Top News Stories ~ 5th – 11th April 2021

1. ALIBABA FINED £2BN

Alibaba, a Chinese multinational technology company and the world’s biggest online retailer, has been fined a record £2 billion by Chinese regulators over alleged breaches of competition law. The State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) has found that Alibaba abused its market dominance, as they restricted merchants that use its website from doing business or running promotions on rival e-commerce platforms.

In addition to the fine, Alibaba must amend its business practices, which Alibaba accepts.

Analysts say that the fine, which is 4% of Alibaba’s 2019 revenues, will not significantly affect Alibaba’s operations. It had $48bn of cash on its balance sheet at the end of 2020 and earned $24bn in net profit last year. Alibaba also holds 60% of the online market in China. And, interestingly, shares have since jumped in the company since the fine was issued, as the fine “marked the end of the focus” on Alibaba.

“We are pleased we can put this matter behind us,” said Joe Tsai, the executive vice-chair of Alibaba Group. “With this penalty decision we’ve received good guidance on some of the specific issues under the anti-monopoly law. Other than the mergers review, we’re not aware of any other [antitrust] issues.”

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

This huge fine is the latest in a chain of events targeting the company that started last October, just after its high-profile billionaire co-founder, Jack Ma, told many of China’s leading regulators that they were “stifling innovation” and said its global banking rules were like an “old people’s club.” (Click here to read the full speech). As a result of this, Alibaba has lost 25% of its market value, and Jack Ma has only been seen in public twice since.

Evidently, the Chinese government are cracking down on the growing public influence held by the country’s tech conglomerates, even ordering Alibaba to sell off some of its media assets which include Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post just last month. 12 more companies were also fined last month over deals that violated anti-monopoly rules. 

Photo: Getty Images

2. PEACOCKS RESCUED

Peacocks, a high street retailer, has been rescued after collapsing last year. This will save 200 of its 400 stores and 2,000 jobs. Peacocks was previously owned by Edinburgh Woollen Mills, and the new buyers are an international investment consortium led by Peacocks’ former chief operating officer, Steve Simpson, whom will cover the huge £70 million debt.

A similar deal was set in place with EWM’s Ponden Home and Bonmarche. Jaeger, however, was sold to Marks & Spencer, where it will become an online-only business.

Peacocks was part of the Philip Day-owned EWM fashion retail empire which collapsed in November last year. Prior to the pandemic, Peacocks had 400 stores. A statement from the administrators, FRP, said the collapse of the chain was due to “the devastating effects of the Covid-19 lockdown” on the business.

Day was the biggest creditor of Peacocks and is owed money by the business he once owned. Unsecured creditors, including landlords and suppliers, will lose out and are unlikely to get their money back.

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

Hopefully, shedding 200 of its underperforming stores will enable Peacocks to focus on its remaining stores. However, as its competitors race ahead with improving their online offering, Peacocks must be quick to keep up. Analyst Susannah Streeter at stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown, said:  “Like Arcadia Group, Peacocks former owner, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, struggled with the accelerated shift to digital brought on by the pandemic. It was another sprawling retail empire which collapsed, with former rivals picking over the spoils.”

Photo: Getty Images

3. ASOS PROFITS

Asos posted a 275% rise in half-year profits and a 24% increase in revenue to £2 billion. Active customer use increased by 1.5 million, over the six months, to nearly reach 25 million.

Asos recently paid £330 million for Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT brands following the collapse of the Arcadia group. As a result of buying only the online businesses, 2,200 jobs were lost and all physical stores closed.

Chief executive Nick Beighton said: “Looking ahead, while we are mindful of the short-term uncertainty and potential economic consequences of the continuing pandemic, we are confident in the momentum we have built, and excited about delivering on our ambition of being the number one destination for fashion-loving 20-somethings.”

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

As online shopping becomes the new normal, it can only be assumed that Asos’ growth will not slow down – especially as we exit lockdown and people spend more money. Asos have also announced a £500 million bond sale to raise more money to fund global expansion.

However, the online-only business should be conscious of the impact that high-street shops reopening will have.

Image: Asos

4. LG SHUTS DOWN SMARTPHONE BUSINESS

Electronics giant LG is exiting the smartphone business after several years of losses of roughly $4.5 billion.

This decision will leave a sizeable gap in the American smartphone market where LG is the third biggest brand after Samsung and Apple. LG shipped 10 times fewer phones than Samsung last year and made up about 11% of all smartphone sales in the US. The division will be wound down by July of this year.

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

A series of software and hardware issues along with wishing to focus on growth in areas such as electric car components and smart homes, and six consecutive years of losses, makes closing the smartphone division good financial sense.

The decision shows how difficult it is to challenge market leaders Apple and Samsung. Samsung established itself as an early challenger to Apple, setting it up for long-term success. LG is just the latest casualty.

Image: SOPA Images

5. CRYPTOCURRENCY SCAMS INCREASE

In January alone, there were 720 cryptocurrency fraud reports – double the number of reports in the same month last year. As much as £113 million was lost to criminals and cold-callers promoting cryptocurrency investment scams last year. Scams also increased 57% in the 12 months to December according to the national fraud reporting service Action Fraud.

The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service expect an increase in prosecutions relating to cryptocurrency scams with cyber fraud on the rise.

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

As the value of cryptocurrency has rocketed, with Bitcoin soaring 300% last year, this has led to an increase in the number of fraudsters who are exploiting demand and seeking to capitalise on the Covid-19 pandemic as more people spending online. 800,000 people a year are now falling victim to fraud, with cyber-related fraud accounting for 86% of fraud claims.

Elon Musk’s endorsement of both cryptocurrency firms Bitcoin and Dogecoin has played a huge part in the increase in demand, as Tesla now accepts Bitcoin as a payment for its products.

Image: Reuters

6. NEW COMPETITION REGIME FOR TECH GIANTS

Big tech firms, including Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google, will now be under scrutiny from a new regulator formed by the UK government – the Digital Markets Unit (DMU).

The new body will sit within the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) and will review the practices and relationships of Big Tech firms with advertisers and content producers. It will take a pro-competition approach aiming to curb their dominance and level the playing field.

The CMA argued last year that both Google and Facebook had been free to greatly increase the number of ads shown to consumers dueof the lack of competition, while also “consistently earning profits well above what is required to reward investors with a fair return”. The government agreed for DMU to be set up after the CMA conducted a study into the UK’s £13bn digital advertising market. The study found that Google controls 90% of UK search revenues and Facebook accounts for more than half of the British digital display ad market.

THOUGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS

This suggests that the DMU could be taking a considered look at recent legislation passed in Australia — which makes it mandatory for platforms such as Google and Facebook to negotiate with news publishers to pay for reuse of their content.

Photograph: Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty Images

Thanks for reading! If you found this helpful, please do let me know by leaving a comment or reaching out to me on social media.

If you’re wondering how you can stay commercially aware, check out my blog post ‘How to Be Commercially Aware’. You can also check out my previous Weekly News Roundups here.

*Disclaimer – All views expressed on this site are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. All information provided aims to educate and has been cross-checked for accuracy, but this site accepts no responsibility for any discrepancies.

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A future trainee solicitor encouraging and supporting social mobility, and showing you anything is possible.

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