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California Inc: Tech stocks caught up in wild Wall Street ride

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.

Looking Ahead

Monday markets: After last week’s battering in stock markets worldwide, investors will see Monday whether shares stabilize, rise or take a deeper dive. The slowdown has been gathering steam for months, since the last Greek bailout crisis at the end of June. The question is whether this is a summer swoon or whether concerns over slow growth will jeopardize one of the longest-running bull markets ever.

Real estate: Are home prices still rising? We’ll get a good idea Tuesday when two key indicators are released. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index will release its numbers for June. In its last report, it showed home prices increasing 6.1% in May. Also on Tuesday, the Commerce Department is scheduled to release its monthly report on new home sales, which is expected to show gains.

Airline fines: Starting Tuesday, airlines must pay you more if they lose your bags or bump you from a flight. Keeping up with inflation, the U.S. Department of Transportation is raising the top payout for lost or damaged bags from $3,400 to $3,500 for domestic flights. For getting bumped, you’ll be owed between $675 to $1,350, depending on the price of your ticket, an increase from the previous range of $650 to $1,300.

New drug: The fate of a new cholesterol-lowering drug from Amgen, the Thousand Oaks biotech company, should be determined by Thursday. That’s the deadline for the Food and Drug Administration to decide whether to approve Repatha, which Amgen says is highly effective at reducing bad cholesterol, a significant risk factor for heart disease. Repatha was approved for use in Europe in July.

PG&E safety: The state Public Utilities Commission will consider a proposal Thursday to investigate whether the culture of California’s largest utility contributes to accidents, such as the 2010 pipeline explosion that killed eight people. The PUC would review Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s structure, policies, practices and governance to see if the utility puts enough emphasis on safety. The $2-million cost for the investigation would be paid out of PG&E shareholders' money.

Pass the popcorn: Owen Wilson, known largely for comedies like “Wedding Crashers,” “Zoolander” and “Night at the Museum,” tries something in the action genre. Wilson stars in the Weinstein Co.’s “No Escape,” a thriller about an American businessman and his family caught in the middle of a violent political uprising. It hits theaters Wednesday. Friday will bring the premiere of Warner Bros.’ “We Are Your Friends,” starring Zac Efron as a disc jockey trying to make a name for himself.

The Agenda

Today's Business section focuses on the tech stocks. Initial public offerings, mergers and acquisitions have all slowed in the U.S. tech industry this year even as investment into start-ups soars. Now, concerns that last week’s stock market sell-off might extend into a prolonged economic downturn could jumble an already confusing picture in the tech industry.

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:

Stocks hammered: To put last week’s stock market swoon in perspective, the Dow Jones industrial average nearly tripled in value from its low point in March 2009 to its closing high of 18,312.39 on May 19. Many analysts say a correction was overdue in the unusually long bull run, especially given China’s slowing economy, a looming U.S. interest rate hike and jitters over Greece’s troubles.

BuzzFeed bucks: NBCUniversal is big, rich and struggling to adjust to the Internet. BuzzFeed is an Internet sensation, small, scrappy and growing fast. The two hooked up when NBCUniversal, owned by Comcast Corp., dropped a $200-million equity investment on BuzzFeed's cash pile. That's fuel for even faster growth, to be pumped in part through collaborations on projects that might include NBCUniversal movies and TV programs.

Uber challenge: The political battle over Uber and Lyft ride-sharing firms in California has focused lately on fingerprints. Uber is facing some of the fiercest challenges to its business practices from an array of California officials who claim the San Francisco company does not adequately screen its rapidly expanding pool of drivers, such as those with recent records of violence or crime.

Bag checks: Is Regal Entertainment's new bag check policy really a snack check policy at its theaters? That's the suspicion among some consumers who've reacted warily to reports that Regal cinemas has instituted a policy for checking bags of moviegoers. "Security issues have become a daily part of our lives in America," Regal recently said on its website.

Superbug worries: A Pasadena hospital is investigating a suspected outbreak related to the same type of medical scope tied to superbug infections across the country. Huntington Memorial Hospital said it had alerted health authorities about a potential link between three patients who have a pseudomonas bacteria and the Olympus Corp. duodenoscopes used to treat them. Huntington Memorial said it discovered the potential problem in June during a review of lab samples.

What We’re Reading

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

Catch that unicorn: The New York Times goes in search of unicorns. Not the one-horned, magical variety. Rather, this is the nom-de-tech for hot start-ups valued at $1 billion or more. And these companies aren’t shy about recruiting top talent from more-established companies.

Hot tech: Vanity Fair takes a look at love in the age of Tinder. “Hookup culture, which has been percolating for about a hundred years, has collided with dating apps, which have acted like a wayward meteor on the now dinosaur-like rituals of courtship,” the magazine says. One researcher calls this “uncharted territory” for men and women.

Minimum wage: The Atlantic focuses on the Fight for 15, the campaign for a higher minimum wage in cities across the U.S. Working closely with organized labor, the Fight for 15 persuaded the L.A. City Council to enact a $15 minimum wage, starting with an increase to $10 next year and climbing in steps to $15 in 2020.

Iran opportunity: Marketplace asks what the nuclear deal struck between Iran and the U.N. Security Council could mean for the Persian businesses of West L.A. Merchants there say they aren’t worried about a flood of new competition. If anything, they’re looking forward to seeking new customers in Iran.

Cat videos: The Washington Post pays a visit to the Internet Cat Video Festival, where some 13,000 fans of feline fun enjoyed depictions of cats’ triumph over basically every other living animal — birds, hamsters, dogs, bears and, of course, humans. “Cats are the Tom Cruises of online videos,” the paper notes, “the wily heroes of virtually every story.”

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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