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China mira hacia México para satisfacer al mercado de EE. UU.

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China mira hacia México para satisfacer al mercado de EE. UU.

Invoice Chan nunca había puesto un pie en México, y mucho menos en la solitaria franja desértica del norte del país donde apruptamente decidió construir una fábrica de 300 millones de dólares. Pero eso le parecía un detalle insignificante, en medio de la presión para adaptarse a una economía world que cambia con rapidez.

Period enero de 2022 y la empresa de Chan, Man Wah Furnishings Manufacturing, enfrentaba grandes dificultades al trasladar los sofás de sus fábricas en China a los clientes en Estados Unidos. Los precios de envío se habían disparado. Washington y Pekín estaban enfrascados en una feroz guerra comercial.

Man Wah, una de las empresas de muebles más grandes de China, estaba ansiosa por fabricar sus productos en el lado norteamericano del Pacífico.

“Nuestro principal mercado es Estados Unidos”, dijo Chan, director ejecutivo de la subsidiaria mexicana de Man Wah. “No queremos perder ese mercado”.

Ese mismo objetivo explica por qué decenas de importantes empresas chinas están invirtiendo agresivamente en México, aprovechando un acuerdo comercial expansivo con América del Norte. Siguiendo un camino forjado por las empresas japonesas y surcoreanas, las firmas chinas están estableciendo fábricas que les permiten etiquetar sus productos como “Hecho en México”, y luego los transportan en camiones libres de impuestos a Estados Unidos.

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El interés de los fabricantes chinos en México forma parte de una tendencia más amplia conocida como nearshoring o deslocalización cercana. Las empresas internacionales están acercando la producción a los clientes para limitar su vulnerabilidad a los problemas de transporte y las tensiones geopolíticas.

La participación de las empresas chinas en este cambio muestra la suposición cada vez más profunda de que la brecha que divide a Estados Unidos y China será una característica duradera de la próxima fase de la globalización. Sin embargo, también revela algo elementary: más allá de las tensiones políticas, las fuerzas comerciales que unen a Estados Unidos y China son aún más poderosas.

Las empresas chinas no tienen intención de abandonar la economía estadounidense, que sigue siendo la más grande del mundo. En cambio, están estableciendo operaciones dentro del bloque comercial de América del Norte como una forma de suministrar bienes a los estadounidenses, desde productos electrónicos hasta ropa y muebles.

El estado fronterizo mexicano de Nuevo León se ha posicionado para cosechar las recompensas de esa tendencia. Dirigido por un impetuoso gobernador de 35 años, Samuel García, el estado ha cortejado la inversión extranjera mientras busca mejorar las carreteras para facilitar el paso a los cruces fronterizos.

García asistió recientemente al Foro Económico Mundial en Davos, Suiza, para reclutar más empresas.

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“Nuevo León está teniendo un alineamiento planetario geopolítico”, declaró el gobernador durante una entrevista en la capital del estado de Monterrey, dentro del palacio de gobierno, un laberinto de grandes habitaciones con techos altos y balcones que miran hacia los picos irregulares de la Sierra Madre. “Estamos recibiendo muchos asiáticos que quieren venir al mercado estadounidense”.

Desde que García asumió el cargo en octubre de 2021, se han invertido casi 7000 millones de dólares en inversiones extranjeras en Nuevo León, lo que convierte a ese estado en el mayor receptor después de Ciudad de México, según la Secretaría de Economía de México.

En 2021, las empresas chinas fueron responsables del 30 por ciento de la inversión extranjera en Nuevo León, solo superadas por Estados Unidos con el 47 por ciento.

Parte de este dinero está financiando fábricas que harán productos terminados para la venta en Estados Unidos. Pero buena parte de esas operaciones se centran en una remodelación más amplia de la cadena de suministro world.

A medida que la pandemia interrumpió la industria china y colapsó los puertos, las empresas con fábricas en Estados Unidos sufrieron escasez de piezas manufacturadas en Asia. Ahora muchas compañías exigen que sus proveedores establezcan plantas en América del Norte o corren el riesgo de perder su negocio.

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Lizhong, un fabricante chino de rines para automóviles, está construyendo la primera fábrica de la compañía fuera de Asia en un parque industrial en Nuevo León. Los principales clientes de Lizhong, incluidos Ford y Common Motors, presionaron a la empresa para que abriera una fábrica en América del Norte, según Wang Bing, su gerente common para México.

Una empresa de Corea del Sur, DY Energy, que fabrica componentes para equipos de construcción, está considerando el norte de México para instalar una fábrica cerca de un importante cliente en Texas.

“Después de pasar por la pandemia y la disaster de la cadena de suministro debido al cierre de China por la covid, a muchos fabricantes norteamericanos les gustaría eliminar el riesgo”, dijo Sean Website positioning, ejecutivo de DY Energy con sede en Seattle.

“La globalización ha terminado”, declaró. “Ahora se habla de local-ización”.

César Santos ha hecho una apuesta sustancial respecto a que esos pronunciamientos resulten ciertos.

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Santos, un abogado corporativo de 65 años, dirige una empresa secundaria como desarrollador en Monterrey, una ciudad industrial en auge llena de restaurantes de lujo, centros comerciales resplandecientes y spas.

Hace una década, se le acercó un desarrollador en Los Ángeles que representaba a una empresa electrónica china que estaba contemplando construir una fábrica en México. Santos controlaba un activo de gran interés: una parcela de 849 hectáreas.

Salpicada de cactus, la propiedad se encontraba a menos de 241 kilómetros de la frontera con Texas. Mientras los estados vecinos luchaban con la violencia vinculada al narcotráfico, Nuevo León tenía una reputación de seguridad. El estado contaba con una fuerza laboral altamente calificada, dada la presencia de universidades que producían en masa graduados de ingeniería, entre ellas el Tec de Monterrey, a menudo denominado “el MIT de México”.

La tierra había sido el rancho ganadero de su familia cuando Santos period un niño, el escenario de aventuras a caballo. Ahora ve una oportunidad lucrativa para convertirlo en un parque industrial.

Hizo un viaje a China, en un tren de alta velocidad desde Shanghái hasta la ciudad de Hangzhou, frente a un lago, para reunirse con Holley Group, que había construido un parque industrial para empresas chinas en Tailandia.

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“China period un país que había desarrollado todo muy rápido”, dijo Santos. “Estaba realmente asombrado”.

Para 2015, se unió a Holley y otro socio chino para forjar una empresa conjunta, Hofusan Actual Property. Planean una purple de almacenes y fábricas frente a un lodge y apartamentos temporales para gerentes visitantes, además de más de 12.000 hogares para trabajadores.

El Grupo Holley envió a Jiang Xin para supervisar la empresa. Antes había trabajado en el proyecto de esa empresa en Tailandia. Pero México representaba una propuesta diferente.

“Las empresas chinas no tenían thought de México, y las únicas cosas que sabíamos eran cosas malas, cosas peligrosas”, dijo Jiang. “Luego vino Trump”.

Cuando asumió la presidencia en 2017, Donald Trump exigió que las empresas estadounidenses abandonaran China. Para 2018, estaba aplicando fuertes aranceles a cientos de miles de millones de dólares en importaciones chinas.

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“Lo de los aranceles nos ayudó”, dijo Jiang. “Las empresas chinas querían más opciones. Y nosotros somos una de sus opciones”.

Cuando Chan comenzó a contemplar la posibilidad de operar en México en el otoño de 2021, otras 27 empresas chinas ya habían asegurado terrenos dentro del parque Hofusan. Solo quedaba un predio grande.

Man Wah ya había respondido a los aranceles construyendo una fábrica en Vietnam y usándola con el fin de manufacturar productos para el mercado estadounidense. Pero el precio altísimo de los envíos empobreció esa estrategia.

Cada mes, Man Wah estaba moviendo 3500 contenedores de 12 metros a través del Pacífico desde Vietnam. De repente, los viajes que costaban 2000 dólares se incrementaron 10 veces más.

Chan usó la plataforma de redes sociales china, WeChat, para conectarse con Jiang. Sus preguntas eran contundentes. ¿Qué tan pronto podría Man Wah comenzar la construcción? (Inmediatamente). ¿Cómo estaban las carreteras? (No eran excelentes, pero estaban mejorando). ¿Había algún restaurante chino auténtico en los alrededores? (No).

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En cuestión de semanas, Man Wah se comprometió a comprar el terreno. En enero de 2022, Chan firmó el contrato antes de abordar un vuelo a México, dejando atrás a su esposa y sus dos hijos en la ciudad china de Shenzhen.

Mientras se construye la nueva fábrica, Man Wah ya ha comenzado a producir sofás en una pequeña planta cercana que alquilaron.

Incluso antes de ubicar el sitio temporal, Chan cargó 70 contenedores llenos de maquinaria y materias primas en China y los puso en un barco con destino a México.

“Siempre hacemos las cosas rápido”, dijo. “No te preocupes por nada, solo hazlo”.

Man Wah se preocupa por algunas cosas: contratar suficientes trabajadores y cultivar proveedores locales.

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La empresa tiene planes de fabricar cerca de 900.000 piezas de mueblería al año en México. Eso requerirá contratar y retener a 6000 trabajadores.

Man Wah está acostumbrado a operar en China y Vietnam, donde los sindicatos independientes están básicamente prohibidos y la gente de las zonas rurales acude a las zonas industriales en busca de trabajo.

En Nuevo León, la tasa de desempleo es de 3,6 por ciento. El aumento de la inversión ha desencadenado una feroz competencia por los trabajadores.

Las empresas astutas han cortejado a sus empleados con extras como comidas de calidad y transporte al trabajo. Pero Man Wah y otras empresas chinas responden a los jefes en China, que están condicionados hacia el ahorro mientras piensan en los trabajadores como fácilmente remplazables.

Encontrar proveedores locales también es un desafío. Según los términos del acuerdo comercial de América del Norte, los fabricantes deben emplear porcentajes mínimos de piezas y materias primas de la región para calificar para el acceso libre de impuestos a los demás países del bloque.

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Hace tres años, Lenovo, el fabricante chino de computadoras, abrió una nueva fábrica en Monterrey dedicada a fabricar servidores, los dispositivos que almacenan datos para la computación en la nube.

Hasta el año pasado, Lenovo traía un componente essential, las llamadas placas base, desde una fábrica en China. Pero a medida que se intensificaron los problemas de transporte internacional, la empresa cambió a un proveedor en la ciudad mexicana de Guadalajara.

Lenovo también dejó de importar materiales de embalaje de China y, en cambio, los compra en México.

Pero continúa importando muchos componentes clave de China, desde dispositivos de memoria hasta cables especializados.

“No existe una cadena de suministro para estas cosas en México”, dijo Leandro Sardela, director de operaciones occidentales de la empresa.

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Peter S. Goodman es corresponsal de economía mundial, con sede en Nueva York. Antes fue corresponsal de economía mundial con sede en Londres y corresponsal económico nacional en Nueva York durante la Gran Recesión. También trabajó en The Washington Publish como jefe de la oficina de Shanghái. @petersgoodman

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Still haven't filed your taxes? How to avoid penalties or lost refunds

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Still haven't filed your taxes? How to avoid penalties or lost refunds

After the epic storms deluged California in early 2023, the IRS and the state Franchise Tax Board gave most taxpayers in the state until mid-November to file their returns and pay what they owed.

After the epic storms deluged California in early 2024, the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board gave taxpayers in San Diego County until mid-June to file their returns and pay what they owe. For everyone else in the state, Monday remains the filing deadline — at least at the moment.

If you don’t pay at least a goodly chunk of your 2023 taxes by then, you will be penalized automatically, even if you file for an extension by Monday night.

Tax experts say the best course of action is to file your return on time and pay everything you think you owe. The IRS, nonprofit groups and commercial tax-preparation companies offer multiple ways to prepare and file returns for free online.

If you can’t afford your tax bill, you have some choices to make by Monday at 11:59 p.m., when the deadline is due to arrive.

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There is a chance President Biden will approve Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request for a major disaster declaration covering Los Angeles, Ventura, Butte, Glenn, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Sutter counties by the end of the day Monday, which could trigger a delay in the tax-filing deadlines. Counting on a last-minute reprieve, however, is a gamble with potentially high stakes, depending on how much you owe in taxes for 2023.

What are the penalties for not filing?

Tax experts say that if the IRS owes you a refund, you won’t face a penalty for not filing your return. Instead, you’ll have a different deadline: If you wait more than three years to file a return for that year, you’ll sacrifice your claim to the money.

If you have taxes due, Andy Phillips, director of H&R Block’s Tax Institute, said it’s important to file your return or file for an extension on time, even if you can’t cover the balance at the moment. That’s because the penalty for not filing can be up to 10 times the penalty for filing but not paying on time.

The IRS will charge you 5% of what you owe every month until you file, with the penalty capped at 25%, Phillips said. But it also charges interest, and there’s no cap on how much interest you’ll owe. Currently, the interest rate is 8%, compounded daily.

The Franchise Tax Board’s penalty is 5% per month, capped at 25%; the state’s tax code makes no mention of interest charges. It also imposes a lower penalty on people who owe no more than $540.

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Both the feds and the state offer hardship exceptions.

Need more time to gather your paperwork? Both the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board offer six-month extensions on the deadline for filing an annual return to anyone who applies.

There is a catch, though: Even with an extension, you’ll still face an underpayment penalty if you don’t pay at least 90% of what you owe by the end of the day Monday, Phillips said. But at least you won’t be hit with the added penalty for not filing.

What are the penalties for not paying?

For the record:

3:59 p.m. April 12, 2024An earlier version of this story said the IRS penalty for unpaid taxes was 5% of the unpaid balance plus 0.5% per month, up to a maximum of 25%, plus interest. That is the Franchise Tax Board’s penalty. The IRS charges 0.5% per month, up to a maximum of 25%, plus interest.

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The IRS charges .5% of the original underpayment per month the balance is not paid, capped at 25%, plus interest. The Franchise Tax Board charges 5% of the underpayment plus .5% per month, capped at 25%, with interest, which is currently 8%.

Phillips said the IRS applies a penalty only if you paid less than 90% of what you owed by the deadline. If you are facing a penalty, he said, you need to consider how that amount (including interest) stacks up against the cost of taking out a loan, using your credit cards or pulling cash out of savings or profitable investments.

One option is to enter a payment plan with the IRS, which will cut the underpayment penalty in half, Phillips said — although you’ll still be paying interest on the amount you owe while you’re chipping away at your balance. As long as you’re compliant with the plan, he said, the IRS won’t go into forced-collection mode.

You can apply for a payment plan with the IRS through the agency’s website.

The Franchise Tax Board also offers installment plans that allow you to pay your tax debt over time, typically three to five years. The plans are available only to taxpayers who owe less than $25,000 and who’ve filed all required returns in the previous five years. Applications are accepted online, by mail or by calling (800) 689-4776.

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The state offers to cancel a late-payment or late-filing penalty for taxpayers who are otherwise in compliance, but a taxpayer can claim this relief only once in their lifetime. In addition, the offer applies only to penalties for tax years 2022 or later.

To apply for a one-time abatement, return a completed form FTB 2918 by mail or call 800-689-4776 and request one.

How does the IRS collect penalties?

Regardless of whether you file a return, the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board will have collected data from employers, banks, mutual funds and other sources about your income and tax payments. And they will use that information to calculate what they believe you owe (or what they owe you). They won’t refund your overpayment automatically — you’ll get that only if you file a return — but they can force you to pay the taxes you’ve underpaid.

Phillips said the IRS typically starts by sending a letter asking you to pay up. If you don’t, it can seize a portion of your wages, your Social Security benefits and your investments. As a last resort, he said, it can put a lien on your house and force its sale.

To avoid going into collection, Phillips said, you might offer to pay a compromise amount — for example, if you can show that you weren’t responsible for the underpayment. The feds accept only a small percentage of the applications for this kind of relief, he said; it’s more likely that the agency will put you into a payment plan or temporarily suspend collection efforts until your income grows. If you find yourself in the latter category, you will face ever-growing interest charges on your unpaid tax debt.

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Consumer advocates warn taxpayers to be cautious about hiring anyone who promises to be able to slash your tax debt, because many of those pitches are from scammers. Phillips agreed, saying, “Make sure you do your homework about who you’re dealing with.”

Who has to file a return?

The feds require anyone who earns more than a certain amount set by the IRS to file a return, even if they don’t owe anything. The amount varies according to filing status and age; for example, for 2023 it was $13,850 for a single filer under 65, or $15,700 for a single filer 65 or older.

The requirement applies regardless of your citizenship status. But if you don’t have a Social Security number — for example, if you’re in the United States on a temporary work visa or you’re here without authorization — you’ll need to obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

Mandy Irvine, associate director of economic mobility for United Ways of California, said it’s a misconception that an ITIN is a sign that you’re in the country without authorization — ITINs are used by anyone who doesn’t qualify for a Social Security number. In addition, the law bars the IRS from sharing the information it collects from tax returns with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Through myfreetaxes.org, the United Way connects people with IRS-certified volunteers to help them prepare and file their returns. If you need an ITIN, Irvine said, look for a volunteer site that has a certified acceptance agent who can check your passport or other documents to verify your identity. That way, she said, you won’t have to mail them to the IRS.

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Where can I get last-minute help from the IRS?

The following Federal Taxpayer Assistance Centers will be open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.:

  • 300 N. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
  • 501 W. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90802
  • 880 Front St., Suite 1247, San Diego, CA 92101
  • 212 Coffee Road Suite 200, Bakersfield, CA 93309
  • 2525 Capitol St., Fresno, CA 93721
  • 1301 Clay St., Oakland, CA 94612
  • 450 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102
  • 55 S. Market St., Suite 100, San Jose, CA 95113
  • 4330 Watt Ave., Sacramento, CA 95821

The agency stressed that although IRS employees will be on hand to offer in-person help with questions and account issues, they will not prepare your taxes for you. It also suggested that you come equipped with two forms of identification (including a current government-issued photo ID), the Social Security or Taxpayer Identification numbers for everyone in your household, and any notices or mailings the IRS has sent you.

If you have a question about a tax return you’ve already filed, make sure to bring a copy with you.

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L.A. to provide resources to hundreds of 99 Cents Only workers losing their jobs

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L.A. to provide resources to hundreds of 99 Cents Only workers losing their jobs

The city of Los Angeles will provide informational resources to 99 Cents Only workers who are losing their jobs as a result of the discounter’s impending store closures, Mayor Karen Bass announced Friday.

The support will extend to people who work at the company’s more than 30 stores in the city, she said. 99 Cents Only Stores, which operates 371 extreme-discount outlets in California, Texas, Arizona and Nevada, announced last week that it was closing all of its locations and winding down its business after 42 years.

“We must do all we can to support Angelenos during this difficult time,” Bass said.

The city did not specify how many workers would be eligible to receive support. In a bankruptcy filing, the City of Commerce-based retailer said it has 10,874 employees.

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L.A.’s Economic and Workforce Development Department has already activated its Rapid Response Team to support the effort, Bass said.

The team, along with the mayor’s Office of Community Engagement, will visit the stores, which are in the process of liquidating, to make information and materials available to employees.

Resources include daily virtual presentations in English and Spanish to help workers make sense of unemployment insurance. The city’s 14 WorkSource Centers are also available to answer questions about being laid off and future employment opportunities.

Bass said the city is also coordinating with Los Angeles County to make the resources available to 99 Cents Only workers throughout the region.

99 Cents Only announced April 4 that it was calling it quits, blaming a series of factors that included the COVID-19 pandemic, escalating theft and crime, competition, increases in operating costs stemming from high inflation and the expense of servicing its debt. The privately held company also cited significant minimum-wage jumps, particularly in California, where 265 of its stores are.

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Going-out-of-business sales began the next day and are expected to end April 19, with prices storewide slashed by up to 30%.

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'Wicked' spectacles, merger gossip and movie industry woes at CinemaCon 2024

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'Wicked' spectacles, merger gossip and movie industry woes at CinemaCon 2024

Movie theaters need more movies. Will they ever get enough to truly thrive again?

That was the central question overhanging CinemaCon 2024, the annual convention bringing together Hollywood studios and multiplex operators in Las Vegas this week.

Exhibitors pleaded with the major studios to release more films of varying budgets on the big screen, while studios made the case that their upcoming slates are robust enough to keep them in business.

Once again, CinemaCon, where studios trot out executives and movie stars to pitch their upcoming blockbusters, arrived at a particularly challenging time for the film industry.

After weathering a devastating pandemic that shut down theaters for months, two of the most essential parts of the Hollywood machine, writers and actors, went on strike. The work stoppages — which lasted a combined six months — prompted the leading entertainment companies to push a number of titles to 2025 from 2024, disrupting the supply chain and sparking widespread anxiety in the exhibition community.

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Box office revenue in the U.S. and Canada is expected to total about $8.5 billion, which is down from $9 billion in 2023 and a far cry from the pre-pandemic yearly tallies that nearly reached $12 billion.

“It’s not enough for us to simply sit back and want more movies,” said Michael O’Leary, president of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, during Tuesday’s state-of-the-industry address at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace. “We must work with distribution to get more movies of all sizes to the marketplace.”

Though a fuller release schedule is expected for 2025, talk of budget cuts, greater industry consolidation and corporate mergers has forced exhibitors to prepare for the possibility of a near future with fewer studios making fewer movies.

In the extravagant banquet and trade show halls of Caesars Palace, theater operators groaned about 2024 being painted as yet another “lost year” for cinema — determined in spite of the grim discourse to remain optimistic.

“All indications are the rest of the year is going to be a lot better,” said David Fetters, vice president of West Mall Theatres in Minnesota and South Dakota. “The product we’re seeing here is looking outstanding.”

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The studios tried to give exhibitors something to hope for during their CinemaCon presentations — hyping their movie lineups, bringing out filmmakers and cast members, pulling silly stunts, and playing sizzle reels, sneak peeks, trailers and, in some cases, entire features for their industry audience.

‘Wicked’ brings down the house

While promoting their 2024-25 programming, the studios pulled out plenty of stops.

Distribution executives at Warner Bros. delivered their opening remarks dressed as Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice; Dwayne Johnson joined a Polynesian dance troupe while introducing Disney’s “Moana 2”; and the head of distribution at Paramount entered the theater in full “Gladiator” armor on a gold chariot.

But Universal’s presentation of “Wicked” — director Jon M. Chu’s film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical — took the cake. Convention attendees arrived at their seats to find a surprise in their cup holders: roses that illuminated for a technicolor light show set to an instrumental medley of “Wicked” songs. After the overture, a pre-taped message to all “CinemaConians” from Jeff Goldblum’s imposing Wizard of Oz played onscreen, and Goldblum took the stage in real life.

He was later joined by Michelle Yeoh (Madame Morrible), Jonathan Bailey (Fiyero) producer Marc Platt and Chu, who fought back tears while talking about casting the film’s leading witches. On cue, Glinda and Elphaba themselves — Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo — emerged from the wings to thunderous applause.

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Like Chu, Grande was overcome with emotion and paused briefly to compose herself while delivering her remarks. .

Other pictures teased during the studio presentations included Universal’s “Despicable Me 4,” Warner Bros.’ “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “Joker: Folie à Deux,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place: Day One” and “Transformers One,” and Disney’s “Inside Out 2” and “Deadpool & Wolverine.”

Paramount deal looms

Amid the displays of corporate harmony, it was hard to ignore the elephant in the convention center: a potential merger between Paramount Global and David Ellison’s production company, Skydance.

Shares of Paramount Global — home of Paramount Pictures, CBS and several other legacy brands and franchises — took a nosedive Wednesday after news that a group of of the company’s directors are stepping down amid merger discussions.

This would be only the latest Hollywood merger in a string of deals, including Disney’s acquisition of Fox in 2019 and Warner Bros.’ union with Discovery in 2022.

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When asked about the theatrical implications of another studio sale in an already rapidly consolidating industry, National Assn. of Theatre Owners President Michael O’Leary and Motion Picture Assn. Chairman Charles Rivkin largely waved it off.

“There’s always other things that we can do as an industry association to strengthen our industry, and I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it,” Rivkin said during a CinemaCon news conference.

Rather than avoiding the topic during the studio’s CinemaCon presentation on Thursday, Paramount Pictures chief Brian Robbins handled the situation with humor.

“There’s been a lot of speculation around our parent company around [mergers and acquisitions],” Robbins said before joking that Paramount’s head of domestic distribution, Chris Aronson, “has now thrown his hat into the ring as a bidder.”

“He’s starting a Kickstarter campaign,” Robbins continued as the crowd chuckled.

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Japanese cinema and faith-based content reign

As the domestic film business has been thrown into turmoil in recent years, Japanese cinema and faith-based content have been two of movie theaters’ saving graces.

Industry leaders kicked off CinemaCon on Tuesday by singing the praises of Sony-owned anime distributor Crunchyroll’s hits — including the latest “Demon Slayer” installment.

Mitchel Berger, senior vice president of global commerce at Crunchyroll, said Tuesday that the global anime business generated $14 billion a decade ago and is projected to generate $37 billion next year.

“Anime is red hot right now,” Berger said. “Fans have known about it for years, but now everyone else is catching up and recognizing that it’s a cultural, economic force to be reckoned with.”

Last year, event-cinema company Fathom Events decided to expand its annual Studio Ghibli series, screening “Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke” and other Hayao Miyazaki classics for five nights each instead of just one or two. Fathom Events Chief Executive Ray Nutt said that the extended runs allowed those titles to gross 142% more than they had in the past.

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“Anime was one that did very well for us,” Nutt said. “The team is really good at sourcing content and then figuring out where the audiences drive tickets.”

Another type of product buoying the exhibition industry right now is faith-based programming, shepherded in large part by “Sound of Freedom” distributor Angel Studios.

During its presentation on Wednesday, Angel Studios unveiled its lineup of “stories that amplify light,” including an animated feature telling the biblical tale of David and a live-action drama about a German pastor who conspires against the Nazis during World War. II.

“Some of the faith-based things, especially in our part of the country — the Midwest — have had a lot of good traction,” Fetters said.

Nutt added that Fathom Events has also had “huge success” connecting with faith-based audiences by screening content such as episodes of “The Chosen,” a drama series chronicling the life of Jesus Christ. The latest season of the show generated $32 million at the box office, according to Nutt.

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Exhibitors make plea for more movies… and flexible windows

The greatest challenge facing theaters right now is a dearth of theatrical releases, exhibitors say. Theater owners urged studio executives at CinemaCon to put more films in theaters — and not just big-budget tent poles timed for summer movie season and holiday weekends.

“There’s been a bit of a shortage of good content because of the strikes and that sort of thing,” said Mark Shaw, owner of Shaw Theatres in Singapore. “And also, during the pandemic, we lost some of the audience. Trying to get that audience back into theaters is a bit of a challenge.”

“Whenever we have a [blockbuster] film — whether it be ‘Barbie’ or ‘Super Mario’ … records are set,” added Bill Barstow, co-founder of ACX Cinemas in Nebraska. “But we just don’t have enough of them.”

During an industry think-tank panel on Wednesday, Disney distribution executive Cathleen Taff defended the company’s decision to delay certain movies — including the animated film “Elio” and a live-action remake of “Snow White” — to 2025, explaining that at least some of those titles were not finished in time for a 2024 release.

“From a studio perspective … we need to walk in tandem together,” Taff said.

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“We have to pick some good dates and we had to do those shifts. And of course we thought about the theaters, but the reality is we’re not going to release an unfinished film.”

An additional issue affecting owners of independent theaters and smaller chains is studio-imposed three-week minimum runs for major movies. Multiple exhibitors told The Times that these businesses can’t afford to let one movie to take up a screen for three weeks because there simply isn’t enough population where they operate to fill seats for that long.

“If you run it for two weeks, the community has already seen it,” said Colleen Barstow, vice president of ACX Cinemas.

“There is no need to require three-week or longer commitments,” said Chris Johnson, chief executive of Classic Cinemas in Illinois. “If you have a hit, we will hold it.”

The next frontier: ‘alternative content’

One way that exhibitors are trying to fill the void of studio releases is by showing “alternative content” — from reissues of beloved films and screenings of TV shows to musical performances and sporting events.

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The best example of this phenomenon is AMC Theatres’ distribution of Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour” and Beyonce’s “Renaissance.”

Fathom Events, which has been in the business of alternative content for decades, is going further by attaching live and pre-recorded Q&As to their screenings, as well as handing out collectible merchandise as an extra incentive for audiences.

“You go to go to a regular movie, you buy the ticket, you watch the movie — I don’t mean to demean the movie experience by any stretch of imagination — but that’s pretty much it,” Nutt said. “With us, you are going to … get something special.”

Larger companies such as AMC have been partnering with studios to level up their merchandise game as well. See: the infamous “Dune 2” popcorn bucket, which inspired Disney to promise at CinemaCon to deliver a must-have “Deadpool 3” popcorn bucket.

“There are some studios that inadvertently make crude and rude popcorn buckets,” joked Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige during Disney’s presentation. “And then there are popcorn buckets designed by Deadpool.”

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