.
Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:
Falling yuan: China's decision to devalue the yuan is sure to be felt across the Southern California economy. With so many local businesses tied to the Chinese economy — whether for tourist dollars, investment or trade — any weakening of its currency could have a swift effect in the Southland. Retailers and tour guides could take a hit, but importers of Chinese goods could enjoy reduced prices and Chinese investors may be eager to shelter their wealth in dollars, economists said.
Tesla stock: Tesla Motors Inc. said it plans to sell an additional $500 million worth of stock to help fund its current projects, including new-car development and a battery plant being built in Nevada. The Palo Alto maker of electric cars also said its billionaire chief executive, Elon Musk, plans to buy $20 million worth of the shares offered, which placated investors worried about dilution of the company’s market value.
SeaWorld steps up: Still reeling from criticism over the treatment of its killer whales, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. pledged $1.5 million to a sea life conservation effort. The money, to be paid over the next three years, will go to a program run by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Criticism of SeaWorld surged after the release in 2013 of "Blackfish," a documentary that accused SeaWorld of abusing and neglecting killer whales at its theme parks.
Stylin': When people seek street cred, they often turn to Evan Greenspan's vintage clothing shop. Members of hip-hop group N.W.A. often browsed the racks. And now, the South Gate store is outfitting them again — or at least their characters — in Universal Studios' movie "Straight Outta Compton." The filmmakers purchased hundreds of items worth about $15,000, including the Charlie Brown polo shirts worn by Eazy-E in the film.
No rest: If you haven't taken a vacation in a year, you aren't alone. More than 135 million Americans, or 56%, said they haven't taken a vacation in the last 12 months, compared with 126 million Americans, or 52%, who reported going without a vacation for a year in 2014, according to a survey of 1,000 working stiffs. The survey did not ask why people put off vacations, but other surveys have found that Americans fear being replaced or fear a backlog of work upon their return.
What We're Reading
And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:
New Google: Coverage of Google’s restructuring has focused on the idea of Alphabet as a new kind of Internet-era conglomerate. But the Harvard Business Review says another possible model is the way cable heavyweight John Malone created a different capital structure for each of his businesses, each with its own stock.
Financial tech: Inc. magazine looks at the growing clout of finance-oriented startups. Long seen as a highly technical, highly regulated industry dominated by giant banks that resist disruption, finance is riding an entrepreneurial wave. Demand for upstarts' services is strong, piqued by widespread frustration with big banks.
Petrobras scandal: The New York Times takes a deep dive on Brazil’s Petrobras scandal that involves the primarily state-owned oil company and a cast of Hollywood-ready characters. At the core of the scandal is an old-fashioned kickback scheme that includes leading figures in the public and private sectors.
German capitalism: Sometimes it seems as if each nation puts its own stamp on profit-making machinery. Quartz examines what it calls the German model, which features muscular unions, corporate efficiency, generous unemployment benefits and low levels of unemployment. And it’s working.
Youth privacy: The Guardian newspaper notes that privacy has become a modern bogeyman for parents who fret that their kids are over-sharing online. In fact, though many young people use social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, they often take steps to limit the kinds of information available about themselves.
For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business.
Until next time, I'll see you in the Business section.